Morello (Classic Empire) winning the Gr.3 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct

G3 Gotham-Winning Classic Empire Son Jumps on Derby Trail

Morello (3c Classic Empire x Stop The Wedding, by Congrats) got a sniff of roses on Saturday when he earned 50 Road to the Kentucky Derby points with a 4 ½ length win in the Grade III Gotham Stakes.

Stepping up to a mile for the first time as he looked for his third win in as many starts, Morello proved the distance was firmly in his wheelhouse.

The colt shadowed the pacesetting Dean’s List through the majority of the race after having a rough start and was well-positioned to go for the win around the turn. Jockey Jose Lezcano asked Morello for a little more at the top of the stretch as he made a move for the lead and his mount complied. Lezcano gave him a hand-ride to the line, just keeping him focused on his job.

It was the second consecutive stakes victory for the undefeated Steve Asmussen trainee, who also won the Jimmy Winkfield Stakes in his second start.

The Kentucky Derby hopeful is owned by Blue Lion Thoroughbreds, Craig Taylor, and Diamond T Racing with Blue Lion Thoroughbreds signing the $250,000 ticket when purchasing him as last year’s Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Two-Year-Olds In Training Sale.

Morello was also a $140,000 weanling when sold by breeder Robert Tillyer and Dr. Chet Blackey through Betz Thoroughbreds and a $200,000 Fasig-Tipton Selected Yearlings Showcase graduate.

“Galloping past the wire, the way he did it, we're starting to think about the first Saturday in May at this point,” said Blue Lion Thoroughbreds’ Dave Lyon. “I'll let [assistant trainer Toby Sheets] and Steve make that decision but this group - you saw us celebrating - we're thinking about that. We’re dreaming now. This is a game changer, today. We’ll book some hotels and cancel them if we have to. We think we might have a Derby horse here.”

Morello is one of two winners out of the winning Congrats mare Stop The Wedding, a half-sister to Grade II-placed Saint Bernadette. Saint Bernadette has done her own stakes producing as the dam of dual Grade I-placed Social Inclusion and stakes-placed Road to Damascus with another of Stop The Wedding’s sisters producing multiple stakes performers.

Stop The Wedding is also carrying a full sibling to Morello this year.

It was a huge day for second-crop sire Classic Empire, who also looks to have a filly on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks after Classy Edition finished second in the Grade II Davona Dale Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Just like Morello, the filly is out of an A.P. Indy granddaughter with that mare by Bernardini.