OZONE PARK, N.Y. -- Six Florida shippers, two familiar faces, and one intriguing locally based horse make up the challengers expected to face the undefeated New York-bred Giant Moon in what is shaping up to be a 10-horse field for Saturday's Grade 3, $250,000 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct.
The Gotham, contested at 1 1/16 miles over the inner track, is the local prep for the Grade 1, $750,000 Wood Memorial to be run at 1 1/8 miles over Aqueduct's main track on April 5. Both are stepping-stones to the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 3.
Visionaire, trained by Michael Matz, may go off a lukewarm favorite in the Gotham, based on his solid third-place finish to Pyro in the Grade 3 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds last month. But Visionaire, like many in the Gotham field, must prove he can be successful around two turns.
Of the prospective Gotham runners, only Giant Moon, Holidaze, Roman Emperor, and Texas Wildcatter have won around two turns, with only Giant Moon doing so in stakes company.
Visionaire, owned by Team Valor and Vision Racing, is expected to arrive in New York on Wednesday on a flight from Florida that will include Swale winner Eaton's Gift, Gulfstream allowance winners Ling Ling Qi and Saratoga Russell, and Stevil or Larry's Revenge, both trained by Nick Zito. Southern Terminus, the other Florida shipper, was expected to arrive in New York on Tuesday from Todd Pletcher's Palm Beach Downs division.
Pletcher also trains Holidaze and Texas Wildcatter, who have spent the winter in New York. Holidaze overcame trouble to win an allowance race here on Feb. 16 while Texas Wildcatter was third in the Whirlaway behind Barrier Reef and Roman Emperor.
Ken McPeek, the trainer of Ling Ling Qi, and Rick Violette, who trains Saratoga Russell, both said the Gotham was the ideal spot to try their colts two turns for the first time.
Ling Ling Qi is coming off a neck victory in a first-level allowance race going seven furlongs at Gulfstream on Feb. 2.
"At some point we've got to test him,'' McPeek said. "He acts like a real good horse, he's done everything right. We wanted to run him a mile and a sixteenth on conventional dirt. We didn't think he was ready for a mile and an eighth. He's going to run against some decent horses. It's a good step forward.''
The Gotham, formerly run at a one-turn mile, will be a homecoming for Saratoga Russell, who finished second in a maiden race over Aqueduct's main track on Nov. 17 before winning a six-furlong maiden race by 7 1/2 lengths over the inner track on Dec. 15. In his most recent start, Saratoga Russell won a six-furlong Florida-bred allowance race in the slop by 10 3/4 lengths.
Though Saratoga Russell is a son of Trippi, Violette said he believes he is built more like his damsire, Theatrical, which Violette hopes will enable him to get a distance of ground.
"He looks like Theatrical, leggy, lanky,'' Violette said. "The two turns is the big deal here; if the Gotham was a one-turn mile, we'd be looking to go to Arkansas.''
Bold Start coming north for Toboggan
McPeek is also sending Bold Start up from Florida for Saturday's Grade 3, $100,000 Toboggan Handicap at six furlongs. Bold Start is coming off a three-quarter-length victory in a third-level allowance at Gulfstream on Feb. 1.
While Bold Start has placed in several stakes, he has yet to win a graded event, and McPeek said he felt the Toboggan would be a better spot for his colt than Saturday's Richter Scale Handicap at Gulfstream. That race is expected to attract Commentator and Chatain.
"Rising him up to a Grade 3 is more ideal,'' McPeek. "It shouldn't be as tough as the Richter Scale.
Among those expected for the Toboggan are City Attraction, Sir Greeley, Gold and Roses, Man of Danger, Santana Strings, Ravalo, and possibly Master of Disaster and Trophy Road.
Daaher to shorten up, possibly for Carter
Daaher, who finished third to Malibu Moonshine as the 2-5 favorite in last Saturday's Stymie Handicap, will be shortened up in distance for his future races and may run next in the Grade 1, $300,000 Carter Handicap at seven furlongs on April 5.
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said Daaher showed no ill effects from Saturday's 1 1/8-mile race, even though the colt began to lug in badly under Mike Luzzi in the stretch.
"I was worried he was lugging in so bad he might have an issue, but Mike thinks he just got tired and aggravated from not wanting to go that far,'' McLaughlin said. "I thought he would get the distance, but I was wrong.''
McLaughlin said he was waiting to hear back from Shadwell racing manager Rick Nichols before confirming Daaher's next race, though "chances are we're pointing for the Carter.''
If he runs in the Carter, Daaher would likely meet up again with Midnight Lute, last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint winner, whom Daaher defeated in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile over the main track. Bustin Stones, the undefeated New York-bred sprinter, is also pointing to the Carter.
Meanwhile, Evening Attire, who finished last in the four-horse Stymie, "seems fine,'' according to trainer Pat Kelly.
Kelly said the 10-year-old Evening Attire was closer to the pace than usual after the first half-mile and when the field quickened after a modest second quarter, "he never really got going again,'' Kelly said.
Wafi City likely for Excelsior
While McLaughlin was obviously disappointed in Daaher's performance, he was elated by Wafi City, who romped to a 9 1/2-length victory in a second-level allowance Saturday. Wafi City, second in last year's Gotham, ran a mile and 70 yards in 1:40.60 and earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 109.
He will likely run next in the Grade 3, $200,000 Excelsior Handicap on April 5.
"We liked him but we didn't quite expect that,'' McLaughlin said. "It's enough time [to the Excelsior]. It'd be nice to win a stake with him.''
The Excelsior is the likely next target for Malibu Moonshine, who earned a 103 Beyer for winning the Stymie. Naughty New Yorker, second in last year's Excelsior, is pointing to that race. On Monday, he worked five furlongs in 1:01.63.
Referee euthanized following training injury
Referee, a 3-year-old son of Distorted Humor trained by Todd Pletcher, suffered a fatal injury to his left foreleg during a workout at Belmont Park on Feb. 24 and was euthanized, assistant trainer Seth Benzel said.
WinStar Farm purchased Referee, a half-brother to the Grade 3 winner Mo Cuishle, for $1.2 million out of the 2006 Keeneland September yearling sale. Referee had a record of 1-2-0 from 5 starts and earned $42,550.
* Apprentice rider Angel Arroyo returned to his native Panama over the weekend after his mother died in a boating accident.