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Withers Stakes Preview

The Withers Stakes has a storied history dating back to 1874 when it was run at Jerome Park. The 2019 edition is Saturday, February 2, at Aqueduct in Queens, New York, and the $250,000 Grade 3 event has seven three-year-olds striding toward qualifying points (10-4-2-1) on the Road to the Kentucky Derby.

The Withers has historically been run at a distance of one mile, but in 2012 the race was extended to 1 116 miles before being upped to 1 18 miles in 2018.

Four of the last seven Withers winners were odds-on-favorites, and in the last seven years the biggest longshot to win was 6-1. Also, five of the last seven winners entered the Withers off a victory at Aqueduct.

Breaking from the rail is the morning-line favorite Tax (#2) (2-1), a son of Arch who is 1-1-1 in three starts after a third-place finish in his December 2 stakes debut at Aqueduct in the Remsen Stakes (G2). He goes from 17-1 that day to the early race favorite in the Withers, but his jockey in the Remsen, Manny Franco, has chosen to ride Moretti (3#) (3-1) in the Withers. Moretti, by Medaglia d’Oro, is trained by Todd Pletcher and was a $900,000 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale purchase. He makes his stakes debut after an impressive 3 14-length maiden special weight win going 1 18 miles at Aqueduct on December 20. The 4-5 favorite that day, Moretti has the look of Pletcher’s best Derby trail colt and a pace pressure who can get this distance.

Our Braintrust (#6) (6-1) has finished first or second in all four of his career starts and debuts for trainer Mark Casse, who says he’s still learning more about his new colt. Our Braintrust finished second in the Jerome Stakes last out at Aqueduct to earn four Derby points, and shoots to improve against better in the Withers.

Lucky Lee (#5) (7-2) runs for trainer Jason Servis, who brings the Flatter colt in from three races at Parx where Lucky Lee has won two of three races including his last by six lengths in allowance company. Parx is also a deep track, and Lucky Lee makes his stakes debut in this spot but could be an under-the-radar colt ready to show significant improvement from age two to three.

The other competitively-priced colt is Not That Brady (#7) (4-1), a New York-bred who will be a fan favorite. His BRIS Speed figures in his last two easy state-bred win, one of which was a stakes, suggests he is not out of place against this group.

The deep racing surface at Aqueduct makes going 1 18 miles even more challenging at this stage for improving three-year-olds. Add in near freezing temperatures and the task becomes more challenging.

A number of horses in this field prefer to run on or near the lead. Going nine furlongs is most challenging at this stage, but Moretti fits the profile of a recent winner at Aqueduct and could close the race favorite.

Some of racings greatest horses have won the Withers on their way to Classic wins including Man o’ War (1920), Native Dancer (1953), Triple Crown winners Sir Barton (1919) and Count Fleet (1943), and Aristides (1875), hero of the very first Kentucky Derby. Other notable Withers winners are Alsab (1942), Polynesian (1945), Hill Prince (1950), Dr. Fager (1967) and Ack Ack (1969).

FOX sports (FS2) will carry the TV coverage on their "At the Races" broadcast with the Race 9 Withers post time at 4:30 (ET).

Withers Stakes History

The Withers Stakes has a storied history dating back to 1874 when it was run at Jerome Park. The race has been run at a number of different New York tracks, including Belmont Park, and is currently held at Aqueduct in Queens, New York. The Grade 3 event for sophomores currently boasts a purse of $250,000. The race is in early February and is a Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race with the top four finishers respectively earning Derby qualifying points (10-4-2-1). The Withers also serves as a prep race for the Wood Memorial in April at Aqueduct.

In 2018, the Withers was run at a distance of 1 18 miles for the first time, and Avery Island beat four other colts in a time of 1:51.01. The Withers was historically run at a distance of one mile, and the race record was 1:32.79 by Williamstown (1993). The Withers distance was lengthened to 1 116 miles in 2012, and Far From Over (2015) holds that distance record in the Withers at 1:43.93.

Notable horses have won the Withers throughout history, including Triple Crown winners Sir Barton (1919) and Count Fleet (1943). Sir Barton became the first winner of what would be known as the American Triple Crown. Man o’ War (1920) won 20-of-21 races, including the Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes but skipped the Kentucky Derby. Native Dancer (1953) won 21-of-22 lifetime races with his lone loss in the Kentucky Derby. Alsab (1942), Polynesian (1945), Hill Prince (1950), Dr. Fager (1967) and Ack Ack (1969) are other known winners of the Withers.

The Withers was not run in 1911 or 1912 when the New York State legislated a ban on all forms of wagering on horses.

Some trends of note regarding the Withers shows that five of the last seven winners entered the Withers off a victory at Aqueduct, and 2018 winner Avery Island finished second in his race at Aqueduct prior to the Withers. Four of the last seven winners were odds-on favorites, and the longest shot to win the Withers in the last seven years was 6-1.

MUCCIOLO: Tax repels foes in thrilling Withers Stakes
SCULLY: Lucky Lee, Moretti try Kentucky Derby qualifier in Withers