Who's Leading On Derby Road?

Plus A Recap Of The Gotham Stakes

In something of a humbling surprise, the weekend's Triple Crown preps proved to be more meaningful than expected -- more meaningful, anyway, than I had expected. Awesome Act gave a very encouraging performance in winning the Gotham, and although Alphie's Bet didn't proclaim himself to be a Derby contender while winning the Sham, he did confirm, if confirmation were needed,the talent of Caracortado.

Awesome Act didn't quite perform up to the standards implied by his name, but he came close, especially for March. If in this his seasonal debut, Awesome Act had only duplicated his best juvenile effort, he wouldn't have won the Gotham. But, as it turned out, he ran the best race of his life: He's not only better but much better on dirt than on turf or synthetics, the surfaces he had raced over as a juvenile.

After three-quarters of a mile Saturday, he turned in a 25.19 quarter while rallying outside,and that moveput him in commandas the early leaders retreated, spentafter their fast fractions. AndAwesome Actcompleted the 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.85, a very solid time on a day when the Aqueduct surface wasn't especially fast.

After Eskendereya's Fountain of Youth, which stands out, Awesome Act's Gotham ranks right there, or very close, to the better two-turn efforts given this year by 3-year-olds. Although he won by little more than a length, he won with authority and seemingly with something left. That can be deceptive, of course, but he won in a way that suggests he could take a step forward in the Wood. And if he does that, he could become a prominent contender when he goes to Kentucky.

The Gotham was also encouraging for the two horses who followed Awesome Act under the wire. Yawanna Twist, the diminutive New York-bred, has a bright future. I wouldn't expect him to impact the Triple Crown races, but he should reward his connections handsomely. And I was very impressed with Nacho Friend, who was making his first start since July. He hung on for third, three lengths back, after racing close early, in fourth, to the fast pace.

And even the Sham was meaningful, which seemed only fair since we had to wait a week for it. Last December, in the California Breeders' Championship, Alphie's Bet finished second to Caracortado. At the time, the race hardly seemed significant. But, of course, Caracortado recently won the Bob Lewis, and Saturday Alphie's Bet won the Sham.

The Santa Anita surface was very fast Saturday, and so the performance wasn't quite as impressive as the final clocking (1:48.72 for the 1 1/8 miles) might suggest. Still, it confirmed what many already had suspected: Caracortado travels in the vanguard on the road to the Triple Crown.

Also, it's becoming increasingly apparent that Buddy's Saint probably won't be participating in the Kentucky Derby. He was trained lightly up to the Fountain of Youth, he got nothing out of that race, and then he didn't go back to the track for two weeks. And so the leaders on the road to the Triple Crown remain:

1. Eskendereya -- His trainer, Todd Pletcher, indicated the Florida Derby is probably, almost certainly, next simply because it doesn't make much sense to go anywhere else. And ifEskendereya can duplicate his Fountain of Youth effort in the Florida Derby, he'll be ready to take another step forward on May 1, when he would be the deserving favorite for the Kentucky Derby.

2. Lookin At Lucky -- His trainer, Bob Baffert, said he's leaning towards running the champ in Saturday's Rebel at Oaklawn Park. Baffert will make a decision by Tuesday.

3. Rule -- He could also run in the Florida Derby, Pletcher said. The Wood is the other option, and that could seem more attractive for several reasons, avoiding Eskendereya being high among them. He worked five furlongs this morning at Palm Meadows in 1:01.30.

4. Super Saver -- He's expected to make his seasonal debut in the Tampa Bay Derby, Pletcher said. And in preparation for that, he had a sharp five-furlong workout this morning at Palm Meadows in 1:00.60, the second-fastest of the day at the distance.

5. Dublin -- His runner-up effort in the Southwest was outstanding, given the trouble he overcame and the drive he sustained. Since then, he has had two workouts, the latest this morning, a five-furlong bullet at Oaklawn (59.60). The Rebel is next.

6. Caracortado -- Flattered by Alphie's Bet in the Sham, he could become the San Felipe favorite if the champ goes to Oaklawn Park.

7. Dave In Dixie -- The lightly raced colt with the powerful charge has much room for improvement in the San Felipe.

8. Conveyance -- His Southwest proved he's much better on dirt, and so he'll probably make his next start in the Wood, the Arkansas Derby, or the Sunland Derby.

9. American Lion -- Like Conveyance, he could also improve when he moves to the dirt. For the moment, though, he'll apparently remain in California.

10. Jackson Bend -- The diminutive colt is tough, but he hasn't improved as a 3-year-old. Next for him is the Wood, where he'll need to move forward if he's to have a significant role in the Triple Crown.

Also eligible: Awesome Act, Noble's Promise, Sidney's Candy, Radiohead, Discreetly Mine, D'Funnybone, Mendip, Interactif, Tiz Chrome, Uh Oh Bango, Backtalk, Aikenite, Odysseus, Schoolyard Dreams, Tempted to Tapit, Stay Put, Connemara, Nacho Friend, Drosselmeyer, Cardiff Giant.

by Gary West
from startelegram.typepad.com


Saturday's Grade 3, $250,000 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct -- once an important Triple Crown prep, won by Kentucky Derby favorites Native Dancer, Secretariat, Proud Appeal, Air Forbes Won, Private Terms and Easy Goer -- was, this year, a glorified allowance race.

Peppi Knows and Turf Melody were the only stakes winners in the field of 10 3-year-olds, and neither of them had won a graded event. Four others had won allowance races, and the other four had only a maiden win to their credit.

One of those, however, Awesome Act, was impressive enough in his victory, and had done enough in the past, to earn a spot on this week's Derby Dozen.

Bred in Kentucky, the son of Awesome Again began his career in England for trainer Jeremy Noseda. Awesome Act made his first five starts there, winning once, before shipping to California for a run in the Nov. 7 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. He did not disgrace himself at 31-1, finishing with a flourish to be fourth, beaten just 1 1/4 lengths.

After that, Awesome Act returned to England for the winter, flying into New York on Wednesday for the Gotham, run at a mile-and-a-sixteenth over the Big A's inner track. After settling in off the pace under Julien Leparoux, Awesome Act rallied four-wide around the far turn, took command in mid-stretch and held off Yawanna Twist by 1 1/4 lengths.

Yawanna Twist had easily won his first two starts, both sprints against New York-breds, so it wasn't like Awesome Act was beating the second coming of Hindoo. But considering the Gotham was his first start in four months, his first beyond a mile, and his first ever on a dirt surface, it was a promising effort.

"We had the discussion about him possibly being a Derby horse after the Breeders' Cup," Noseda said. "I stood up and said, 'I believe I can do it from Europe.' Now he's been in America, and we can move forward."

by Ed Fountaine
from nypost.com



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