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Derby Preps Preview: G3-Gotham and G3-Sham

Both the west coast and the east coast get in on the Derby prep action on Saturday with graded stakes in both California and New York.  Here's a look at the line-ups and the contenders for each race.

Grade 3 Sham Stakes
Santa Anita Park
1 1/8 miles
Three Year Olds

PP

Horse

Jockey

Trainer

ML

1

Marcello

Valdivia J Jr

Baffert Bob

15-1

2

The Program

Garcia M

Baffert Bob

5-1

3

Outlaw Man

Gomez G K

McPeek Kenneth G

6-1

4

El Mirage King

Baze T C

Han Moon S

20-1

5

Boulder Creek

Espinoza V

Dollase Craig

12-1

6

Kettle River

Blanc B

Harty Eoin

6-1

7

Setsuko

Bejarano R

Mandella Richard

7-2

8

Wolf Tail

Sutherland C

O'Neill Doug

20-1

9

Nextdoorneighbor

Smith M E

Machowsky Michael

3-1

10

Alphie's Bet

Solis A

Barba Alexis

6-1

There's really not a stand-out horese in this year's version of the Sham and the race itself features a mix of allowance winners, maiden winners, Cal-breds, and a couple of horses with limited stakes experience.  And while there are a number of horses in the field that would like to stalk the pace there doesn't appear to be a ton of early speed.  As a result, Bob Baffert's The Program could find himself out front but I wonder if that's really where he'd do his best running.  Santa Anita hasn't exactly been overly generous to horses attempting to go gate-to-wire around two-turns this meet.

Darly's Kettle River is a horse I happen to love in this spot due to his two-turn form and his solid work line. He comes into the Sham out of a strong N1X win back on January 6th where he cruised past the field along the rail on the turn, a field that included one of today's rivals, The Program.  While it would be great to see his 6/1 morning line odds hold, I'm guessing that a nice Darley horse like this is going to see plenty of action on the board.  We'll probably be lucky to get 3/1.

Nextdoorneighbor steamrolled a Maiden Special Weight field back in late January but I'm not too sure about what was running behind him that afternoon.  The 4th place horse came back to win his next start sprinting in a Maiden Special Weight at Santa Anita, but the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th place horses all flopped badly in their next efforts finishing 8th, 6th, and 9th respectively.  

This race features only three horses to have beaten winners: 1-Marcello, 2-The Program, and 6-Kettle River.  Of those three, Kettle River looks like the class of the group and if he's anywhere near 6/1 at post time (an unlikely situation), he would be a great candidate for a win bet.

Grade 3 Gotham Stakes
Aqueduct
1 1/16 miles
Three Year Olds

PP

Horse

Jockey

Trainer

ML

1

Three Day Rush

Jara F

Pletcher Todd A

4-1

2

Yawanna Twist

Prado E S

Dutrow, Jr. R E

5-1

3

Nacho Friend

Bravo J

Breen Kelly J

8-1

4

Awesome Act

Leparoux J R

Noseda Jeremy

7-2

5

I've Got the Fever

Hill C

Terranova, II John P

12-1

6

Peppi Knows

Migliore R

Kreiser Timothy C

10-1

7

Shrimp Dancer

Lopez C C

Donk David

12-1

8

Turf Melody

Dominguez R A

Motion H Graham

8-1

9

Afleet Again

Carmouche K

Reid Robert E Jr

20-1

10

Wow Wow Wow

Nakatani C S

Lukas D Wayne

6-1

Compare the past performance lines of Peppi Knows and Afleet Again.  Then take a look at their morning line odds.  Finally, watch a replay of the Whirlaway where Afleet Again finished second to Peppi Knows.  Those three elements led me to another one of those situations where I came to the conclusion that if you like Peppi Knows you've got to like Alfeet Again.  In fact, if the Gotham can provide a little more pace than the Whirlaway (which shouldn't be hard if the main speed horse doesn't bolt the turn and crash through a rail), then Afleet Again might find himself is the perfect spot to score a big upset.  I don't believe Afleet Again is the likely winner, but at 20/1 I think he warrants a little more of a look than some of the others.

The short priced horse in the Gotham, at least in terms of the morning line, is the first time dirt horse Awesome Act, the 4th place finisher in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf.  Awesome Act began his career in England running at 7 furlongs on the turf prior to shipping to Santa Anita for the Breeders' Cup.  Now's he on the Derby trail and I absolutely think that he's a horse you try and beat in this race for two big reasons.  First, first time try on dirt.  While I love to play first time turf runners if the pedigree suggests they could wake up on the switch, the reverse situation is not particularly one that I dive into.  Second, there are zero published works for this horse which, while not uncommon, is not something I want to see prior to a horse trying a new surface for the first time.  He's obviously been working somewhere but we really don't have a clue as to how this horse has run over this particular surface.  Those two factors when combined with low odds make this horse an iffy proposition in my book.  

One factor in Awesome Act's corner is that he should get plenty to run if both 5-I've Got the Fever and 10-Wow Wow Wow break cleanly and set a quick early pace.  But even given a quick pace scenario I think there's definitely a question mark as to whether he's ready to fire a big performance in his first try off of the lawn.  He certainly might have the talent to win going away but my cash will look for value elsewhere.

Speaking of I've Got the Fever, his maiden breaking win on February 20th was pretty impressive all the way around and if Wow Wow Wow doesn't get up and on the early lead, this horse could find himself all alone.  He's might not be good enough to take this field wire-to-wire, but at 12/1 on the morning line he might represent some decent value.  Trainer John Terranova and Channing Hill are hitting at a big, fat 40% for the meet, not a bad number to have in your corner if you like a speed horse at big odds.

I could see this race breaking any number of ways but I think it really comes down to whether or not you think that I've Got the Fever and Wow Wow Wow will get out of the gate cleanly and click off some quick fractions.  Given Wow Wow Wow's 10 post, I'm guessing that jockey Corey Nakatani will hustle him from the gate in order to clear as many horses as he can heading into the first turn.  That should ensure that both he and the 5 are out setting at a minimum an honest pace, and possibly a pretty quick one.  In that situation I'm going to take an off-the-pace horse at a price and play Afleet Again.  He's the longest shot on the morning line at 20/1 but find myself absent of any great ideas in this race.