Horses representing four different states are among the talented young 3-year-olds set to contest the $300,000, Grade 3 Gotham Stakes on Saturday at Aqueduct, a race that offers a major challenge for handicappers to decipher.
In terms of accomplishments, three horses stand above the others: #5 Firenze Fire, #6 Free Drop Billy, and #9 Enticed. The first two are Grade 1 winners, with Firenze Fire beating a top-notch field in the Champagne Stakes on Oct. 7 at Belmont and Free Drop Billy claiming a decisive victory in the Breeders’ Futurity on the same afternoon at Keeneland. But Enticed has also compiled a strong record, running third in the Champagne before scoring a narrow victory in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs.
Of the trio, my preference is for Free Drop Billy. Trained by Dale Romans, who won last year’s Gotham with J Boys Echo, Free Drop Billy ran arguably the best race of his career when finishing a clear second in the Grade 2 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park last month. Free Drop Billy looked like a winner going around the far turn, and while he couldn’t match strides late with the victorious Audible, Free Drop Billy nevertheless pulled 7 ¾ lengths clear of the third-place finisher and earned excellent speed figures for his effort.
Although Free Drop Billy has been competing in two-turn races as of late, the one-turn mile of the Gotham shouldn’t be an issue—he was very competitive at shorter distances last year and might relish the cutback to a mile. There appears to be enough speed in the Gotham field to set up Free Drop Billy’s late run, so I’m expecting a big effort.
Firenze Fire should also enjoy the conditions of the Gotham. The son of Poseidon’s Warrior is 4-for-5 in one-turn races and 0-for-2 going longer, and he actually won the Jerome Stakes over this same track and distance on Jan. 13, rallying from behind a slow pace to narrowly triumph. Last time out, he stretched out to 1 1/8 miles in the Grade 3 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct and ran gamely to finish second behind the well-regarded Avery Island; returning to a mile should help his chances.
Enticed ran poorly when fourth in the Holy Bull last time out, but he suffered a tough trip that day while racing in tight quarters along the rail. He might be better racing outside of horses, so drawing post nine could help him rebound.
Two longshots to consider are #1 Dial Operator and #3 Beautiful Shot. Dial Operator is 2-for-2 so far and recently returned from a long layoff to win a 5 ½-furlong allowance race at Laurel Park with a sweeping rally around the turn. He’ll be stretching out significantly in distance, but looks like a promising colt. Beautiful Shot has kept good company in California, winning the Speakeasy Stakes and finishing third in the Grade 3 Bob Hope Stakes while competing against the likes of Greyvitos and Mourinho. He’ll also be trying a mile for the first time, but could be a threat from off the pace.
This is a tough field to narrow down, but here’s how I would play the race:
Wagering Strategy A: Exactas
$5 exacta: 5,6 with 5,6 ($10)
$3 exacta: 5,6 with 9 ($6)
$2 exacta: 5,6 with 1,3 ($8)
Wagering Strategy B: Trifectas
$2 trifecta: 5,6 with 5,6 with 1,3,9 ($12)
$1 trifecta: 5,6 with 1,3,9 with 5,6 ($6)
$0.50 trifecta: 5,6 with 1,3,9 with 1,3,9 ($6)
Good luck, and enjoy the race!