The Withers Stakes (GIII), which will be run over Aqueduct’s main track on Saturday, is one of the oldest stakes for 3-year-olds contested in the country. Since it was first run in 1874 and won by a horse named Dublin, some highly talented sophomores have added their names to the winners’ list, including Colin, Sir Barton, Man o’War, Count Fleet, Polynesian, Hill Prince, Native Dancer, Dr. Fager, Ack Ack, Bold Reasoning, Key to the Mint, Housebuster and Bernardini. A year ago, Godolphin’s promising homebred Avery Island won, but was injured days before the Gotham Stakes and hasn’t run since (though he is back on the work tab for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin at Palm Meadows in Florida.
The legendary trainer “Sunny” Jim Fitzsimmons saddled six Withers winners over his stellar career and Eddie Arcaro rode six winners too. The only jockey in this year’s field to have ever won the Withers before is Manny Franco, who was aboard Far From Over in 2015 and Sunny Ridge in 2016.
The race offers 10 points to the winner to make the Derby, which, for at least a brief period, puts them squarely in the top 20 since the current leader, champion Game Winner, has 30 and nine horses are tied at 12th with four points a piece.
Lately, the Withers has been a strong prep for both next month’s Gotham Stakes (GIII) and April’s Wood Memorial Stakes (GII), but hasn’t had much of an impact on any of the Triple Crown races. This year the connections of seven will send their horses out for the nine-furlong test in an effort to reverse that trend and make a statement on the road to the Derby.
The polar vortex that gripped much of the U.S. this week, including New York, is expected to have passed by Saturday, but it will still be cold and the area will be lucky if the temperature rises above 40 degrees. The Withers has been carded as the afternoon’s 9th with a post time of 4:30 p.m. ET.
This year, the race has been extended a sixteenth of a mile from 2018 but still carries a $250,000 purse.
The Withers field:
Tax – This colt’s first start since being claimed from breeder Claiborne Farm and Adele Dilschneider produced a third in the Remsen Stakes (GII) behind Holy Bull favorite Maximus Mischief for new owners R.A. Hill Racing and Reeves Thoroughbred Racing and trainer Danny Gargan. He is the 2-1 morning line favorite here off that effort. Junior Alvarado picks up the mount from Franco, who sticks with Moretti.
Sir Winston – Tracy Farmer’s homebred colt returns from north of the border where he won two races, one a stakes, and was third in another. The Mark Casse-conditioned son of Awesome Again has been at his trainer’s facility in Florida for six weeks and returns to the frozen tundra for his first attempt at Derby points. Casse has yet to win a Withers.
Moretti – looked great breaking his maiden here at this distance last out by 3 ½ lengths from just behind the pace in just his second start. Trainer Todd Pletcher has three wins in this race (Far From Over, 2015; Revolutionary, 2013; and Harlem Rocker, 2008). This $900,000 son of Medaglia d’Oro, owned by Repole Stable and Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, is making his stakes debut.
Admire – Dale Romans seeks his first Withers winner with this $360,000 son of Cairo Prince, who is owned by the Albaugh Family Stable. He hasn’t raced in two months since breaking his maiden under the Twin Spires at Churchill Downs, but has been training forwardly in Florida since. Eric Cancel rides in search of his first winning Withers ride.
Lucky Lee – ships over from Parx for his first start in nearly two months. This Cash is King Stable and Leonard Green-owned son of Flatter won his last two (of three career starts) by a combined 11 ½ lengths. John Servis hasn’t won this race, but he did win the Derby with Smarty Jones in 2004 so he knows how to get one ready. Frankie Pennington picks up the mount.
Our Braintrust – has four Derby points already off a second-place finish in the Jerome Stakes last out and makes his first start for new connections, owner Gary Barber and Casse. Jose Lezcano rides for the first time.
Not That Brady – this gelded son of 2008 Derby winner Big Brown, who was haltered for $50,000 from his first start, makes his first start outside New York-bred company here. Reylu Gutierrez rides for local leading trainer Rudy Rodriguez.
California native and lifelong horsewoman Margaret Ransom is a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Race Track Industry Program. She got her start in racing working in the publicity departments at Calder Race Course and Hialeah Park, as well as in the racing office at Gulfstream Park in South Florida. She then spent six years in Lexington, KY, at BRISnet.com, where she helped create and develop the company’s popular newsletters: Handicapper’s Edge and Bloodstock Journal.After returning to California, she served six years as the Southern California news correspondent for BloodHorse, assisted in the publicity department at Santa Anita Park and was a contributor to many other racing publications, including HorsePlayer Magazine and Trainer Magazine. She then spent seven years at HRTV and HRTV.com in various roles as researcher, programming assistant, producer and social media and marketing manager.
She has also walked hots and groomed runners, worked the elite sales in Kentucky for top-class consignors and volunteers for several racehorse retirement organizations, including CARMA.In 2016, Margaret was the recipient of the prestigious Stanley Bergstein Writing Award, sponsored by Team Valor, and was an Eclipse Award honorable mention for her story, “The Shocking Untold Story of Maria Borell,” which appeared on USRacing.com. The article and subsequent stories helped save 43 abandoned and neglected Thoroughbreds in Kentucky and also helped create a new animal welfare law in Kentucky known as the “Borell Law.”Margaret’s very first Breeders’ Cup was at Hollywood Park in 1984 and she has attended more than half of the Breeders’ Cups since. She counts Holy Bull and Arrogate as her favorite horses of all time.She lives in Robinson, Texas, with her longtime beau, Tony. She is the executive director of the 501(c)(3) non-profit horse rescue, The Bridge Sanctuary.