The Road to the Kentucky Derby makes its next stop in Jamaica, NY for Saturday’s $250,000 Grade 3 Withers Stakes. The 1 and 1/16 mile route on the track’s inner dirt oval has drawn a field of six and is worth 10 points to the winner as part of Churchill Downs’ Road to the Kentucky Derby points system.
Under the system, the top four finishers in the 19-race “Kentucky Derby Prep Season” schedule of races will be awarded 10-4-2-1 points, respectively. This “prep” portion of the schedule began in late September and concludes with the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes on Feb. 18. The two-leg Kentucky Derby Championship Series begins Feb. 23 and awards the top four finishers in the listed races 50-20-10-5 points, respectively for the first leg of eight races and 100-40-20-10 points accordingly for the second leg of seven races. A wild card, which includes the Grade 3 Coolmore Lexington at Keeneland (April 20) and the Grade 3 Derby Trial at Churchill Downs (April 27) awards points of 20-8-4-2, respectively.
Samraat, the undefeated New York bred, headlines the short field and is the only entry with a stakes win on his resume. In his last start, the Rick Violette trainee demolished the field in the ungraded Damon Runyon Stakes by a whopping 16 lengths. His first two wins also came at multiple lengths over the field, albeit not as great. All of Samraat’s victories have come in races restricted to New York breds. Regardless, Samraat has earned Brisnet speed figures that put him on par with other notable Kentucky Derby hopefuls currently on the trail. Jockey Jose Ortiz retains the mount.
In each of his three career starts, Samraat has been able to set the pace and win in wire-to-wire fashion, but fellow New York bred Uncle Sigh is likely to challenge him for the lead in Saturday’s race. Gary Contessa’s Uncle Sigh also comes into Saturday’s race off a double-digit length win. In two career starts, he broke his maiden on the Aqueduct inner dirt and bested a field of eight by 14 lengths in a $65,000 maiden race that was restricted to New York breds. Like Samraat, he’s earned Brisnet speed figures in the high 90s. Regular rider Pablo Morales will be in the irons.
On paper, Samraat and Uncle Sigh stand above the field and appear to be the most likely to land in the exacta. However, at odds of 7-5 and 9-5, respectively, the pair won’t offer much value to the bettors. The next likely winner would have to be Classic Giacnroll, runner-up to the well-regarded Noble Moon in the Jerome Stakes (G2) Jan. 4. He was two lengths behind Noble Moon and another 2 ½ lengths in front of the third-place finisher, Scotland. That race was also run over Aqueduct’s inner dirt track. Unlike his competitors, Classic Giacnroll has consistently worked over the inner track the past two months. Whether that gives him an advantage or not is yet to be determined, but it’s an interesting fact to consider. Jockey Cornelio Velasquez will ride.
Rick Dutrow’s Scotland, who has back-to-back bullet works on his work-tab, could jump up and surprise. His running style suggests that he’ll likely be sitting just off the leaders and may be able to close in and take the lead before the deep closing Classic Giacnroll can get into full stride. Also, Dutrow boasts a 39 percent win record with his runners attempting their second route race.
The field of six from the rail out, with odds, is Uncle Sigh 9/5, Street Gent 12/1, Scotland 8/1, Classic Giacnroll 5/1, Samraat 7/5 and Honorable Judge 15/1.
The Withers is the 9th race on Aqueduct’s Saturday card with a scheduled post time of 4:20 p.m. EST. It can be seen on HRTV and TVG. Free PPs for the Withers provided by Brisnet.
Photo: NYRA/Adam Coglianese