Saturday Stakes Preview: In the Withers at Aqueduct, race dynamics favor late-running Sunny Ridge

DontLetTheGamePassYouByfortfus

>>Go to the PPs for The G3 Withers| Post Time 1:50 EST Saturday

Lacking a standout equal in stature to Mohaymen, who makes his three-year-old debut a few hours later in the Holy Bull, the Withers arguably drew a deeper cast of characters than that south Florida prep. Flexibility was installed as the morning line favorite off the strength of his facile victory in the Jerome last time out, but the waters get a little deeper here.

With stretching-out sprinters King Kranz and Adventist getting added to the mix in a race that already featured a pair of frontrunners in Donegal Moon and Vorticity, it’s no surprise that the Pace Projector is predicting a fast pace.

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Let’s go through the field.

#1, Donegal Moon (15/1): While he is one of three runners exiting the Jerome, he never got a chance to actually compete in that race after stumbling and dropping his rider at the start. His only other graded stakes attempt came against today’s favorite, Flexibility, in the Remsen last fall, in which he played the role of pacesetter. He did earn a 110 speed figure for the effort—the second highest number in the field—but he got a very soft trip on the front end that day and is sure to face more early pressure here. He’s not impossible, but we feel that there are probably others with more upside.

#2, Flexibility (7/5): 

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Chad Brown’s best Kentucky Derby hopeful got his season kicked off on the right foot with a professional and resounding victory in the Jerome earlier this month. While he was dominant, you could not have drawn up a more perfect trip than the one he received, sitting in a comfortable spot behind a three-way duel up front. We’d normally be against a horse coming off such a perfect setup, but he had already proven his worth one race earlier in the Remsen, when he was a game runner-up to the talented Mohaymen. This horse has progressed nicely with each start and seems to finally be putting it all together. He’s the one to beat and figures to work out another good trip, but we wouldn’t want to take too short of a price on him, since he faces some worthy foes this time around.

#3, Cards of Stone (20/1): This New York-bred was privately purchased since being entered and is expected to scratch. 

#4, King Kranz (8/1): It appeared as if this John Terranova trainee might be developing into a bridesmaid-type after dropping some close decisions at short prices. However, the addition of blinkers last time seemed to do the trick, supplying him with the focus he needed to reach the wire first. The main issue is that he’s never raced farther than six and a half furlongs and has more of a sprinter’s pedigree. He also must deal with pace pressure from the two runners drawn just to his outside while saving enough energy to hold off the late challenges of Flexibility and Sunny Ridge. He obviously has talent, but this seems like a tall order.

#5, Vorticity (8/1): Though he was soundly defeated by Flexibility in the Jerome, you could make the argument that he ran just as well in finishing second. He was a part of that early duel for the lead and still hung on gamely through the stretch while the other two runners that were involved in the pace lost by 14 and 20 lengths. All things considered, it was a very encouraging effort for his first foray around two turns. While we respect his talent, we do still question how far he ultimately wants to go, given that his pedigree is geared more towards sprints. Unfortunately, he’s unlikely to have a much easier time of it up front today.

#6, Adventist (5/1): We understand the temptation to take a shot in these Derby preps, but this is quite the step up in class for a runner that only has one start under his belt and has never raced around two turns. His maiden win was visually impressive, and a couple of those that finished behind him returned to significantly improve their speed figures next time out. The pedigree is certainly there, since he’s a half-brother to $900,000-earner Isn’t He Clever and his dam is a full-sister to millionaire turf marathoner Flag Down. That said, Leah Gyarmati gets only a 30 trainer rating with horses trying a route for the first time. This colt looks to have a bright future, but his connections may be asking too much too soon in this spot.

#7, Sunny Ridge (5/2): 

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This is the one that they’re all going to have to hold off—the true closer in a race filled with speed and stalking types. He’s yet to run quite as fast as Flexibility, but he has improved his speed figures with each and every start. He gave a good account of himself in both the Champagne and Delta Jackpot, losing to a couple of classy runners in Greenpointcrusader and Exaggerator. Those efforts both came over wet tracks, but we don’t get the sense that he necessarily needs moisture in the track to deliver a top performance. He’s proven himself over a variety of surfaces and distances and is very much the main danger to the favorite.

THE PLAY

Flexibility (#2) may be the most likely winner, but we wouldn’t want to take too short of a price on him, especially since he’s likely going to have to run better than he did in the Jerome. Given the projected race shape, we’re going to take a small shot against him with SUNNY RIDGE (#7), who may drift up slightly off his 5/2 morning line price. We also want to throw Vorticity (#5) into the mix to round out exactas and trifectas.

WIN bet on #7, Sunny Ridge, at 5/2 or higher

EXACTA using 7 with 2,5

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