While it does not feature a division leader of the stature of a Maximus Mischief, Aqueduct’s Grade 3 Withers is nevertheless an intriguing early season test of stamina for the seven participants. The race will require the 3-year-olds to make a full circuit of the 1 1/8-mile main track, a trip that is often taxing even for seasoned older horses.
The Pace Projector is predicting that a fast pace will develop, as both Lucky Lee (#5) and Not That Brady (#7) are expected to show early speed. However, I think it is worth entertaining the idea that the riders of all of the runners in this field may adopt a more conservative approach. We often hear that connections of young horses prefer to experiment with rating tactics at this point in their careers, and many will be concerned about the demanding journey that lies ahead. Even if they do go too fast up front, this race does not feature any confirmed closers that figure to directly benefit from such a scenario.
Let’s go through the field:
#1, TAX (2-1): We’ll see who ends up going favored between him and hyped maiden winner Moretti. In my opinion, Tax is supposed to be the public choice, and he is simply the most likely winner of this race. The question he has to answer is obvious: Where did his last race come from, and can he repeat it? I believe he can. I realize that the Beyer figures indicate he improved by 23 points in the Remsen. While there’s merit to those numbers, I think this is a situation where the TimeformUS Speed Figures help to add clarity to the situation. Tax was assigned an above-par TimeformUS Speed Figure of 99 in his maiden win, and a few horses have run back to suggest that’s plausible. The 110 TimeformUS Speed Figure that he earned for the Remsen represents only an 11-point jump off that prior effort, which is hardly astonishing for an adept claiming trainer such as Danny Gargan. The raw figure for Tax’s Remsen was 4 points higher, but the figure was ultimately adjusted down due to the fact that he benefited from the slow pace.
Danny Gargan has an excellent record with horses making their second start off the claim. He gets an overall TimeformUS Trainer Rating of 100 with this move, and within that sample DRF Formulator indicates that he is 6 for 11 (55 percent, $2.89 ROI) with 3-year-olds making their second starts off the claim on dirt. There’s every reason to believe that Tax will return with a comparable effort in this Withers, or perhaps even improve off his last start. Watching his races, it’s apparent that he is a solid, attractive son of Arch who fits quite well with horses of this caliber. Some may be skeptical of his potential given that he debuted for only $30,000 back in September, but even top connections sometimes misjudge what they have in their barns. There are some intriguing challengers drawn to his outside, but he has set the standard and they all must rise to meet it. The selection.
#2, SIR WINSTON (12-1): Has he just improved with maturity, or was it the Woodbine synthetic surface that sparked his competitive spirit? It’s not easy to find answers in his pedigree, which is difficult to decipher. The cross of Awesome Again and Afleet Alex would suggest dirt, yet his dam was clearly best racing over synthetic surfaces, and there is turf in the second generation of his female family. He seems to be heading in the right direction, but he got a perfect trip last time and still didn’t run fast enough to beat these. Pass.
#3, MORETTI (3-1): There are certainly some things to like about this improving half-brother to Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile winner Battle of Midway. While it’s somewhat curious that he was entered for turf in his debut despite sporting a dirt pedigree, he nevertheless ran quite well to be second behind the highly regarded Bourbon War. Stretched out to 1 1/8 miles in his next start, he ran a slightly more professional race, as he showed more speed and took control in the stretch. He did lose a bit of focus in the final eighth of a mile as he appeared to start looking around, but I don’t get the sense that it was due to any lack of stamina. While I can see the appeal of a lightly raced colt like this, I get the sense that he will be an underlay in this spot. Others have already proven themselves against tougher company, and it’s not as if he’s the only horse with two-turn experience. Furthermore, adding blinkers is not a strong move for the Todd Pletcher barn, which has been struggling with its current crop of 3-year-olds. Over the past 5 years, Pletcher is just 3 for 22 (14 percent, $1.22 ROI) when adding blinkers in graded stakes on the dirt. I respect this colt’s talent, but I’d rather look elsewhere for my top pick. One of the contenders.
#4, ADMIRE (15-1): I actually like the progression that this colt has shown in his first couple of starts. He’d be somewhat interesting to me if he were stepping up into an N1X allowance race, but this seems like an awfully ambitious placement for a horse that has yet to run a competitive speed figure. Pass.
#5, LUCKY LEE (7-2): John Servis typically means business when he ships horses to the NYRA circuit, especially in graded stakes company. This son of Flatter has the distinction of having recorded the highest TimeformUS Speed Figure (115) in the field, which he earned for his 6-length allowance romp last time out. It’s no surprise that he has been earning some massive figures considering the large margins between rivals that have been left in his wake in his last two starts. However, that dominance makes it somewhat difficult to assess his overall ability now that he is stepping up into a more competitive spot. The Pace Projector is predicting that he will get involved in a fast pace. Yet, as I noted above, I’m somewhat skeptical about them actually laying down swift fractions on the lead. I would imagine that Frankie Pennington will allow Not That Brady to cross over in front, and assume the stalking position that worked so well for Lucky Lee two back. He’s stretching out an extra furlong this time, but he’s certainly bred to handle the distance. His Medaglia d’Oro dam is a half-sister to Kiss A Native, who was second in the Donn Handicap a number of years ago. A major threat.
#6, OUR BRAINTRUST (6-1): The distance is going to be a challenge for this hard-trying colt, though I actually think he fits pretty well in this race in terms of his overall ability. Alwaysmining, who defeated him two back, has since returned to win impressively, and Our Braintrust lost nothing in defeat behind Grade 1 winner Mind Control last time. My issue with him is that he was supposed to offer up a stronger finish in that Jerome. He worked out a perfect trip sitting behind the speed and angled out into the clear with plenty of time to run down the leader. Mind Control is a talented horse, but it appeared that Our Braintrust had more run than was ultimately the case. That’s often a telltale sign of a horse that needs to be turned back in distance. Yet instead they’re asking him to negotiate an additional furlong. I won’t be surprised if he’s in the mix at the top of the stretch, but a win seems out of reach. Exotics player.
#7, NOT THAT BRADY (4-1): It took this son of the popular Lisa’s Booby Trap a few starts to figure things out, but he’s been unstoppable since Rudy Rodriguez stretched him out in distance three starts back. His dazzling 11-length maiden score seemed like a fluke at the time, but he backed up that effort with another win in the Damon Runyon. Those victories certainly give him a shot in here, but two turns is a new obstacle for this New York-bred. It’s never easy to clear the field and secure the lead from an outside post, even in a field as small as this one, going 9 furlongs on the Aqueduct main track. He would have to do that, slow down the pace, and improve his top speed figure by a few points. It’s not out of the realm of possibility, but I prefer the other major contenders. A cut below the top contenders.
I see no reason to try and beat Tax (#1), who is very likely to win this race if he merely repeats his last effort in the Remsen. I have the utmost respect for the job that Danny Gargan does and I don’t see this horse taking a major step backward off that performance. If he’s at or above his morning-line price of 2-1, I think that’s fair.
Exacta Key Box: 1 with 3,5
Trifecta: 1 with 3,5 with ALL
Trifecta: 1 with 6,7 with 3,5