Will History Be Made in the Withers?

By Derek Simon

The last time the winner of the Withers — scheduled to be run for the 141st time at Aqueduct on Saturday — went on to capture the Kentucky Derby, a world war was raging, the Slinky was invented by Richard T. James and Robert De Niro was 72 years away from his groundbreaking role in “Dirty Grandpa.”

Count Fleet won the Withers en route to becoming the sixth Triple Crown champion in American racing history. Of course, back in those days, the Withers was a flat mile (it’s been 1 1/16 miles since 2012) and it took place in May (Count Fleet annexed the 1943 edition after winning both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness).

Still, despite the recent string of Louisville losers that the Withers has produced, it still remains an important prep for the Wood Memorial, which saw its last Kentucky Derby champion in 2000 (Fusaichi Pegasus).

Here’s a quick look at the field:

4AQU013016

DONEGAL MOON
Faded badly after setting a soft pace (0 early speed ration) in the Grade II Remsen and then lost his rider after stumbling badly at the start of the Grade III Jerome. Now, this might not mean much — it probably doesn’t mean anything — but I was disappointed that Todd Pletcher’s charge showed no desire to run on, as many riderless horses do, after dumping jockey Manny Franco last time. Given this lack of desire, I’m not over the moon (sorry, I will never do that again) about Donegal Moon’s chances on Saturday.

FLEXIBILITY
Also ran in — and won — the Jerome after placing in both the Remsen and the Grade II Nashua. Son of Bluegrass Cat showed more early zip last time (-6 ESR) and still closed with authority (race-best -6 late speed ration). He’s a contender.

CARDS OF STONE
Son of the sprinter Bustin Stones regressed badly while attempting to rate last time, but should do better in this spot, where he holds a pace advantage (albeit a tenuous one). I can’t say I’m thrilled with him, but a win on Saturday wouldn’t shock me.

KING KRANZ
Stretches out for the first time and could make things interesting on the front end.

VORTICITY
Was no match for Flexibility in the Jerome and I’m not sure how he narrows the gap today, given the likely pace scenario.

ADVENTIST
Won his debut by 11 ¼ lengths… but the speed and pace figures in that race were less than inspiring.

SUNNY RIDGE
Seemingly took his game to a new level in the Delta Downs Jackpot, as he recorded a lifetime best ESR and speed figure. The question handicappers need to answer is this: Was it the Delta Downs bullring? Was it the mud? Or is Sunny Ridge simply that good?

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