With 60 points - 50 for his Gotham victory and 10 for his win in the Grade 3 Withers - in the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” series, Samraat is virtually guaranteed a spot in the starting gate at Churchill Downs for the May 3 Run for the Roses.
The New York-bred colt will spend the next four weeks at Palm Meadows training center preparing for his final engagement prior to the Derby, the Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial on April 5 at the Big A.
“Going to Florida this time is a different function than it was last time going down there,” said Rick Violette, who trains Samraat for Leonard Riggio’s My Meadowview Farms. “It’s more for him to get some sun, graze a little bit; hey spend 75 percent of their energy keeping warm, no matter how many heat lamps or blankets you have.”
While Samraat’s margin of victory over Uncle Sign shrunk from one length in the Withers to a neck in the Gotham, Violette said he was even more impressed with the colt’s performance on Saturday, as well as that of 20-year-old jockey Jose Ortiz.
“I think both the horse and the rider rose to the occasion again,” said the trainer. “It’s unusual for a young rider not to override in those situations. They usually get to flailing, but he never hit this horse.”
Thrilling finish to Gotham
Samraat fought his way to a narrow lead at the top of the stretch and held on grimly in a furious three-way battle to the wire on Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack to win the 62nd running of the Grade 3, $500,000 Gotham for 3-year-olds by a neck.
Moving up three-wide when given his cue by jockey Jose Ortiz, Samraat drew alongside the embattled front-runners on the far turn and the trio swept into the stretch inches apart. Under a vigorous hand-ride, Samraat stuck his head in front with three-sixteenths of a mile to go.
“As soon as we got to the first turn I was third behind the two leaders, and that’s where I wanted to be,” said Ortiz. “I just hand rode him and he responded very good, and I tried to keep him straight.”
Uncle Sigh, the Withers runner-up, edged up between Samraat and In Trouble to finish second, with In Trouble another neck back in third.
“Samraat is a nice horse. Now I’m a believer,” said Gary Contessa, trainer of Uncle Sigh.