A long-striding chestnut colt bred in New York is ready to step up and show whether he has the talent to make a run at the Kentucky Derby,
Haynesfield brings a four-race winning streak into Saturday's $250,000 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct, where he will take on eight rivals in what shapes up as one of the more competitive early Derby prep races.
"I don't know if it'll tell us if we have a Derby horse on our hands, but it's a huge step up for him to move into this company," says Carol Seaver, the racing manager for Harvey Weinstein's Turtle Bird Stable, which owns Haynesfield. "It'll certainly give us a better idea of his abilities and how he stacks up against this kind of competition."
Haynesfield just loves the Big A, too. The son of Speightstown, who like his father is named after a town in Barbados, opened the year by winning the Count Fleet by 3 1/2 lengths. He followed with a 6 1/4-length victory in the Whirlaway, the same 1 1-16 miles as the Grade 3 Gotham.
"He's stepping up, but that's the name of the game," says Toby Sheets, the New York-based assistant for Haynesfield's trainer, Steve Asmussen. "I think he fits at this point and he hasn't proven otherwise."
Haynesfield will be ridden for the first time by C.C. Lopez _ regular rider Ramon Dominguez will be at Santa Anita on Saturday _ and leaves from the No. 6 post.
Challengers have arrived from all over: I Want Revenge, who doesn't seem to like the synthetic surfaces in California, will try dirt for the first time; Imperial Council shows up from Florida after an impressive allowance win at Gulfstream Park; and West Virginia-bred Russell Road is moving up in class toting a six-race winning streak.
Top trainers Todd Pletcher and Kiaran McLaughlin are each sending out a pair of 3-year-olds _ Pletcher has Masala and Naos; McLaughlin has Axel Foley and 2-for-2 Mr. Fantasy. Giant Ryan rounds out the field.
Imperial Council is the morning-line favorite at 5-2. I Want Revenge is 3-1, with Mr. Fantasy at 7-2 and both Haynesfield and Masala at 5-1.
The Gotham is a steppingstone to the $750,000 Wood Memorial on April 4 _ the final East Coast prep before the Derby on May 2. In 2003, Funny Cide became the first New York-bred to win the Derby.
"We're not looking ahead at all," Seaver says. "It's one race at a time for us."
With the well-bred Imperial Council, Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey is looking to return to the Derby for the first time in seven years. Imperial Council, a son of 2003 Belmont Stakes winner Empire Maker, has won two of three starts but will be in a two-turn race for the first time. Rajiv Maragh gets the call because regular jockey Edgar Prado has riding commitments at Santa Anita.
"I look forward to running him two turns," McGaughey says. "I don't think the distance will be a problem."
I Want Revenge has been sent East by owner David Lanzman. Trainer Jeff Mullins told the owner he believes I Want Revenge is better on the dirt _ the same surface the Derby is run on _ and jockey Joe Talamo echoed those thoughts after the colt finished second to Pioneerof the Nile in the Robert Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita last month.
Russell Road comes into the race with a 6-for-7 record, the gelding's most recent win coming in the six-furlong Dancing Count Stakes at Laurel in Maryland. His first six starts came at Charles Town in West Virginia, with none longer than seven furlongs.
"We thought we'd try him against better competition to get a better line on him," trainer James W. Casey says "He looks like he wants to go farther."
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