OZONE PARK, N.Y. -- The connections of I Want Revenge had a strong suspicion their horse would be better on dirt than he had been on the synthetic tracks of Southern California.
Their suspicions were confirmed in a major way Saturday as I Want Revenge - making his dirt debut - relished Aqueduct's inner track as he dominated the Grade 3, $250,000 Gotham Stakes by 8 1/2 lengths and announced himself a major contender for this year's Kentucky Derby.
Simply galloping along under Joe Talamo while pressing Mr. Fantasy through surprisingly soft fractions, I Want Revenge drew clear impressively as he covered the 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.65. Imperial Council, who had just one horse beat turning for home, rallied to get second by a neck over Mr. Fantasy, the 2-1 favorite.
Masala finished fourth and was followed in the order of finish by Russell Road, Axel Foley, Naos, Haynesfield, and Giant Ryan.
It was the first stakes victory for I Want Revenge, a son of Stephen Got Even owned and bred by David Lanzman and trained by Jeff Mullins.
"We thought that the dirt would move him up," Mullins said. "I don't know if that's what did it or not; we might have just picked the right spot."
Talamo, who had ridden I Want Revenge four times on synthetics, had no doubt the dirt made a huge difference.
"Some horses get over [synthetics] better than others," Talamo said. "He took to the dirt just incredible."
The early pace was much slower than many expected. I Want Revenge, who raced in the three- to four-path down the backside, was never more than a half-length behind Mr. Fantasy, who under Alan Garcia, ran an opening quarter in 23.76 seconds and a half-mile in 48.45.
I Want Revenge and Mr. Fantasy galloped in tandem until upper stretch, when I Want Revenge began to pull away. After throwing a few crosses at I Want Revenge, Talamo resorted to his right-handed whip and I Want Revenge opened up at will. I Want Revenge returned $8.30 as the second choice.
"I had so much horse, I was smiling once he inherited the lead," Talamo said. "Just an unbelievable animal."
Imperial Council, who saved ground while racing next-to-last for most of the trip, was guided to the outside for the stretch by Rajiv Maragh and finished very well to get second in his first start around two turns.
The top three finishers are likely to meet again in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial here on April 4.