"He's a nice horse, big and good-looking," Jorge Velasquez said after winning the Gotham Stakes aboard Slap Jack, who has a shot at starting in the Kentucky Derby, a race in which Velasquez hopes to be looking back at everybody from aboard Alvdar.
Trainer Al Goldfine praised Velasquez's first ride on Jerry Frankel's Slap Jack on Saturday in the $55,350 Gotham for 3-year-olds at Aqueduct and hopes to be able to use the jockey on his colt in the April 22 Wood Memorial, the final Derby prep in New York.
Should Slap Jack perform well enough in the Wood to earn a trip to Louisville, he will need someone else to ride him in his bid for a Derby shocker against Calumet Farm's Alydar, ridden by Velasquez, and Harbor View Farm's Affirmed, ridden by Steve Cauthen.
To say that Slap Jack would be an extreme longshot in the Derby would be saying the obvious. He is a longshot in his stable. Frankel's big Derby hope rides with Esops Foibles, winner of the Louisiana and Arkansas derbies.
There were seven other Derby nominees in the one-mile Gotham, but they didn't impress. The one with the best chance of going to the Derby is Quadratic, which finished a length back of Slap Jack, and 5 1/4 lengths in front of Shelter Half. Should August Belmont IV's Quadratic, winner of two stakes this year and second in the Louisiana Derby, start in the May 6 Derby, he would be part of a Woody Stephens-trained entry with Hickory Tree Stable's Believe It.
Slap Jack, carrying 114 pounds and getting nine from Quadratic and seven from Shelter Half, raced the mile on a fast track in 1:38 1/2 and paid $13.60.
In the weekend's richest race, Exceller won the $200,000 San Juan Capistrano Handicap for fillies and mares at Santa Anita.
With veteran jockery Bill Shoemaker aboard. Exceller overtook Noble Dancer in the stretch, broke from the middle of a bunched rounding the turn for home. High-weighted at 126. Exceller ran the 1 3/4 miles turf test in 2:51 and paid $4.60.
"He had a perfect trip," said Shoemaker, who recorded his 726th stake victory.
The Kentucky-bred Exceller, winner of three major stakes races in 1977 and the 1978 Arcadia Handicap, earned $120,000 for owner Nelson Bunker Hunt. The San Juan Capistano is the longest grass race in North America.