2016 Withers Stakes Preview

This week Picks and Ponderings continues its tour of the winter Derby and Oaks preps with a look at a quartet of races yielding qualification points for the Kentucky Derby  Weekend action for the final days of January is centered from Aqueduct and from Gulfstream, as Saturday’s G3 Withers and Sunday’s Busanda Stakes are previewed by Paul Mazur.  Meanwhile, Nicolle Neulist analyzes a pair of G2s from Gulfstream, the Holy Bull and Forward Gal, both slated for Saturday.

In this piece that will focus on the Withers Stakes, three-year-olds take a stop towards the Kentucky Derby in this race that offers a 10-4-2-1 parsing of points to the top four positions, Grade Three status, and a quarter million dollars of purse money.  The Withers has been a prep to the Derby for only the past three years, and 2013 winner Revolutionary was third in the Kentucky Derby.  In its prior life, the Withers was typically staged at a one-turn mile in late April or early May at Aqueduct (on the main, or outer track) or Belmont, serving as a prep to the Peter Pan or the Preakness.  The race honors David D. Withers (1821-92), an original investor in Monmouth Park and the first President of the Board of Control – a forerunner to the Jockey Club.   Past Withers winners from its one-turn mile days include Triple Crown winner Count Fleet, who won the Withers between the first two Triple Crown events (1943), Belmont Park stakes namesakes Hill Prince (1950) and Jaipur (1962), eventual Preakness winner Aloma’s Ruler (1982), and Hall of Famers Native Dancer (1953), Dr. Fager (1967) and Housebuster (1990).

Revolutionary goes last to first stylishly in the 2013 Withers Stakes. Video courtesy Youtube.

Morning line odds for this race scheduled for Saturday January 30th were not available at original publish time.  Updated on Thursday, January 28 to add morning lines.

Aqueduct Race Track — Race 4 — G3 Withers Stakes — One and one-sixteenth miles on Inner Dirt — post time 1:50 pm ET

Bad jokes aside, but last out G3 Jerome winner FLEXIBILITY showed some flexibility when he came off the pace set by VORTICITY to win that two-turn race at a mile and seventy over the Inner Dirt.   FLEXIBILITY was no secret at the start of the month with his odds at 0.55-1 (halfway between 1/2 and 3/5).  FLEXIBILITY should get a cozy inside draw, plenty of pace to sit off of (from stretchouts like ADVENTIST and returning pace types like VORTICITY) and has Irad Ortiz riding for Chad Brown.  FLEXIBILITY has quality humans and has proven his worth well on the Inner Dirt.  If FLEXIBILITY is able to stalk and not got involved in a pace that could melt all the snow cover at the Big A, then he  stands a good chance to win at low odds.  And given he’s one of two in the field who showed anything close to a rating gear, it only helps his argument.  Crayola may be sponsoring this selection, but this chalk looks tough to topple.  SUNNY RIDGE is the other in the field to have some ability to rate, but he hasn’t been seen since chasing around Exaggerator in the G3 Delta Jackpot last November and it’s quite possible the time time away makes him keen for the lead.  SUNNY RIDGE also turned in, with respect to figures, his best performances on wet tracks.  The track was “muddy” on Delta Jackpot day and he was second behind Greenpointcrusader on a sloppy oval in the G1 Champagne.  While he does have a dry track win at two turns three back in the Sapling Stakes at Monmouth, SUNNY RIDGE has more flaws than FLEXIBILITY, but he does get things going in his favor.  DONEGAL MOON may not be quiet suited for a race like this, given his one-geared style and long-winded breeding.  Brought to you by the same ownership of Travers winner Keen Ice, DONEGAL MOON does have speed figures that are on the uptick and if he learns how to make one last-to-first  styled run off quick fractions, he can pull an upset.  In this race with DONEGAL MOON you are essentially gambling on whether he can mature to handle being a plodder or if he’s headstrong and needs to be in the first flight.

Selections:

#2 FLEXIBILITY (7/5)

#7 SUNNY RIDGE (5/2)

#1 DONEGAL MOON (15/1)

Longshot: As a stretchout he adds more fuel to the pace fire, but career start two at least allows for upside.  You have to wonder how he’ll be against winners as opposed to maidens, but #6 ADVENTIST (5/1) isn’t hopeless in the Withers.  Being by Any Given Saturday out of a Deputy Minister mare means two turns is within his scope, and he won his career debut by a zip code.  More important than margin is that he didn’t lead at all the calls and had to pass a horse (or at a minimum, inherit).  Kendrick Carmouche climbs aboard for Leah Gyramati – a team that’s 2-for-7 in wins in the last two months and 3-for-7 in the top three.  Carmouche has also been riding well on the winter circuit (17% wins).  While the pace isn’t in his favor, ADVENTIST does have a prayer in the Withers.

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Filed under: Aqueduct, horse racing

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