Shagaf entered Aqueduct’s Gotham Stakes unbeaten and he maintained that status afterwards, earning his first graded stakes victory in the process. After waiting patiently for a path to open up, jockey Irad Ortiz, swung Shagaf to the outside, and from there gradually wore down Laoban. The official margin of victory was 1 ¼ lengths in a final time of 1:45.90 seconds.
Shagaf did show a great deal of maturity and professionalism in the Gotham Stakes. He sat inside, behind horses, and responded gamely when called upon. He also managed to run down Laoban, who was left to a lonely lead on a speed-biased track. However, that is where the compliments end.
With this victory, Shagaf merely showed how weak the current Kentucky Derby prospects coming from New York are. Sunny Ridge, who took the Withers Stakes, could do no better than fourth place, and was unable to pass a horse who is still looking to break his maiden, in the stretch; Shagaf barely got by a leader who was staggering home, despite establishing an uncontested lead. The final time of 1:45.90 for the 8 ½ furlongs, after going the first six panels in 1:11.69, demonstrates just how badly the field was stopping.
Unfortunately, the above times also prove that Shagaf didn’t necessarily close, but merely passed tired horses. His internal splits were simply horrible. His internal quarter mile, from the six-furlong point to the mile, was a snail-like 26.86 seconds and, from there, he crawled home: running his final 1/16-mile in seven seconds flat. To put this in perspective, an infant, down on its hands and knees, could have likely come home faster than Shagaf.
The speed figures released also reflect just how mediocre the Gotham really was. Brisnet assigned the race a mediocre figure of 94, while the Beyer Speed figure came back a lowly 87. If that isn’t enough, the final time of the race was the slowest since the Gotham was reverted back to its current 1 1/16-mile distance, by about 0.5 seconds. For those who don’t think that is a big difference, it is roughly 2 ½ lengths — and the previous worst came over a muddy track. If we compare this effort with the second-slowest effort over a “fast” track, then we use Stay Thirsty, who ran his Gotham 1.12 seconds faster.
Moving forward, I see another year in which the Gotham Stakes has little bearing on the Kentucky Derby. My advice would be to keep an eye on those shipping in from Florida to avoid clashing with Nyquist and Mohaymen, in the Florida Derby. When the Wood Memorial rolls around, you want to bet a contender, not a pretender. After reviewing the Gotham, it would seem that it was comprised entirely of pretenders.
So, what do we do with this race? We avoid anything coming out of it like a plague of locusts and flip the page to next weekend, hoping that the San Felipe Stakes at Santa Anita can produce a better group.
That should not be too difficult, as the Gotham runners didn’t raise the bar too high.