Saturday’s Grade three Withers Stakes marks the second stop on the 2012 New York Derby Trail. This year in New York there is $250,000 more of the Derby qualifying graded money available and the sequence of the races has been changed.
Alpha won the first stop, which was the Jan 7th Count Fleet, by two and a half lengths while earning an 85 Beyer Speed Figure. The Godolphin colt will continue to prep for the Derby in New York and assistant trainer Art Magnuson explained why, “The thought is [to run in] all of them. We could skip one if we want, but the thought is to just do all four. The Kentucky Derby is very important, but this series is very important. These aren’t preps, these are important races, so we’re treating them that way. We take the Withers very seriously, and the Gotham. We’ve won a stake and that’s nice, and this is graded, that’s important, everything’s very important. Alpha needs to show up, needs to run, but we couldn’t be happier with him now.”
Alpha broke his maiden closing weekend at Saratoga with a six length victory. He next ran second to Union Rags in the Grade One Champagne. The Bernardini colt’s 2011 season ended with a disappointing performance in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Kiaran McLaughlin supervised Alpha’s two month break at Palm Meadows in Florida and then shipped him to New York.
The Withers Stakes is named for David Dunham Withers, who was a businessman who made a fortune in the South prior to the Civil War. He moved to the North where he owned and bred thoroughbreds from his 800 acre Brookdale Farm in Lincroft, NJ. He was one of the founders of Jerome Park, an original member of the Jockey Club, and an owner of Monmouth Park. The Withers was first run at old Jerome Park in 1874. He actually won his namesake race in 1890, with his horse, King Eric.
Likely to be the favorite in the Withers, Alpha will probably be joined by six to eight other three year-olds looking to get their piece of the $200,000 graded purse. The race closed with 42 nominations.
Hakama has hit the board in all four of his starts. Michael Tombetta trains this son of First Samarai out the Fair Hill Center in Maryland. He broke his maiden on the inner track at Aqueduct on Dec. 11, 2011, going a mile and 70 yards. From there he won a Jan. 4th NW1 allowance race at Laurel again covering a distance of ground.
How Do I Win comes from the Repole Stable and is trained by the red hot Todd Pletcher. After the dazzling performances of El Padrino in a Gulfstream allowance where he a earned a 100 Beyer speed figure and Algorithms stunning defeat of the two year-old champion Hansen with a 98 BSF, all Pletcher horses should be considered dangerous. On Sunday How Do I Win breezed 4F in :49.04. If he runs in the Withers we will find him running on the lead, as Pletcher explained, “In his last race, the jockey (Cornelio Velasquez) took too much hold of him, and he’s more of a free-running horse.”
King Kid is a Dale Romans trainee that has run just twice. This son of Lemon Drop Kid broke his maiden at Churchill on November 26th and finished third in the Gulfstream Park Derby on January 1st.
Jerry Hollendorfer is considering shipping Longview Drive in from California. The Pulpit colt has run in four stakes races with two wins and two third place finishes. Most recently in the Sham (G3) he ran third one length behind of the winner Out of Bounds and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint victor Secret Circle.
Robert Reid trains the Pennsylvania-bred Phil Dancer. This colt has won his last two 6F starts at Parx: a state-bred maiden race on December 5th and a NW1 allowance on January 1st.
Gary Contessa trains Speightscity who has already run six times. This colt ran in the Breeders” Cup Juvenile, the Remsen, and the Count Fleet. Last out in the Count Fleet he was bumped at the start and then raced wide. On December 15th, he won a NW1 allowance on the Aqueduct inner track going a mile and 70.
Swag Daddy is trained of Richard Dutrow, Jr. and has been running exclusively against New York-breds. His last two races have been in stakes races on the inner track and have produced two victories. Both of those races were in December at a mile and 70 with one win coming from off the pace and the other on the lead.
Tiger Walk comes from the legendary Sagamore Farm, which is now owned by the Under Armour boss Kevin Plank. This Tale of the Cat colt ran his first three races on the turf with one win and then he took an optional claiming allowance on the main track at Laurel.