Alpha made it two straight easy wins over the Aqueduct inner track this winter, cruising to a 3 1/4-length decision in Saturday's $200,000 Withers Stakes, and the Godolphin-owned colt continues to enhance his credentials as a serious contender for this year's Kentucky Derby. The bay son of Bernardini pocketed $120,000 in graded earnings for the Grade 3 win.
Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, Alpha broke smoothly beneath jockey Ramon Dominguez and raced in a forward position into the first turn of the 1 1/16-mile event. He was floated a little wide after making slight contact with a rival to his inside, but Alpha settled into a perfect stalking position within a couple of lengths of the pacesetter entering the backstretch.
How Do I Win showed the way on a short lead, establishing fractions in :23 3/5, :48 and 1:12 3/5, but was quickly overhauled upon reaching the stretch drive. Dominguez gave Alpha his cue as they straightened into the lane and the 1-5 favorite accelerated clear in a few strides, dominating through the final furlongs in a fashion similar to his 2 1/2-length romp in the January 7 Count Fleet Stakes.
"He was a little wide into the first turn, looked like a couple came out into him and forced him even wider, but then on the backside he settled back in," McLaughlin said. "He had to move a little bit early but he responded when asked, so it was an impressive race. It was impressive the way he finished."
Alpha stopped the teletimer in 1:44 1/5 over the fast track.
"I was a little concerned, of course (being wide in the first turn)," Dominguez said. "You always want to save ground, and after I went wide through the first turn my main goal was to try and get him to relax. I felt like to do that, I had to get him behind the horse that was directly in front of me. He switched off and relaxed to the point that I really had no idea whether I had any horse or not. I was going through the motions. Past the half-mile, when I tried to put a little pressure to start making my run, he jumped on the bridle and was pretty handy from there."
McLaughlin is pleased with Alpha's development and how Dominguez fits the up-and-coming sophomore.
"I think he improved some (from the Count Fleet) because of how wide he was both trips, and he was better in the gate (today)," the trainer observed. "He gets a better grade for this race -- if it was a 'B' last time, he gets an 'A' this time.
"Ramon knows him well, he's got great hands and he's a great jockey, so we're just happy with things. Anytime you're 1-5 you get a little bit nervous. It's nice to be 1-5 because they have you to beat, but it's also a little nerve-wracking. We were hoping he'd win like that."
"I was a little more familiar with the horse (today) and I kind of knew what to expect, but I thought he moved forward from his last race," Dominguez added. "Although that race was good to begin with, I was very happy with his race today. I thought he improved. He finished up nice, and the last eighth he was really doing it on his own and galloped out good. Just the way you want to see."
Speightscity got up late for second in the six-horse field, 1 3/4 lengths better than third-placer Tiger Walk. It was another half-length back to How Do I Win, who was followed by King Kid and Hakama. Swag Daddy scratched.
Bred in Kentucky by Sheik Mohammed's Darley Stable, Alpha posted a smashing debut performance at Saratoga, breaking his maiden by six lengths, and the well-regarded youngster immediately jumped to Grade 1 company, recording a non-threatening second in the Champagne Stakes following a terrible start. The well-regarded youngster acted up at the gate in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and was never factor, checking in 11th, and entered this year with plenty of questions surrounding his Kentucky Derby prospects.
Alpha appears much-improved at three, albeit against questionable company in the Count Fleet and Withers, and will look to keep his momentum rolling when the competition gets deeper in the future.
"The plans will be to talk to Simon Crisford from Godolphin to see which way to go," McLaughlin said when asked about future plans. "He's here in New York right now, but he could relocate, or he could run back in the (Grade 3) Gotham (on March 3) in a month. We'll just have to talk about it. At least we got $120,000 in graded earnings going forward to the first Saturday in May. That's important.
"There are some good three-year-olds around the country and it's hard to tell what he actually beat today. Union Rags is out there, Todd Pletcher has what looks like a shedrow full of them, Out of Bounds in California for Darley...whatever direction he goes, there's some nice three-year-olds out there. We hope we fit in there well with them all."
Alpha, whose overall record now reads 5-3-1-0, $300,000, is out of the Nijinsky II mare Munnaya, a listed winner who would go on in the breeding shed to produce multiple Grade 2-placed Lavender Sky and dual Group 3-placed listed heroine Mystic Melody. His second dam is Group 3 victress Hiaam, herself a daughter of Canadian champion Kamar.
Kamar would be named the 1990 Broodmare of the Year following the exploits of her daughter Seaside Attraction, who captured that year's Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks, and also foaled Canadian champion sire Key to the Moon and multiple Grade 1 queen Gorgeous. The mare's grandchildren include the likes of European Horse of the Year Fantastic Light, champion Golden Attraction and Grade 1-winning sire Cape Town.