Ore Pass earns his shot in Gotham

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Back in November, trainer Mike Trombetta called jockey Julian Pimentel and kept it simple. “This first-timer you’re on for me today, you’re going to like him,” Trombetta said. “I don’t know what else you’re going to think of him, but you’re going to like him.”

Then Trombetta hung up the phone. There was no need for more. Pimentel and the first-timer – Gotham Stakes starter Ore Pass – led at every call and won the 6-furlong maiden race by 10 ¾ lengths for owners Harry and Tom Meyerhoff.

“We knew he could run because everything I worked him with was all-out and he was in hand,” said Trombetta while watching Ore Pass go through some final exercise at Fair Hill Training Center Friday morning. “I didn’t think he’d come out swinging and win by 10, but I thought he was going to be OK. Julian had never been on him and we’ve got a lot of confidence in each other. I didn’t give him any instructions, but I wanted to make sure I talked to him.”

Ore Pass dominated maidens at Laurel in late November, finished fifth when breaking from the rail against allowance horses at Parx Jan. 5 and then became a stakes winner in the $100,000 Frank Whiteley at Laurel Park Jan. 19. That latest score, at 7 furlongs, earned Ore Pass a look at the Gotham, Saturday’s $400,000 feature at Aqueduct. The son of War Pass is 12-1 in a field of 12 that includes Remsen winner Overanalyze and Jerome winner Vyjack. The Grade 3 is the northern path’s next step on the early road to the Kentucky Derby, and goes as the 10th race with a 5:02 p.m. post time.

Trombetta likes what he sees from Ore Pass and the dark bay colt looked bright, lively and ready on the Fair Hill dirt Friday. He jogged, galloped and wanted more. Pimentel gets back aboard Saturday from post four at 1 1/16 miles. Ore Pass settled behind horses in the Whiteley and Trombetta expects a similar trip from the Keeneland September purchase.

“He’s got speed, I just want him to get position and find a comfort spot in the first half of the field,” the trainer said. “We’ve got a pretty good draw, he’s got to learn to settle. This is all different. All you can ask for in this kind of race is to get a reasonable trip to the far turn, where you have a chance to run and then see what happens.”

Trombetta realizes he’s stepping up in company and distance, but also knows that now is the time for 3-year-olds with even a passing thought of the classics. The Gotham carries prestige (Secretariat won it in 1973) and all-important Kentucky Derby points. Vyjack is unbeaten in three starts (all at Aqueduct) for Rudy Rodriguez and will be ridden by Joel Rosario at 3-1 on the morning line. Overanalyze (the 5-2 favorite) won the 6-furong Futurity and 9-furlong Remsen last fall for Todd Pletcher. The son of Dixie Union ships up from Florida, and brings jockey John Velazquez with him. Siete de Oros lost the Jerome by a head to Vyjack and makes his seventh lifetime start for Ramon Preciado. Kiaran McLaughlin brings a Darley entry in Transparent and Now And Then, the former a $725,000 yearling purchase at Saratoga in 2011.

Like most 3-year-old races in March, the Gotham could be won by anyone (see last week’s Risen Star and 135-1 winner Ive Struck A Nerve), and they will instantly be a divisional player. Trombetta thought about the Miracle Wood (Feb. 9) and the Private Terms (March 9) at Laurel, but liked the Gotham’s timing and figured now is as good a time as any.

“I wanted to give him this time between races and this was the only chance to do that,” said the trainer. “We think this horse deserves a try, his numbers are good and the way he’s performed makes you think it’s time to take that next step. You’ve got to step outside the comfort zone at some point with these 3-year-olds.”

NOTES: Trombetta finished third in the 2006 Gotham with eventual Derby favorite Sweetnorthernsaint . . . The race includes horses bred in Kentucky, New York, California, Florida and Pennsylvania . . . Recent Trombetta stakes winner Moon Philly was enjoying some attention in the barn Friday. She’ll get a short break and aim for the Allaire du Pont Distaff at Pimlico on Preakness Day.


PHOTO: Ore Pass on the track at Fair Hill Friday morning.