Enticed rebounded from a disappointing 3-year-old debut to reassert himself as a Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve contender in rallying to win the $300,000, Grade 3 Gotham Stakes by 2 ¾ lengths over longshot Old Time Revival on Saturday at Aqueduct.
The solid performance in the Gotham, part of the Championship Series established by Churchill Downs, was worth 50 points to the winner and virtually assured the son of Medaglia d’Oro a place in the starting gate in the May 5 Kentucky Derby.
It also brought a huge sigh of relief.
“He really needed to show us something, which obviously he did with flying colors,” said Jimmy Bell, speaking in behalf of Godolphin, the owner and breeder. “Very professional, very pleased, still learning. He’s a big boy, but this is the time of year when they start graduating.”
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, in a phone interview, said the plan is to return Enticed to the Palm Meadows Training Center in Boynton Beach, Fla., then fly him back to New York for the Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial Stakes on April 7. “He did well training here in Florida,” McLaughlin noted.
Enticed might have trained well in Florida. He did not run well there, however. He showed little in finishing fourth in the Grade 2 Holy Bull Stakes on Feb. 3 at Gulfstream Park. He and jockey Joel Rosario languished a distant 14 ¾ lengths behind convincing winner Audible.
It was hardly the start to the season that was hoped for, if not expected.
“You hope to get off to a good start and we came out of it with more questions than answers in the Holy Bull,” Bell said.
He can now feel more comfortable about drawing a line through the Holy Bull and again feeling confident in a colt who displayed considerable promise while making his first three starts last summer and fall.
Enticed won at first asking last Sept. 4 at Saratoga Race Course before settling for third behind Firenze Fire and Free Drop Billy in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes a little more than a month later. He unveiled a welcome toughness in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club on Nov. 25 at Churchill Downs, sticking a courageous head in front of Tiz Mischief.
Bell liked everything about the Gotham, which was turned back to a mile by the New York Racing Association.
“Today was a little more maturity, a little more professional and beginning to show the things you want to see, drawing off instead of waiting on horses and showing that greenness,” Bell said. “They’re still young, they’re still growing up, but this is obviously the step we were looking for.”
Junior Alvarado, who rode Enticed throughout his 2-year-old campaign, regained the mount for the Gotham. He was able to give McLaughlin the ride he was looking for. The trainer urged Alvarado to keep Enticed off the pace and to give him a clear shot at the leader, which turned out to be Old Time Revival.
“The clean-faced plan worked out well,” McLaughlin said. “It was a great run and everything worked out perfect.”
Enticed raced in midpack while Old Time Revival took the field of nine through an opening half-mile in :46.43 and the first three-quarters of a mile in 1:11.77. When Alvarado signaled that it was time to go, his mount responded with a wide move around the final turn and steadily whittled away at Old Time Revival’s margin.
“I could feel he was waiting to switch leads to give me that extra push,” Alvarado said. “It takes him awhile, a couple of steps to get going, but I was pretty confident. I knew he was going to finish strong.”
Enticed came on so powerfully that Alvarado took his foot off the accelerator for the final 70 yards in completing the mile in 1:38.24.
Free Drop Billy, scratched from the 1 1/16-mile Xpressbet.com Fountain of Youth Stakes last Saturday for this spot, came on for third on a track that favored speed most of the afternoon. Firenze Fire lacked fire. He came in fourth.
“I thought he galloped out strong,” trainer Dale Romans said of Free Drop Billy, his beaten favorite. “Two turns will probably be better.”
Romans indicated he will point to the April 7 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland Race Course for the youngster’s final Derby prep.
Romans said he was disappointed, but hardly discouraged.
“You keep chugging along,” he said. “It’s not a sprint to get to the Kentucky Derby. It’s a marathon.”
In other significant races on the undercard:
$200,000 Grade 3 Tom Fool: Jockey Trevor McCarthy, looking to establish himself in New York after a successful start to his career in Maryland, earned his third victory of the day with Skyler’s Scramjet. “I just got him to relax and when he made that move and he opened up a couple [of lengths] turning for home, I was like ‘Wow, they’re really going to have to catch him,’ ” McCarthy said. Skyler’s Scramjet took the Tom Fool by 1 ½ lengths.
$150,000 Stymie: Harlan Punch is on a roll, and trainer David Jacobson intends to fully capitalize on that. Six days after the 5-year-old Harlan’s Holiday gelding took an allowance race at Aqueduct, he returned there to dominate the Stymie by seven lengths with Dylan Davis aboard. Jacobson immediately began looking ahead to the 1 1/8-mile Harrison E. Johnson Memorial Stakes next Saturday at Laurel Park. “We’re pointing for it and again it will be up to him and it’s how he comes out of the race,” the trainer said. “But the way he ran, though, he didn’t even run today.”
$150,000 Heavenly Prize Invitational: Kendrick Carmouche, breaking from the rail, sent Divine Miss Grey to an early lead and she never looked back in amassing a 6 ¾-length margin against Holiday Disguise for her third consecutive victory. The 4-year-old Divine Park filly, claimed for $16,000 last March, won the Interborough in her previous start. “It’s great to see horses that come out of claiming races winning stakes in back to back races at Aqueduct,” trainer Danny Gargan said. “That helps the game a lot.”