The Withers predates the Kentucky Derby by one year, a testament to its one-time status as one of the country’s prestigious spring races. This race once held court just below the Triple Crown races in terms of status and prestige.
Man o’ War? Won the 1920 Withers. Native Dancer? Your 1953 champion. Dr. Fager? Hit the Withers winner’s circle in 1967. Ack Ack? His turn came in 1969. Three Triple Crown winners: Sir Barton (1919), Omaha (1935) and Count Fleet (1943) all ran the Withers during their Triple Crown seasons.
Now, the race that dates to 1874 holds court as a modest Grade 3 Kentucky Derby prep at Aqueduct. The Big A is one of five tracks playing host to the Withers over its nearly 150-year history. It does so again Saturday, sending nine horses 1 1/8 miles in search of the 10-4-2-1 Kentucky Derby qualifying points available.
The Withers no longer lures legends. It dropped from Grade 2 to Grade 3 in 2000 and in 2012, the New York Racing Association moved the Withers from the spring to early February. The last Withers winner to capture a Triple Crown race was Bernardini, the 2006 Preakness Stakes winner.
Sir Winston Flashed ‘V’ for Victory in the Belmont
The last Belmont winner? Jaipur – in 1962. Two years ago, Sir Winston, who completed the Withers superfecta, won the Belmont. As for the last Withers Derby winner? That would be Count Fleet – in 1943.
Eight Withers alums during the 2010s qualified for the Derby. The 2013 winner, Revolutionary, finished third in the Derby. Last year’s winner, Max Player, finished fifth in the Derby and Preakness and third in the Belmont. Tax, the 2019 winner, placed 14th in the Derby.
What the Withers does in its dotage is give trainers and owners a good look if their charges can handle nine furlongs and two turns. This edition gives us a chance to see how several speed horses navigate what figures to be a quick early pace.
Capo Kane a Surprising Second-Favorite
Setting that pace is your 3/1 second favorite – Capo Kane. The California-bred son of 2007 Derby champion Street Sense will take money based on his last two victories: front-end romps by a combined 11 lengths. The first came in a maiden race at Parx last November. The second, his well-chronicled 6 ¾-length destruction of the Jerome Stakes field on New Year’s Day.
He is proven over two turns and his 84 Beyer Speed Figure winning the Jerome came on a slow day and a muddy track.
Should you want to beat Capo Kane, options abound, starting with Donegal Bay (7/2). This Todd Pletcher-trained bay gelding broke his maiden by 4 ¼ lengths over a mile at Gulfstream Park. His workouts indicate he wants more distance and he can press or stalk Capo Kane, not surprising coming from an Uncle Mo progeny.
Donegal Bay Will Decide Withers Based On His Pace
How much Donegal Bay and top Aqueduct jockey Kendrick Carmouche – who is winning 24% of his Big A races — presses early may dictate this race’s pace. That’s because someone needs to keep Capo Kane from stealing the Withers as the lone speed. That someone could be rail-sitter Shackqueenking (10/1), who jumps on the Derby trail from Laurel Park, where he ran all five of his starts.
Shackqueenking won a two-turn stakes race in December – the Black-Type Howard County Stakes. That came with a OK 90 Equibase Speed Figure, his career best. That scares nobody in a Grade 3 New York race.
A three-way speed duel opens matters up for the race’s two closers: Chad Brown’s favored Risk Taking (5/2) and Todd Pletcher’s Overtook (5/1). Both stayed in New York training for this race, a good sign.
Withers Could Go to One of Two Closers
Risk Taking, a $240,000 Medaglia d’Oro colt, broke his maiden at Aqueduct in December going this 1 1/8 miles. That 2 ¼-length victory came with blinkers and an 89 Equibase, bettering his previous race by 15 points. The blinkers kept Risk Taking focused long enough to blow past his rivals over the final furlong.
A Curlin progeny, Overtook cost his high-powered connections: Mike Repole, Vinnie Viola of St. Elias Stables, Mike Tabor and others, $1 million. For this, Overtook took three tries to break his maiden. That came last out, in a one-mile maiden special weight at Aqueduct. That came with a career-best 83 Equibase against a rather pedestrian field.
Grade 3 Withers Stakes/Aqueduct
Morning Line (Jockey/Trainer)
- Shackqueenking, 10/1 (Trevor McCarthy/Gary Capuano)
- Royal Number, 6/1 (Pablo Morales/Michael Trombetta)
- Capo Kane, 3/1 (Dylan Davis/Harold Wyner)
- Doda, 30/1 (Luis Rodriguez Castro/Carlos Soto)
- Risk Taking, 5/2 (Eric Cancel/Chad Brown)
- Overtook, 6/1 (Manny Franco/Todd Pletcher)
- Donegal Bay, 7/2 (Kendrick Carmouche/Todd Pletcher)
- Civil War, 50/1 (Benjamin Hernandez/Tom Albertrani)
- Eagle Orb, 10/1 (Jorge Vargas Jr./Rudy Rodriguez)
That said, Overtook has faced decent competition. He finished third in his second start to Known Agenda and Holy Bull winner Greatest Honour. Before you rush to the window, keep in mind Overtook and his 51 Equibase finished 21 lengths behind Greatest Honour.
The pick: Capo Kane. As much as this edition of the Withers begs for a chalk-breaker, since five of the nine horses are 6/1 or lower, this comes down to one thing: speed figures. Capo Kane’s are superior to anyone in the field. Should he bolt out unbothered, nobody in this field with the possible exception of Donegal Bay is reeling him in. Keep an eye on Eagle Orb (10/1), who finished second to Capo Kane in the Jerome, and is good at a price for exotics.