May 25, 2024

Firenze Fire faces eight in Gotham

Firenze Fire captures the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct under jockey Manuel Franco on Saturday, January 13, 2017 (c) NYRA/Annette Jasko/Adam Coglianese Photography

Grade 1 hero Firenze Fire returns to Aqueduct on Saturday for the $300,000 Gotham Stakes (G3) going a mile under jockey Manual Franco.

The race is part of the Championship portion of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series and offers up a total of 85 points toward a starting berth in the May 5 Kentucky Derby (G1).

Firenze Fire and Franco last teamed up to take the Jerome Stakes for trainer Jason Servis in the colt’s sophomore debut over the same eight-furlong distance but on a muddy, sealed track. The bay followed that performance with a runner-up effort last out in the 1 1/8-mile Withers Stakes (G3), but with Trevor McCarthy aboard.

Firenze Fire captured the Champagne Stakes (G1) last October over a mile at Belmont Park and also scored in the six-furlong Sanford Stakes (G3) at Saratoga in just his second career start after taking his maiden debut at Monmouth Park by 3 1/2 lengths.

Dial Operator will try to move his perfect mark to three-for-three while making his stakes bow in the Gotham on Saturday. Also trained by Servis, the chestnut colt took his maiden debut by 1 1/4 lengths last July at Monmouth Park and reappeared February 4 at Laurel Park to add a 4 1/2-length victory in an allowance/optional claimer to his record. McCarthy has the call for the first time.

Trainer Dale Romans scratched Free Drop Billy from the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) last Saturday at Gulfstream Park in favor of running the Union Rags colt in this spot. However, those plans on now in flux as the flight originally scheduled to depart Palm Beach, Florida, on Wednesday has been rescheduled to Thursday due to winter weather hitting New York. With that in mind, Romans cross-entered Free Drop Billy to the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) on Saturday.

Regardless of where he starts, the chestnut is seeking his first win since taking the Breeders’ Futurity (G1) at Keeneland in October. He ran second to Firenze Fire in the Sanford and just missed by a neck in the Hopeful Stakes (G1) in two starts prior to that initial stakes win. The Florida-bred then closed out his two-year-old campaign with a ninth-placing in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) at Del Mar.

Free Drop Billy returned to action February 3 with a second-placg effort in the Holy Bull Stakes (G2) at Gulfstream, and will be ridden by Dylan Davis if he makes it to New York.

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin has been pointing Enticed to the Gotham and the Kentucky-bred was scheduled to fly out of Florida on the same plane as Free Drop Billy. With the rescheduling, McLaughlin also cross-entered the Medaglia d’Oro colt to the Tampa Bay Derby.

Also like his rival, Enticed was last seen running in the Holy Bull. The dark bay sophomore finished a well-beaten fourth in the 1 1/16-mile contest in his first start since gutting out a head victory in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs on November 25. He kicked off his career with a six-furlong maiden win at Saratoga and was third in the Champagne before shipping to Kentucky for the Kentucky Jockey Club. Junior Alvarado, aboard for Enticed’s first three races, reunites with the colt in the Gotham.

Nine Route dropped his career debut at Belmont Park when starting for trainer Bill Mott, but since then has gone three-for-three at Aqueduct while under the tutelage of conditioner Jeremiah Englehart. The bay son of The Factor broke his maiden by 6 1/2 lengths on December 8, wired an allowance/optional claimer on January 18 and was last seen posting a three-length, gate-to-wire victory in the Gander Stakes on February 18. Kendrick Carmouche will be holding the reins Saturday as Nine Route attempts his fourth straight win.

Old Time Revival just missed by a neck in the Miracle Wood Stakes most recently at 34-1, one race after a seventh-placing in the Frank Whiteley Jr. Stakes, both at Laurel Park. In fact, the Kenneth Decker-trained son of Brethren will be making his first start outside of that track in this spot with Steve Hamilton coming along for the ride.

Beautiful Shot won the Speakeasy Stakes last October at Santa Anita and closed out his 2018 campaign with a well-beaten third in the Bob Hope Stakes (G3) going seven furlongs at Del Mar in mid-November. Trainer Keith Desormeaux brings the Trappe Shot ridgling back in this spot with Angel Arroyo taking the reins.

Whereshetoldmetogo captured a starter stakes at Gulfstream on February 17, one race after making his sophomore bow a fourth-place effort in the Mucho Macho Man Stakes on January 6. The Anthony Pecoraro trainee scored by a half-length in the 5 1/2-furlong First State Dash Stakes in September, and is the most experienced runner in this field with eight career starts. Joe Rocco Jr. has the first-time call.

Cove Blue tries stakes rivals for the first time here off a well-beaten third at Gulfstream on February 4. Chris Landeros will be holding the reins on the Romans pupil.

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One race before the Gotham, 10 older runners have been entered to sprint six furlongs in the $200,000 Tom Fool Handicap (G3).

Spartiatis captured last year’s edition by two lengths and returns for another try while making just his second start for new trainer Rudy Rodriguez.

The eight-year-old gelding will face the likes of Grade 1-winning millionaire Green Gratto and last-out Toboggan Stakes (G3) hero Great Stuff.