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Weekend Preview I: The Gotham

With so much good racing (and, if you’re here in Philadelphia, beer) on tap this weekend, we’ve had to split the weekend preview into two segments. Today, we’ll look at the east coast – Saturday’s Gotham Stakes should be quite interesting. Axel Foley and I Want Revenge are both coming in from California; so far, I Want Revenge has the more impressive record (including a close second to Pioneerof the Nile) and he should be a major threat in this field (if he likes the real dirt – this will be his first outing on the stuff). I did notice that Axel Foley is the second horse to carry the name; the other was a 1992 gelding by Skywalker. Skywalker is the current Axel Foley’s great-grand-sire, so perhaps there’s something going on with the name and the family.

A number of NY-breds are looking to step up in class in this race; Mr. Fantasy, Haynesfield and Giant Ryan are giving open company a shot. Haynesfield is coming off victories in the Damon Runyon and Count Fleet – but we might perhaps remember that Giant Moon did the same and hasn’t won a race since (although he continues to pop up in workouts) until today. Haynesfield is by the speedy Speightstown (so at least he’s somewhat ahead of fellow New Yorker Giant Ryan in the pedigree stakes – even if Giant Ryan’s sire, Freud, is a full brother to Giant’s Causeway and quite successful in the state). Mr. Fantasy wins the terrible name contest (really, his name sounds like an 80s tv movie about male strippers), but given that he keeps trouncing restricted competition, he should be worth watching.

While much of the remainder of the field is taking a similar step up in class (including Russell Road, who ran out of horses to beat at Charles Town), the horse I have my eye on in Imperial Council. Granted, he’s the morning line favorite, but there’s a lot to like (even for an Empire Maker agnostic like me). I’ve always been a fan of trainer Shug McGaughey and if he’s put the horse in this spot, he’s likely got a good reason. I also think jockey Rajiv Maragh, always among the top jocks in New York, is underrated, so it’s nice to see him get a chance to ride a higher-profile horse.

Naturally, one hopes freak accidents like yesterday’s chain reaction will be avoided for the duration of the meet, but kudos to NYRA for keeping the public informed via their Twitter account. If nothing else, we should be able to actually see this year’s Gotham – last year’s winner, Visionaire, was barely visible through the thick fog. Here’s hoping for a safe (and visible) race.

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