OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Dennis Drazin’s Grade 3 Withers winner Sunny Ridge will figure to be a main contender in the next stop on the New York Triple Crown trail as a likely entrant in the Grade 3, $400,000 Gotham on March 5 at Aqueduct Racetrack.
A gray New Jersey-bred gelding by Holy Bull, Sunny Ridge took to the inner track in game fashion in the Withers, returning from a solid juvenile season with capped by a close second in the Grade 3 Delta Jackpot on November 21.
Sunny Ridge, trained by Jason Servis, has already collected 18 points towards a berth in the Kentucky Derby, also including his second-place finish to Greenpointcrusader in the Grade 1 Champagne last fall, with a career record of 3-2-0 from six starts.
The undefeated Shagaf, set to venture north from sunny South Florida for trainer Chad Brown, will look to thwart a repeat victory by Sunny Ridge. Owned and bred by Shadwell Stable, who also campaigns leading Derby contender Mohaymen, the Bernardini colt avoided traffic and drew clear to win his November unveiling at Aqueduct by six lengths.
The Gotham, worth 50-20-10-5 points to the top four finishers towards a spot in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May, is expected to serve as Lady Sheila Stable’s Matt King Coal‘s comeback race for the Linda Rice barn. Unraced since earning a 96 Beyer Speed Figure in his sharp 5 ¾-length maiden-breaking score at Belmont Park on October 29, the Florida-bred son of Cool Coal Man has worked steadily since returning to the worktab earlier this month, including a pair of six-furlong moves in mid-February.
Grade 3-placed Laoban is likely to make his East Coast debut for McCormick Racing LLC and Southern Equine Stable. The maiden son of Uncle Mo will ship from his Los Alamitos training base, where he has posted three consecutive bullet works for trainer Eric Guillot.
Treadway Racing Stable’s lightly-raced Adventist will look to improve his record in the Gotham for trainer Leah Gyarmati. By Any Given Sunday, Adventist graduated to the stakes level following an eye-catching, 11 ¼-length romp in a six-furlong maiden event over the Big A’s inner track in December.
Also expected for the Gotham are the Mark Casse-trained Conquest Big E, a $700,000 yearling purchase for Conquest Stables LLC, looking to rebound from his fourth-place effort in last month’s Grade 2 Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park. Todd Pletcher is likely to send Rally Cry from the trainer’s Florida winter base for Paul Pompa Jr., following a third-place finish to Shagaf in an optional claiming contest at Gulfstream in January, while the New York-bred Governor Malibu is probable to take on open company for the first time in the Gotham for owners Jump Sucker Stable and Oak Bluff Stable and trainer Christophe Clement. Team D’s Get Jets is possible for trainer Tony Dutrow while My Meadowview Farm LLC’s Moon Over a Beauty is possible for either the Gotham or Sunday’s Jimmy Winkfield for the Rick Violette barn.
Supporting the Gotham Day card is the $150,000 Heavenly Prize Invitational at 1 1/16 miles for fillies and mares 4-years-old and up, expecting a potential field of seven talented older runners. House Rules, for owner Jamie V. Shields Jr. and trainer Jimmy Jerkens, will look to make her first start of the year coming off a fifth-place finish on September 26 in the Grade 1 Beldame Invitational at Belmont Park. The 5-year-old daughter of Distorted Humor faced a bevy of graded-stakes competition last season, earning top honors when she last raced at Aqueduct capturing the Grade 3 Top Flight Handicap in April.
Likely for trainer Todd Pletcher and owner Barry K. Schwartz is Mei Ling. A 5-year-old daughter of Empire Maker, she began her 2016 campaign over the Big A inner track on January 10, narrowly finishing second in the Ladies Handicap before most recently placing third in the Maryland Media Racing Stakes at Laurel Park on February 13..
Others likely for the Heavenly Prize include Grade 3 winner Cali Star for trainer Martin Wolfson, Calumet Farm’s White Clover, who last out won the Wayward Lass at Tampa Bay Downs on January 23, along with second-place finisher Savings Account for trainer Tom Proctor; Biogio’s Rose respective winner and runner-up, Storied Lady for Tri County Stables and trainer John Hertler and Very Un Stable’s Saythreehailmary’s for the John Morrison barn.
Sophomore sprinters will take center stage in next Sunday’s featured race, the $125,000 Jimmy Winkfield, attracting a potential field of six or seven likely led by New York-bred sensation Sudden Surprise.
Owned and bred by Repole Stable, Sudden Surprise has amassed five wins from seven starts since his Spa debut last summer. For the son of freshman stallion Giant Surprise, four of those victories came against state-bred stakes company, taking the Funny Cide, Bertram F. Bongard, Notebook and the NYSS Great White Way in his juvenile season.
The Todd Pletcher trainee stretched his front-running style to two turns in his 3-year-old debut, getting reeled in late to finish second in the Gander on the inner track on February 6, checking in 2 ½ lengths behind Gotham probable Governor Malibu.
Pletcher is also likely to send two-time sprint winner Awesome Gent for Burning Sands Stable LLC. Also on tap for the Jimmy Winkfield are Grade 3 Jerome runner Condo King for trainer Rudy Rodriguez; Lost in the Fog winner King Kranz for the John Terranova barn; and two-time winner Quijote for trainer Tom Amoss. GRD Two Racing’s Lost in the Fog runner-up Jan’s Reserve is possible for Michael Dilger, as is Zen Papa for Michael Dubb and Rudy Rodriguez.