Withers hero Sunny Ridge faces seven in Gotham
Sunny Ridge's status for the Kentucky Derby (G1) remains up in the air, but the gelded son of Holy Bull can continue to accumulate eligibility points toward the year's first classic in Saturday's $400,000 Gotham (G3) at Aqueduct.
Currently eighth in the Road to the Kentucky Derby standings with 18 points heading into the 1 1/16-mile Gotham, Sunny Ridge is no sure bet to be pointed to Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. Owner Dennis Drazin, part of a group that owns Monmouth Park, is more keen on the $1 million Haskell Invitational (G1) as a long-term goal for the gray Jason Servis trainee.
"The game plan right now is skip the Derby, run in the Preakness (G1) and Belmont (G1), give him a break, and then run in the Haskell," Drazin said. "Everyone wants to know what's next, but first he's got to run on Saturday.
"I think he'll get 1 1/4 miles, 1 1/2 miles," Drazin added. "He's a gelding, and hopefully he'll have a long career. He could be a horse who runs until he's eight or nine, so you want to make sure you don't press him. Jason feels the horse will tell us what he's capable of."
Regardless of his future classic aspirations, the Gotham is a race Sunny Ridge is poised to perform well in. He's already risen from a humble beginnings -- winning a $40,000 maiden claimer in his debut before running seventh in the Sanford (G3) -- to become the leading three-year-old based in New York this winter.
Following the Sanford, the New Jersey-bred captured the $116,000 Sapling at Monmouth, finished second in the Champagne (G1) and Delta Jackpot (G3), the latter to Exaggerator by a neck, and most recently captured the Withers (G3) by three parts of a length over the Gotham course and distance.
Adventist, third in the Withers following an 11 1/4-length debut win, is the only other entrant from that prep returning for the Gotham. The Leah Gyarmati trainee showed signs of immaturity that day, racing greenly and shying from the whip.
Shagaf and Rally Cry, who both started their careers over the Big A's main track in November, meet for a second time following a one-mile allowance match-up at Gulfstream January 29. Both were sent away at odds of 9-10, with Shagaf slightly favored, and it was that Shadwell homebred who enjoyed the clean trip en route to a two-length victory, which had followed a six-length debut win over the same distance.
Rally Cry had no luck whatsoever in the aforementioned allowance. Forced to steady around the far turn and losing nearly four lengths in the process, the Uncle Mo colt then made a five wide bid in mid-stretch before settling for third, 4 1/4 lengths behind the winner. Third in his Aqueduct debut, he entered that race off a three-length maiden score at Gulfstream
In addition to Rally Cry, trainer Todd Pletcher also sends out Mo Power, another son of Uncle Mo, who exits a one-length maiden win at Gulfstream going a mile.
California invader Laoban, third in the Sham (G3) when last seen in early January, seeks to break his maiden in the Gotham for trainer Eric Guillot. Seventh in his debut at Del Mar, he was a follow-up second in a Los Alamitos maiden behind eventual Sham runner-up Let's Meet in Rio.
Conquest Big E, whose two wins have come in the slop, was a non-factor in two earlier stakes tries in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) and Holy Bull (G2). Vincento, a well-beaten fourth as the favorite in a New York-bred stakes last time, completes the field.
The Gotham top four will be awarded points of 50-20-10-5 toward Kentucky Derby eligibility.
The supporting feature Saturday is the $150,000 Heavenly Prize, a 1 1/16-mile invitational for fillies and mares. Making her four-year-old debut is last year's Mother Goose (G1) winner Include Betty, who also notched Fantasy (G3) and two other stakes at three.
Also expected to receive significant backing is the Marty Wolfson-trained Cali Star, comfortable winner of the Rampart (G3) two back and second to Forever Unbridled in the Houston Ladies Classic (G3) in late January.
Others in the field include multiple Grade 3 winner House Rules; Ladies H. one-two Saythreehailmary's and Mei Ling; and Pangburn, a recent stakes winner at Laurel.
(Susie Raisher/Adam Coglianese Photography)