Aqueduct’s road to the Kentucky Derby will reach its penultimate stage on March 4 when 10 3-year-old colts vie for supremacy in the $400,000, Grade 3 Gotham Stakes. The 1 1/16 mile race serves as Aqueduct’s final prep for the $750,000 Grade 2 Wood Memorial, which in turn is a steppingstone to Churchill Downs and the run for the roses.
The huge favorite to win the Gotham is #4 El Areeb, a talented gray runner that has won four straight races in dominating fashion, including the Grade 3 Jerome Stakes and the Grade 3 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct. In the Withers, conducted on Feb. 4, the speedy El Areeb showed a new dimension settling in third place early on before seizing the lead turning for home and pulling away with a strong finish to win by 4 ¼ lengths.
Since that race, El Areeb has trained impressively and appears to be coming into the Gotham in great form. In a race that doesn’t appear to have much pace, El Areeb’s versatility could come in handy—if no one wants the lead, he can take the initiative and set the pace, or he can settle behind if a rival bursts out of the gate and sets a surprisingly fast pace. Needless to say, El Areeb looks very tough to beat.
His main challenger might be #8 So Conflated, who ships in from California after winning the Jan. 21 California Derby on the synthetic track at Golden Gate Fields. Trained by Doug O’Neill, So Conflated had previously shown talent on dirt in a pair of maiden races at Del Mar and Santa Anita, competing against such well-known runners as American Anthem, Dabster, and Bronze Age.
While So Conflated isn’t the most accomplished Derby contender from California, he might very well be good enough to make an impact on the Gotham Stakes. Don’t forget that in 2016, a pair of maidens from California—Laoban and Trojan Nation—shipped to Aqueduct and finished second in the Gotham Stakes and Wood Memorial, respectively. So Conflated might be capable of doing the same.
One longer shot to consider is #1 J Boys Echo, who finished third behind El Areeb in the Withers Stakes. This performance was notable because J Boys Echo broke from post position 10 and raced wide on both turns, yet only fell a half-length short of catching the ground-saving #6 True Timber for second place. According to data from Trakus, which times races at Aqueduct and provides a wealth of other data, J Boys Echo ran a staggering 81 feet farther than True Timber, which equates to about 10 lengths!
In the Gotham, J Boys Echo will have the advantage of breaking from post position No. 1, which could be all he needs to turn the tables on True Timber. A more difficult task will be turning the tables on El Areeb, but it’s worth noting that J Boys Echo ran 26 feet (about three lengths) farther than El Areeb in the Withers and was beaten just 4 ¾ lengths, suggesting that J Boys Echo could have finished much closer with a better trip. Add in the fact that J Boys Echo will be carrying just 116 pounds in the Gotham—seven less than El Areeb, and a three-pound swing in J Boys Echo’s favor compared to the Withers—and I think you can make a case that J Boys Echo has a shot to pull off an upset.
Therefore, we’ll seek to make a score in the Gotham by keying El Areeb in the exacta while covering for the possibility that J Boys Echo might step up with a big run. Here’s how I would play the race:
Wagering Strategy on a $10 Budget
$4 exacta: 4 with 1,8 ($8)
$2 exacta: 1 with 4 ($2)
Wagering Strategy on a $25 Budget
$8 exacta: 4 with 1,8 ($16)
$4 exacta: 1 with 4 ($4)
$2.50 trifecta: 4 with 1,8 with 1,8 ($5)
Good luck, and enjoy the race!