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ROEDEMEIER: The Derby trail heads for New York

ROEDEMEIER: The Derby trail heads for New York

by Gary Roedemeier

Posted on February 28, 2014 at 2:49 PM

Updated Friday, Feb 28 at 4:05 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- Light the Bat Signal, it's time for the Gotham Stakes, a 50 point stop on the road to the Kentucky Derby. A couple New York bred three-year-olds will renew their rivalry, but a lot of New York trainers will be shipping home from Florida to take a shot at the half-million dollar purse.

The undefeated Samraat returns to Aqueduct's inner dirt course, where he's won two stakes races, including the Grade 3 Withers. Samraat beat Uncle Sigh in the Withers, in what was essentially a two horse race on February 1.

Samraat got a 99 Bris Speed figure that day, while Uncle Sigh was a length back at 98, but they should have plenty of company for the stretch run on Saturday.

Todd Pletcher is shipping in three for the Gotham, including Harpoon who was second by a nose in the Sam F. Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay. That race on the deep, sandy Tampa track may put Harpoon right in the mix.

Michael Trombetta sends out Extrasexyhippzster, who will be stretching out from a mile stakes win at Laurel. The son of Stroll, actually has a Bris Figure of 101 at Aqueduct, but that was 6 furlongs.
Then, there's a horse named In Trouble from the Tony Dutrow barn, who is undefeated in two starts but hasn't raced since winning the Belmont Futurity last September.

Keep in mind that Aqueduct's inner course is a winter racing mixture that resists freezing in February. Some horses like it, some don't.

Meanwhile in Kentucky, the Polytrack division of the Derby Trail returns to Turfway Park. The John Battaglia Memorial Stakes is not a Derby points race, but it is a prep for the Spiral Stakes that is a 50 pointer. The Spiral, you might remember, was won by Animal Kingdom, who qualified for the Derby, and well, you know the rest.

Saturday's $100,000 Battaglia will gather a group of eleven horses who have shown at least some aptitude for running on synthetic.

Among those is Poker Player, who won the Bourbon Stakes for two year olds last fall at Keeneland. However, Kenneland Poly is different from the winter mix at Turfway.

Todd Pletcher sends in the 4-1 morning line favorite in Canzoni, who has won a maiden race and was second in an ungraded stakes race. Canzoni won on turf and lost by a nose on synthetic.
Maybe the most experienced horse is Laddie Boy, trained by Chuck Peery, who won an allowance race at Keeneland and was second to Tapiture in the Kentucky Jockey Club last November.
Harry's Holiday won the small stakes race at Turfway that is the prep for the Battaglia. The Mike Maker trainee posted a 95 Bris speed figure but has never raced two turns and gets the outside post (Number 11).

It will be a good betting race but from a Derby standpoint, it is lightly raced three-year-olds looking to improve dramatically and get a foothold on the road to Churchill Downs.

Finally, we have another un-Derby prep, with a couple of possible Derby horses.

Todd Pletcher has chosen the 7 furlong Swale Stakes at Gulfstream as the first race of the year for Champagne Stakes winner Havana, who was also second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Which raises the question: Is this Havana's prep race for the Florida Derby or has Pletcher decided to keep this horse at sprint distance? Havana won the Champagne at a mile but in a longer race, he was caught in the Juvenile by the now retired New Year's Day. It will also be interesting to see if Pletcher can get Havana to rate or if the son of Dunkirk goes to the lead again.

There will be plenty of speed to challenge Havana in this seven horse field.

Can't Stop the Kid, trained by Donna Green, won an allowance race, wire to wire at Gulfstream and got a 94 Bris Speed Figure.

Prudhoe Bay posted the same number when he won the OBS Sprint Stakes in January. A real wild card is No Nay Never, trained by Wesley Ward, who has three wins in Europe, including a Group One. However, the son of Scat Daddy has not run since last August, and has never run in this country or on dirt.

It's a Saturday that turned out to be much more interesting than I had imagined.  There is only one true Derby prep but sometimes you have to look below the surface to find emerging contenders on the Derby Trail.

Have fun watching the Derby puzzle unfold again and thanks for reading.