True to his previous form, Shadwell Stable’s homebred Haikal produced a devastating rally in the last eighth of the $300,000, Grade 3 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct to capture his second consecutive stakes and his first graded victory.
The colt by Daaher earned 50 qualifying for the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve at Churchill Downs.
ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY LEADERBOARD
Haikal was helped in the one-mile race by a blistering pace set by Three Chimneys Farm’s homebred Much Better, who hooked Knicks Go in the early going and together went the opening quarter in :22.36. Much Better shook free of Knicks Go, but the son of Pioneerof the Nile, ridden by Mike Smith, opened up a four-length lead on the field and drilled a half-mile in :44.42. He would not remain alone on front for long as Mind Control and Instagrand took up the chase coming out of the turn.
The winner began his rally at the top the stretch, but he was 4 3/4 lengths behind the battling trio of Much Better, Mind Control, and Instagrand, who in early stretch were lined up in a cavalry charge.
Jockey Rajiv Maragh took Haikal to the middle the track, and they catapulted past the front-runners to win by a length in 1:35.63.
“I felt like he was full of run, and I felt like we kind of had them measured,” Maragh said. “I just hoped he’d continue his run and not ease up, and he continued running, so it worked out good. It wasn’t that close at the end.”
Joe Lee, assistant to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, said the plan had been for Haikal to settle early and then make his run.
“Rajiv rode him perfectly. When I saw him closing I was just hoping he’d get there,” Lee said. “I knew he was going to come, it was just a matter of if he was going to get there in time. Even at the eighth-pole, sixteenth-pole, I knew from the way he ran last time that he was still going to fight it out.”
Haikal paid $10.80, $4.90, and $2.90. Mind Control, by Stay Thirsty, finished second and paid $5.90 and $3.30, and Instagrand, by Into Mischief, was third and paid $2.50.
Mind Control, trained by Greg Sacco for Red Oak Stable and Madaket Stables, earned 20 additional Derby qualifying points, which brings his total to 30.
“He ran a huge race, but he got caught right at the wire,” said jockey John Velazquez, who was aboard Mind Control. “They went fast enough, and I was just trying to stay back and give my horse a chance. He ran like a good horse today, but the other horse got up to beat him at the wire.”
Instagrand, conditioned by Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer, finished a nose in front of Much Better for third. This was the third start for the previously undefeated winner of the Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes, his last-out performance on Aug. 11 last year.
“I was fine with how he did it today. I’m not disappointed at all,” said rider Javier Castellano. “He was off a long time and to bring him back at a mile, he only got beat a length. I like the way he rated behind horses. He doesn’t have to be on the lead now. We can play both games. He can be right behind the horses. It’s true progress for his third race. I’m very satisfied. I got beat, but I’m satisfied with the way he did it today.”
Haikal is out of the Distorted Humor mare Sablah, a Shadwell homebred who has now produced two graded stakes winners. Her first foal is Grade 1 Vosburgh Stakes winner Takaful, who was also runner-up in the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Stakes in 2017.