Like Now leaves odds in shreds in Gotham

36-to-1 shot goes wire-to-wire

`Sweet' finishes 3rd


NEW YORK -- Like Now. Like wow!

Like Now, a 36-to-1 long shot, broke to the lead and did the unlikely in his first test around two turns yesterday. Leading wire-to-wire in the Grade III, $200,000 Gotham Stakes run over 1 1/16 miles at Aqueduct, Like Now propelled himself into the early picture for the Kentucky Derby.

Keyed Entry, already in the Derby hunt, finished second, a neck back, while Maryland-based Sweetnorthernsaint broke ninth from the gate, moved into third after a quarter mile and maintained that position, finishing just a half-neck behind Keyed Entry.

"We'd been running against lollipops back home," said Sweetnorthernsaint's trainer, Michael Trombetta, who could do nothing else given that Maryland horses were restricted from going to other states due to an outbreak of equine herpes virus in the state this winter.

"We had to get some more experience and he fought a good fight here. He ran a good race against a top-tier group. I'm impressed."

Yesterday was the first day Maryland horses had been allowed to ship to New York since early January.

On a day that brought joy to the unlikely and brightened the Derby hopes of Like Now and Sweetnorthernsaint, pre-race favorite Achilles of Troy had no luck at all, winding up being vanned off the track after a fifth-place finish.

"He completely missed the break and, after that, the trip wasn't much smoother," said jockey Ramon Dominguez. "I was concerned from the get-go because, after breaking bad, he was picking it up on the backside and ... I realized it was going to take more than he was giving me."

Frank Amonte, who took over the training of Achilles of Troy a week ago, was not sure what happened immediately after the race. But after an examination, New York Racing Association chief veterinarian Anthony Verderosa said the colt "seemed a little sore in his right-front [leg]. We'll check on him tomorrow morning and talk to their vets. At this point, there was nothing we could see or feel."

Earlier, in the Grade III, $100,000 Cicada Stakes for 3 year-old fillies, Maryland-bred Celestial Legend, the undefeated daughter of City Zip, broke on top and ran her race, but could not hold off Wild Gams.

"She came by me like nothing," said jockey Erick Rodriguez, wide-eyed, after Celestial Legend lost for the first time in seven races. "When I asked [Celestial Legend], she went. But that horse [Wild Gams], well, - my horse tried very hard."

Wild Gams paid $7.40, $3.30 and $2.60 and won by 3 1/2 lengths.

Celestial Legend's trainer, Dale Capuano, said he was not disappointed by the result.

"Oh, no," he said. "Not too many stay undefeated. The horse that won was a better horse today. Celestial Legend ran as good as she could run, but no matter what we did, we weren't going to beat that filly today."

Capuano said he would consider an April race at Keeneland or the Miss Preakness Stakes at Pimlico for Celestial Legend, who is owned by Richard Shultz and David Menard.

In the Gotham, Like Now, who paid $74.50, $22.20 and $10.20, was not supposed to do what he did. A sprinter, many doubted he could handle the extended distance, but his trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin, wasn't one of the doubters.

"We thought he would be successful stretching out," said McLaughlin, who trains for owner John J. Dillon. "But you never know until you try. This was a tough spot to try. The last time he ran, the outrider had to pull him up, so we thought he would get the distance."

But down the stretch, Like Now wasn't pulling away. Keyed Entry fell short in his effort to catch him, but Sweetnorthernsaint was coming, missing second by half a neck.

Afterward, jockey Kent Desormeaux, riding Sweetnorthernsaint for the first time, told Trombetta he was sorry he had not pushed the horse earlier.

"My horse was very impressive," Desormeaux said. "You don't have to worry about a longer distance. He had a lot more to give."

But Trombetta was happy.

"It was his first time around two turns, his first time over a mile and a 16th and he was coming out of the 10 hole," he said. "I'm pleased. He did his personal best."

Trombetta said he would decide in the next three or four days on Sweetnorthernsaint's next race. McLaughlin, meanwhile, said immediately he'll have Like Now back at Aqueduct for the Wood Memorial next month.

Also happy, but for a different reason, was Maryland trainer Martin Venburg. He brought Eagle Head to the Gotham for owner Dan Lucas of New Market, Md., with just two races on his resume.

Eagle Head finished ninth in the 10-horse race, but Venburg was smiling.

"We gave it a shot," he said. "He didn't have enough maturity and he tired, but he ran good. He did his best."

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