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Gotham Stakes Preview: Instagrand Ready for 3-Year-Old Debut

Instagrand training at Santa Anita Park (Credit: Ernie Belmonte)

Two weeks ago, this event looked like it could come up a bit light; however, it has now turned into “must-see” TV. The announcement of Instagrand shipping in for his 3-year-old debut certainly spices things up, as does the arrival of the Bob Baffert-trained Much Better, who will be ridden by Mike Smith. These major names and faces will make the Gotham Stakes (G3) the highlight of the racing world this weekend. The race is set to go off as the 10th event on a solid 11-race card. Local post time for this race is 5:09 PM ET.

Of course, Instagrand is the horse that everyone is talking about coming into the contest. We have all been waiting for the return of this flashy Into Mischief colt, who was last seen destroying his competition in the Best Pal Stakes (G2) last August at Del Mar. Jockey Javier Castellano comes north to ride him when he breaks from post 6.

Not to be outdone, Baffert has sent Much Better to run in this spot. The speedy son of Pioneerof the Nile has never finished outside of the money when running on the dirt, including a 3 1/2-length allowance score at Santa Anita last time out. This is the rare Baffert horse that has not gotten a lot of talk so far; however, it’s a good sign to see Smith coming with him, and when Baffert and Smith team up in New York, they’re rarely defeated. Much Better will break from post 4.

The horse getting no respect nationally is Mind Control, winner of the Jerome Stakes on New Year’s Day. He seems to be a perfect fit for this 1-mile distance. Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez will have the mount for trainer Gregory Sacco when he breaks from post 3. Mind Control is one of two G1 winners in the race, along with Knicks Go, who took the Breeders’ Futurity last fall.

The field from the rail out: Family Biz, Knicks Go, Mind Control, Much Better, Haikal, Instagrand, Not That Brady, and Tikhvin Flew.

Horse Racing Picks

Top Choice

#6 Instagrand – We finally get to see what this horse is made of after an agonizing wait since last August. His talent and potential are outstanding, and this 1-mile distance should be perfect for his return. However, August was a long time ago, and he has to prove that he is back and ready to roll. From a fitness standpoint, he put forth several solid workouts leading up to this event. All of horse racing will have eyes on his performance in what should prove to be a pivotal moment on the Kentucky Derby Trail.

Horses to Use in Multi-Race Wagers

#7 Not That Brady – From a speed figure standpoint, this is the best horse in the race. After two blowout wins going this 1-mile distance, he stretched out in the Withers Stakes (G3) to 1 1/8 miles and nearly won going wire to wire. This cut back to a mile makes him dangerous, and he also draws outside of all of the speed. That could be a major advantage in a race that is loaded with horses that like to go early. Whichever horse can sit just off the pace and pounce at the right time is the likely winner here.

Exotic Plays

#3 Mind Control – Nobody seems to talk about this colt despite the fact he won the Hopeful Stakes (G1) as a 2-year-old, then took the Jerome Stakes here last time out. Both of those races showed that he has a solid amount of talent; however, does he have enough to compete with a horse like Instagrand? That is the major question. He also does his best running close to the pace, which will no doubt be hotly contested.

#5 Haikal – Most of the Racing Dudes team likes this horse, which makes me list him in this spot, despite the fact that I’m squarely on the fence. His talent level is a tad questionable; however, the race sets up perfectly for him. He can drop to the back and make one big run at the end, with the hopes that pace falls apart in front of him. This 1-mile distance is going to be right in his wheelhouse.

Party Crashers

#4 Much Better – For a Baffert horse, his hype has been extremely quiet. He was a surprise entry, as there was no talk of him coming here until earlier in the week. It’s a big plus that Smith is coming in to ride the horse, which was also a big surprise. On the dirt is where he has done his best running, so it will just depend on his price. If he goes off at big odds, then he will be worth the risk, as he’s shown enough talent to compete with these horses.

Throw Outs

#8 Tikhvin Flew – His connections are still high on him despite a lackluster performance in his last start against New York-breds. Now, he’ll move up in class to open company, which is going to be a big-time test. His expected talent level makes him interesting, but he has to prove himself before I can buy into him in a race like this one.

#2 Knicks Go – At this point, he has to prove that he can still run at a high level before backing him again. His last two races were extremely poor. He might have developed early, and now the rest of his class has caught up with him. He needs a big-time rebound in order to get it done here.

#1 Family Biz – This New York-bred is just 1-for-7 lifetime while losing against many of the horse running in this spot. It’s hard to see much changing to where he can turn the tables on those horses, let alone the new shooters like Instagrand and Much Better.

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