Dennis Drazin’s homebred Sunny Ridge brought solid juvenile form into Saturday’s $250,000 Withers (G3) at Aqueduct, concluding 2015 with runner-up finishes in the Champagne (G1) and Delta Jackpot (G3), and the New Jersey-bred gelding enhanced his Kentucky Derby stock with a determined victory in the qualifying race, scoring by three-quarters of a length.
Trained by Jason Servis and ridden by Manny Franco, Sunny Ridge earned 10 points for his first graded stakes win, increasing his total to 14 on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard. He completed the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:46.99 on the fast track.
Flexibility was off as the 7-2 second choice among six rivals. He closely tracked pacesetter Vorticity, the 5-1 second choice following a runner-up effort in the January 2 Jerome (G3) at Aqueduct, in second through slow opening splits in :24.56, :49.81 and 1:14.70.
Sunny Ridge took a short lead in upper stretch and edged away late.
“Heading into the race we wanted to be close to the leader,” Franco said. “We knew our horse has a lot of speed. Thankfully, the race setup for it to unfold that way and we took it from there and it worked out good. He's a real grinder, he has one pace and likes to run all day. I definitely like him going further.”
Vorticity never quit in a determined runner-up performance, finishing a length better than last-out maiden scorer Adventist, who turned in a commendable effort in only his second career start.
It was another neck back to fourth-placer Flexibility, who disappointed mightily as the 1-2 favorite. Flexibility finished second to well-regarded Mohaymen in the Remsen (G2) and Nashua (G2) last fall before opening his sophomore season with a convincing 4 ¼-length tally in the Jerome.
Donegal Moon and King Kranz completed the order, and Cards of Stone was scratched.
By Holy Bull, Sunny Ridge is out of the Songandaprayer mare Lignum Vitae. The gray gelding made his first start in a $40,000 maiden claiming race at Monmouth Park in late June, winning by a neck, and captured the Sapling Stakes at the New Jersey track two starts later in early September. His aforementioned second-place finishes in the Champagne at Belmont Park and Delta Jackpot at Delta Downs both came over wet tracks.
With Saturday’s $150,000 payday, Sunny Ridge has earned $524,752 from a 6-3-2-0 record.
Servis was asked about future plans.
“We'll nominate for the Gotham (G3) (on ) and we'll nominate for the Wood (Memorial [G1] on ) but we'll probably do (only) one of them,” the conditioner said.
Photo from NYRA/Chelsea Durand/Adam Coglianese Photography