The Withers Stakes (GIII), which will be contested 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 1899 and won by Jean Bereaud, 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. Lately, however, the race has been a strong prep for both next month’s Gotham Stakes (GIII) and April’s Wood Memorial Stakes (GI), but hasn’t had much of an impact on any of the Triple Crown races, unfortunately.
It’s going to be very cold in New York on Saturday, but dry, with highs only reaching into the mid-30s under mostly sunny skies. The Withers has been carded as the afternoon’s eighth with a post time of 4:35 p.m. ET.
This year, the 1 1/16-mile Withers will be worth $250,000 and a field six has been entered, led by Grade 1 winner Firenze Fire coming off a win in the Jerome Stakes a month ago. Last year’s Champagne Stakes (GI) hero received a bit of criticism for the performance as the final time was quite slow, but, in his defense, Aqueduct’s main track was soggy, deep mess yet he still grinded it out to earn the win. Jason Servis trains the son of Poseidon’s Warrior for owner/breeder St. Amore Stable and has done a tremendous job keeping him regularly training, despite the bad weather in New York. His inside post position going this 1 1/16 miles isn’t ideal, but he’s a mid-pack runner and new jockey Trevor McCarthy shouldn’t have too much trouble getting a nice, ground-saving trip. Numbers-wise his best makes him a good win bet.
If Avery Island, who has been training in the warm winter climate of Palm Meadows just north of Miami, doesn’t go into shock from the cold weather in New York, he looks like a good choice to post the mild upset. The Godolphin homebred, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, hasn’t raced since a runner-up finish to Catholic Boy in the Remsen Stakes (GII) two months ago over this track at this distance, but has been training steadily and regularly. He’s actually won twice here and has been second at the distance and is certainly bred for the stretch-out, but what may help him is that he’s won on the lead but has also shown strength from well of the pace, so he can be rated if necessary. Joe Bravo returns and the pair will break from post position four.
Bal Harbour is another who is shipping in from South Florida to test the icy conditions of New York and the Todd Pletcher-trained son of First Samurai is bringing a resume that shows he can get the job done here today. The multiple stakes winner has had his photo taken after three of his six starts and, while his pedigree doesn’t scream long distance, the nine furlongs should be close to his wheelhouse. He’s consistent, well-bred and talented and carries some strong connections. Kendrick Carmouche picks up the mount and the pair will likely be found well off the pace in the early going and storming down the lane late.
Pletcher also sends out the well-bred Marconi, who is a half-brother (by Tapit) to champion and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man. The Bridlewood Farm, Smith, Tabor and Magnier-owned colt has shown tremendous promise, including breaking his maiden at this distance in his second start, and may be dangerous with a clean trip under Manuel Franco.
Coltandmississippi was a decent third in the Jerome, but will need a whole lot more to be a factor at the wire.
California Night broke his maiden here at first asking two months ago and has been training well. But this is quite a jump and he may need a race or two at this level before he’s ready to show his best.