Upping the ante on his gritty one-length victory over fellow New York-bred Uncle Sigh after a protracted duel in the Withers on Feb. 1, tough-minded My Meadowview Farm homebred Samraat emerged victorious – and undefeated – following a thrilling three-way stretch-long battle with Uncle Sigh and In Trouble in the Grade 3, $500,000 Gotham at Aqueduct Racetrack on Saturday afternoon.
The five-for-five Noble Causeway colt earned a coveted 50 points under the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” point system from his Gotham victory. His 60 points total catapults him to number one on the updated leaderboard and should ensure a spot in the starting gate for the May classic. Runner-up Uncle Sigh earned 20 points giving him 24 points in all. A rematch in the Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial on April 5 between the two stand-out New York-bred Derby hopefuls seems likely.
Bet down to 2-1 favoritism with coupled entry Noble Cornerstone, and breaking from post six in the field of nine 3-year-olds, co-highweighted Samraat (123 pounds) sat just off the pace in third as 9-2 Grade 2 Futurity runner-up In Trouble set the pace closely shadowed by Uncle Sigh (7-2).
Moving in the far turn, Samraat drew even with In Trouble and Uncle Sigh, and the three lined up across the track at the head of the stretch.
All three sophomores – In Trouble at the rail, Uncle Sigh between horses and Samraat in the three-path – dug in for the drive, none giving way as they raced in close quarters for the length of the stretch.
In the final yards, a determined Samraat edged off to a win by a neck. Uncle Sigh, unflinching between horses, finished a neck in front of pacesetter In Trouble, who crossed the wire in third 5 1/4 lengths clear of the rest of the field. Before the race was declared official, there was a general stewards’ inquiry focusing on some light bumping among the top three finishers in the stretch, but officials saw no cause for a change.
After an opening half-mile in 48.30, six furlongs in 1:12.30 and a mile in 1:37.56, the final time for the 1 1/16 miles over the fast Aqueduct inner oval was 1:44.44. [VIDEO]
Samraat’s jockey Jose Ortiz, aboard for all five of the colt’s victories, said, “He has a lot of heart, he’s a nice horse. We had a good trip . . . As soon as we got to the first turn I was third behind the two leaders, and that’s where I wanted to be. He responded very good.”
Ortiz added some details about the dynamics of the duel. “In the stretch when I showed him the whip a little bit, he was lugging in, but he never made contact with other horses. I just hand-rode him and he responded very good, and I tried to keep him straight.” Ortiz also said, “He runs good when he’s in the front, but I rated him the last two times and he responded and passed horses and kept running. That’s a nice horse. I think he’s going to handle [additional distance] very good.”
Samraat’s trainer Rick Violette enthused, “This is a real horse now. We knew he had a shot to be a real horse after the Withers; he proved he is a real horse today. This was a good field. It was a deep field of horses. The weight had me worried. We picked up five pounds from last time; that’s a big shift.”
Added Violette, “I’d be lying if I said we weren’t already thinking [about the Kentucky Derby]. At this stage, we didn’t want to do anything that would prevent us from going to the Derby. A couple of races before the Derby probably toughens him, but this was another stretch-long, hard duel, but Jose [Ortiz] never hit him. He’s an honest racehorse and there might be a little left. Today, he graduated big time. His last race was a terrific race and this was a notch above that. He was pretty impressive today.”
Samraat returns to Florida tomorrow where he has been training this winter at Palm Meadows. As to his next start, Violette said, “The Wood is a real possibility. That would be our best option as long as the horse cooperates and tells us that we should get on a plane and come up for it.”
Owner / breeder Leonard Riggio was understandably thrilled. “We thought he might need a little more time [after the Withers]. The horse bounced back pretty quick,” said Riggio, adding “He’s a magnificent horse, and that was some race.”
Gary Contessa, who trains runner-up Uncle Sigh for Wounded Warrior Stables and Anthony Robertson, sounded very upbeat. “Samraat is a nice horse. Now I’m a believer. We closed the gap on him a little bit today, and my horse is still very young. He was intimidated and he got bumped, and he might have been a little bit cautious down in there, but we’re getting better. He’s certainly developing.”
Contessa expects to bring back the Indian Charlie gelding in the Wood Memorial. “Absolutely,” said Contessa, when asked. “It’s still home-field advantage, it’s a mile and an eighth on the main track, I love the distance. God willing, and, if the horse is sound, we’ll come back in the Wood.”
Corey Nakatani, aboard Uncle Sigh for the first time in the Gotham, indicated that the close quarters of the stretch run were a challenge, but gave his mount valuable education: “These young colts, he was trying to run, but he [had] no room to stride. He’s getting a lot of experience out of this. I thought he ran a great race. I thought they’d go a little bit quicker.”
Samraat, whose five victories include a romp in the Damon Runyon and determined victories in the Withers and Gotham has now earned $583,200. Sired by Noble Causeway, who entered stud in Kentucky in 2008 at Crestwood Farm in Kentucky before relocating to Sequel Stallions New York in 2013, and foaled at My Meadowview Farm in Watermill, Samraat is out of Little Indian Girl, a winning Kentucky-bred daughter of Indian Charlie from the family of multiple graded stakes winner Nonsuch Bay. Purchased by My Meadowview at the 2008 Keeneland November sale for $150,000, Little Indian Girl has produced three other stakes performers led by top earner Original Fate by Grand Slam, who raced in Japan ($793,248), and graded black type-placed Screen Legend.
Uncle Sigh, runner-up to Samraat in the Withers and Gotham in his third and fourth career starts, has now earned $201,000. Bred by Milfer Farm Inc, Uncle Sigh is out of the unraced Pine Bluff mare Cradlesong, purchased in foal by Milfer Farm for $85,000 at the 2010 Keeneland November Sale, Cradlesong is a half-sister to graded stakes winners High Cotton and Symphony Song, and comes from the family of champion juvenile filly and million-dollar earner Storm Song. She has also produced black type winners Slew by Slew and Percussion.