The next stop on the Road to the Kentucky Derby is Aqueduct Racetrack in Jamaica, New York for the $500,000 Gotham Stakes (G3). The 1 1/16 mile race over the Aqueduct inner dirt track is one of 16 races in the Kentucky Derby Championship series on the Road to the Kentucky Derby points system. The top four finishers will pick up points for entry in the Kentucky Derby, with 50 points going to the winner.
The Kentucky Derby points system replaced the graded stakes earnings system as the determiner of Kentucky Derby entrants. In the first phase, the Kentucky Derby Prep Season that concluded Feb. 17, the top four finishers in 18 pre-determined races were awarded points of 10-4-2-1, respectively. In the first leg of phase two, the Championship Series, the top four finishers in 8 pre-determined races are awarded points of 50-20-10-5, respectively. In the second leg of the Championship Series, the top four finishers in the 8 pre-determined races receive points of 100-40-20-10, respectively.
Installed as the 5-2 favorite for Saturday's Gotham are the coupled-entry-homebreds of My Meadowview Farm, Noble Cornerstone and Samraat. Noble Cornerstone was beaten 12 lengths and finished seventh in his last start, the Sam F. Davis (G3) Feb. 1. Trainer Wesley Ward will put the blinkers back on Noble Cornerstone for a chance the son of Noble Causeway regains the focus he showed at the end of the season last year when he finished a neck behind Louies Flower in the ungraded Springboard Mile at Remington Park.
The star in the My Meadowview Farm pair is Withers (G3) winner Samraat, who will break from post 8 under jockey Jose Ortiz. This Rick Violette trainee is undefeated in four career starts, with his last two coming over the Aqueduct inner track. In his last, the Withers, Samraat and fellow Gotham contender Uncle Sigh linked horns early in what became more of a match race than Kentucky Derby prep. Samraat prevailed in the six-horse field to finish a length in front of Uncle Sigh, who was 10 ¼ lengths in front of his nearest competitor.
Trainer Gary Contessa’s Uncle Sigh is second choice on the morning-line at odds of 3-1 and will make his fourth lifetime start, all having come at Aqueduct. This Indian Charlie colt has never finished worse than second and has maintained Brisnet speed figures of 96-98. Since the Feb. 1 Withers, Uncle Sigh has turned in a bullet work of five furlongs in :59 and change and a work of four furlongs in :47 and change. His front-running style suggests he’ll likely be on the lead, battling Samraat again. However, this time Uncle Sigh gets a seven-pound weight allowance and a new rider in Corey Nakatani. The pair will have a stronger and larger field to contend with in the Gotham, but still boast some of the top speed figures among those in the race.