Fate had to work overtime to put a longshot named Weyburn in the winner’s circle after the March 6 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Had an allowance-optional claiming race scheduled for the same card filled, trainer Jimmy Jerkens very likely would have run the homebred son of Pioneerof the Nile in that spot instead of the Grade 3 Gotham.
And, in a year without a pandemic, Jerkens himself would probably be in Florida now, instead of New York, and Weyburn might have spent the winter racing at Gulfstream Park.
After all of those circumstances put him in the entry box for the Gotham, Weyburn took it from there. Showing tremendous grit for a horse coming off a maiden win, the Chiefswood Stables homebred prevailed in a lively stretch duel with Klaravich Stables’ Crowded Trade to prevail by a nose at 46.75-1 odds in the one-mile, $300,000 stakes for 3-year-olds.
“He came to hand really nice the last couple of weeks,” Jerkens said about a colt who had not raced since a Dec. 5 maiden win at Aqueduct in his third career start. “We decided to stay in New York this year. Owners usually send horses like this to Florida, but they stuck with me and let me keep the horse here and I’m really appreciative of that.”
The victory in the one-turn mile stakes earned Weyburn 50 qualifying points, which should ultimately earn him a spot in the field for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, though there’s a hitch. The Ontario-bred is not nominated for the Triple Crown ... yet.
“It was a slip-up, I guess, on my part,” Jerkens said.
Road to the Kentucky Derby Leaderboard
Rob Landry, general manager for Chiefswood Stables, didn’t rule out dipping into the $165,000 Weyburn earned in the Gotham to cover the $6,000 through March 29 that it will cost to nominate the 3-year-old to the Triple Crown.
“We don’t want to get too excited,” he said about a colt who missed the Jan. 31 seven-furlong Jimmy Winkfield Stakes due to a foot issue. “We haven’t nominated him to the Triple Crown because we were a little bit behind, but that doesn’t stop us from supplementing him. If he earns his way there, he’ll get to run there. There’s still a long way to go.”
Considering how Weyburn has yet to race around two turns, with seven furlongs his longest start before Saturday, Aqueduct’s April 3 Wood Memorial Presented by Resorts World Casino at 1 1/8 miles looms as a litmus test for those hopes.
“We’re just going to take this all in, and, of course, it’s a logical spot since it’s run right here,” Jerkens said about the Wood.
Jockey Trevor McCarthy , who guided Weyburn to victory Saturday, believes added ground should not pose a problem for the son of the A.P. Indy mare Sunday Affair.
“I think the longer the better for him,” McCarthy said. “He’s a big horse who is going to love more ground. I’m kind of looking forward to riding him around two turns.”
Weyburn, a half-brother to the Grade 3 winner Yorkton, is the sixth foal and fifth winner for Sunday Affair.
The Gotham boiled down to a battle between two horses who just as easily could have run in the allowance race that was not used Saturday.
After pacesetter and Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes runner-up Freedom Fighter tired in the stretch, Weyburn and Crowded Trade, who were right behind him, surged past. The final strides then came down to a bob of the head at the finish line that went to Weyburn in 1:38.70 and generated a $95.50 win payoff.
“Jimmy has done a tremendous job with this horse,” Landry said. “We’ve had high hopes for Weyburn all along. We thought he was the real deal but until they meet those kind of horses you just never know. He ran a fantastic race.”
Crowded Trade, a More Than Ready colt, was coming off a Jan. 28 win in his debut for trainer Chad Brown and seems to have a bright future despite being the 5.40-1 lesser-regarded of Brown’s two Gotham starters.
“I thought I had it for a second and then I looked over at Trevor and I saw he had a nose in front,” jockey Eric Cancel said. “The horse ran great. Stretching out, I think the last sixteenth got to him a little bit, but other than that, he ran awesome.”
Brown also sent out the Gotham odds-on favorite in Klaravich’s Highly Motivated, who was making his first start since winning the Nov. 6 Nyquist Stakes. Ridden by Javier Castellano, he bobbled at the start and was sixth after an opening half-mile in :48.03 before the son of Into Mischief rallied in the stretch to wind up third, 1 3/4 lengths behind his stablemate.
“He finished really, really well today; unfortunately, those other two horses got the jump,” said Castellano. “He couldn’t catch those two horses.”
Crowded Trade picked up 20 Kentucky Derby points, while Highly Motivated pocketed 10 and Freedom Fighter received 5 points for finishing fourth.