My Meadowview Farm's homebred Samraat remained unbeaten and joined the Kentucky Derby trail Saturday, posting a one-length victory over fellow New York-bred rival Uncle Sigh in the Grade 3, $250,000 Withers at Aqueduct. With Jose Ortiz up, the Richard Violette Jr.-trained colt completed the 1 1/16-mile distance in 1:46 1/5 on the fast inner track.
Samraat, who was making his first start against open competition, earned 10 points for winning the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" scoring race. He captured his first three attempts against restricted foes by a combined 25 lengths, including a 16-length romp most recently in the December 18 Damon Runyon at Aqueduct.
The Noble Causeway colt has now earned $283,200.
A front-running winner in his first three starts, Samraat broke alertly from post 5 but ceded the advantage to Uncle Sigh, who sprinted forward from the inside to show the way into the first turn. Samraat closely tracked the pacesetter through early splits of :24, :48 1/5 and 1:12 3/5.
"We broke really well," Violette said. "The only thing was we weren't going to just surrender the lead, because then it would have been a quarter in :25 and it would have been no contest. If (Uncle Sigh's connections) were going to go, they were going to have to step on the gas. That was the plan: make them commit, and then we can lay off of them, and that's what happened."
The pair turned for home together, with Samraat forging his way to a narrow lead with a quarter-mile remaining. Uncle Sigh battled back gamely along the inside when passed, but the winner was going best late and edged away in the final sixteenth of a mile.
"It was a long (stretch) drive," Violette said. "(Uncle Sigh) was kind of tested in his first race. We haven't been."
Uncle Sigh finished a head second when making his debut on December 7 and entered the Withers off of a 14-length score over restricted maiden special weight rivals on December 27.
"We (Samraat and Uncle Sigh) left the rest of the field," Violette added. "As fast as we went early, it wasn't like all of a sudden somebody from out of the clouds was going to get there.
"Hats off to both horses. They ran a huge, huge race today, and I think they'll show up later in the year."
"Maybe he got me on experience today; I look forward to Rocky II," said Gary Contessa, trainer of runner-up Uncle Sigh. "That's how I feel after a race like this; this was Rocky, I'm ready for Rocky II.
"(Uncle Sigh) ran well. I think the difference was that I, having the No. 1 hole, had to set the pace. My horse isn't very experienced and I think he's really going to mature off this effort. He never stopped running. I look forward to the rematch. Hopefully (Samraat) comes back for the Gotham (on March 1). I'll be there."
The other four contestants raced far behind throughout. It was a 10 1/4-length gap from Uncle Sigh to Scotland in third, and another 2 3/4-length margin to fourth-placer Classic Giacnroll. Honorable Judge and Street Gent rounded out the order of finish.
Samraat paid $4.30 to win as the even-money second choice. Uncle Sigh, who was also even-money, went postward as a slight favorite.
"My horse broke really good, I tried to go out and get the lead," Ortiz said. "By the half mile I had a lot of horse but (Uncle Sigh) was used already. He ran a big race.
"At the quarter pole I thought I had a little more horse; I thought I was going to pass him. My horse didn't pick it up the way I thought he was going to, but he came through. (Violette) did a tremendous job."
Samraat won his career debut on October 23, taking a six-furlong maiden special weight for New York-breds at Belmont Park, before capturing a 7 1/2-furlong, entry-level allowance at Aqueduct November 22.
"You got to (have a tough race) before you get to the bigger races. They have to learn how to fight," Violette said. "I really thought that happened to Easy Goer his three-year-old year. He had never really been in a fight until the Preakness, and he became a better horse after that."
Samraat is out of the winning Little Indian Girl, a daughter of Indian Charlie who has also produced Grade 3-placed Screen Legend and stakes runners-up Kaddish and Original Fate. She is a half-sister to Grade 1 winner Nonsuch Bay, a four-time stakes heroine who earned nearly $750,000.
Violette was asked what's next.
"This was a tough race. We might wait for the Wood Memorial ($1 million Grade 1 event on April 5). We're in a good spot now.
"If he's kind of kicking the walls down he can certainly come back for the Gotham or we can wait for the Wood or the Louisiana Derby ($1 million Grade 2 event on March 29). There are a lot of options."