Triple Crown: Gotham Stakes picks and analysis

The Grade 3 Gotham Stakes is a 50-point Kentucky Derby prep precursor to the 100-point Wood Memorial, both run at Aqueduct Park. Run at a mile on the dirt, this year’s version is well stocked with 13 entries but lacks a true standout. 

One of the four Brad Cox entries, Just a Touch, starts as the 5/2 morning line favorite, but a number of horses could end up as the top choice by post time. A field of this size offers plenty of intrigue and betting opportunity, as well as a good launching point for a potential Derby contender going forward.

Just a Touch breaks from the 10 post after winning his only start at the Fair Grounds in late January. He stalked off the leader and won by an easy four-plus lengths at six furlongs as the 1/2 post time favorite. 

Now going a mile, Cox told NYRA Press “He’s very athletic. He’s a good-sized colt and done everything right in the mornings and he showed up first time out. It’s going to be a big ask shipping him up there, but I like the idea of stretching him out to the one-turn mile. I’m hopeful he can handle that and we’ll see how it goes.” 

Clearly, the talent is there and, with a two-year-old price tag of $300,000, this son of Justify has a high ceiling. But more experience is needed to be a sure-fire winner here for Brad Cox. 

Breaking directly to his outside is another Brad Cox contender in Lightline at 8/1. He has been steadily improving in four starts, recently picking up six Derby points by finishing third in the Grade 3 Withers in early February. This colt sold for double the price of Just a Touch and has yet to finish out of the money in his short career. 

He might need the right pace to close into and some improvement to win here, but should be one running late with his eyes set on running down his stablemate.

A staple of New York racing, trainer Linda Rice, sends out the 8/1 El Grando O from the seven post with jockey Kendrick Carmouche. Carmouche is known for being aggressive early and sits atop the most experienced runner here, already with ten career starts. El Grando O finished ahead of Lightline in the Withers most recently, nabbing ten Derby points while giving up the lead late after running out of gas in the stretch. 

Distance appears to be an issue with this competitor, who is always putting his best foot forward but may be better suited going shorter. On the other hand, shortening up today from the longer Withers may work to his advantage.

El Grando O should be joined early by a few longshots, as well as the 8/1 Slider who breaks from the 12 post for John Sadler. Slider drops out of the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes, where he broke sharply but went out a bit too fast, and will likely show a similar style stretching out from seven furlongs here. The presence of these two in a larger field should set up this one for a late finisher, leaving a few value options with good connections that have real winning chances and a shot at a spot in the Derby.

Bergen, the 9/2 co-second choice on the morning line for Brad Cox, may be the top mid-pack finisher of this group, winning two of three starts including the 6-furlong Jimmy Winkfield last time out at Aqueduct. This colt ran well in his lone defeat, simply breaking too far back at eight furlongs, but showing no distance limitations that would hold him back here. 

Cox sounded confident in his colt’s ability to stretch back out in distance, telling the NYRA press office, “I was wanting to stretch out to seven-eighths, one-turn mile but just couldn’t get the right race to go. I did like the idea after Churchill of bringing him up to New York and having the options of seven-eighths, one-turn mile races for him. We ended up running three-quarters and it worked out, but I do think this is a horse that will be better going a one-turn mile.” 

This probably ends as one that doesn’t provide great value from a betting standpoint, but clearly is ready to take the next step in his three year old campaign. 

The other 9/2 morning line entry is Deterministic, one of two trained by Christophe Clement and with Joel Rosario in the irons. Deterministic broke his maiden over the summer at Saratoga, and has since been on a long layoff. It has been difficult for Clement to find the right race for his colt recently, and he told NYRA, “We’re excited to see him run again. I wish I could have run in an allowance race in Florida or New York, but we could not find that race, and the Gotham is really the only choice. But, I do like the horse very much.” 

In Deterministic’s lone try, he blew past the others in the stretch, including Todd Pletcher’s Eliminate who was the post time favorite and is 15-1 in this Gotham field. Like the morning line favorite Just a Touch, Deterministic still has plenty to prove off of one start, but has the running style to take advantage of this field with a good pace set up coming off the bench. 

Clement’s other entry, Capital Idea, will break from the outside post at longer 12/1 odds, and may have been one that took advantage of a sloppy track last time out in an eight-length romp. Still, he has shown more in those two route efforts than the high priced Eliminate has shown in his, perhaps giving this one an edge as a longshot over the better of the Pletcher duo in this field.

A large and evenly-matched field in this version of the Gotham means this edition is one that could have an unexpected winner. Two second-timers lead the way along with Brad Cox’s Bergen who could have the running style to take advantage of an eager group. With a few who are green or not best suited for this distance, more will be discovered about these participants in the coming months than will with this result. A win here nonetheless, all but guarantees a spot in the Kentucky Derby if the connections and health allow.

The Gotham Stakes goes off at 5:36 PM EST as the tenth race of Aqueduct’s Saturday card.


1. #8 Bergen (9-2)

2. #3 Deterministic (9-2)

3. #10 Just a Touch (5-2) 

4. #11 Lightline (8-1)