As noted in our last post, Saturday is a big day with three Kentucky Derby prep races. In that race, we previewed the Holy Bull at Gulfstream. In this one, we’ll look at the other two – the Withers at Aqueduct and the Lewis at Santa Anita. We’ll start with the Withers.
Withers Stakes (Aqueduct 8th) – This race features the return of El Areeb, the powerful winner of the muddy-track Jerome.
1 – True Timber – He got a huge pace to get his maiden win two starts back and didn’t do a lot of running in the Jerome last time when a distant third.
2 – Apartfromthecrowd – He broke his maiden for Chad Brown last time in his third start when he sat inside and came through a huge opening on the most gold of gold rails. He’s worth opposing as a shorter price.
3 – Jaime’s Angel – NY-bred had a nice win in his maiden-breaker last time when very wide the whole way but would have to run much better to win here. Still, he might be worth throwing in underneath at a big price. Note three-back, he was fifth to Bavaro while wide off a gold rail.
4 – El Areeb – His win was impressive though it came on a muddy track against a field that didn’t really show up behind him. He’s going to be a very short price today (and probably should be), but will likely be very loose (there’s basically no speed in this race). We’ll take a small shot against him, but would be more confident if there was more speed signed on.
5 – Bonus Points – This Todd Pletcher runner has not run fast enough to win this race and was ridden hard and early in the Jerome when he was a grinding second. If a Pletcher runner wins this race, it will likely be…
6 – Fillet of Sole – He ran twice in the summer for trainer Dominick Schettino before being transferred to Pletcher. He ran third in a maiden race at Belmont and barely won at 1-5 at Parx on November 29th. That was not a great field (he won by a nose but it was 18 (!) lengths back to third) and his previous races don’t jump off the page either. If he takes another step forward, he could get into the mix, but he’s not going to be a huge price either.
7 – Always a Suspect – He won a very weak stakes race going six furlongs when he pressed a slow pace and blew a 2-length lead in the last furlong. A win would be a major surprise.
8 – Small Bear – He went down to Parx to win an allowance race at 4-5 last time out against a weak field. Before that, he ran very well to win a maiden race on December 18th in the mud, and showed some ability in there, albeit against a weaker field. It’s hard to see him winning, but he could be used underneath.
9 – Square Shooter – He’s 2-2 after two wins at Parx and the horse he beat last time, Oneballnostrikes, did come back to win, but saw his figure drop seven points. Typically, we’ll let these types prove it on the tougher New York circuit first.
10 – J Boys Echo – I wish he had a better post but he’s the pick. In his two-back race at Keeneland, he was stuck waiting for room around the far turn, dove inside, steadied hard, and re-rallied through a seam to burst through and draw off and win nicely. We’ll give him a pass for the bull-ring Delta Jackpot, where he was up close early, shuffled back a bit, swung out and ran on late after the winner had swept past (yes, we’re against Gunnavera in the Holy Bull but this is a much easier field). Dale Romans ships this son of Mineshaft, who is a half to Unbridled Outlaw (who Romans trains for these connections), up here to find an easier spot, and provided this isn’t a gold rail day, he can spring the upset.
The Pace – As noted above, there isn’t a ton of pace in here. El Areeb should have everything his own way on the front end and might well lead this field on a merry chase. Square Shooter and Jaime’s Angel have enough speed to keep him honest.
The Play – We’ll bet J Boys Echo to win and box him in the exacta with El Areeb.
Robert B. Lewis Stakes (Santa Anita 2nd) – With Gormley and American Anthem, 1-2 in the Sham, skipping this race, it did not come up all that strong.
The favorite is probably Sheer Flattery for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. Sheer Flattery broke his maiden by a nose last time out on a sloppy track and is the fastest horse on speed figures. He got stuck against American Anthem and Grade-1 winner Mastery in his two previous starts. Our pick, however, is Royal Mo for John Sherrifs. He showed good speed in his August debut, losing by just 3/4 of a length for a trainer who usually gives his horses a start or two before their best. His second race is a throwout after he blew the break, and he set a fast pace wiring a Del Mar field on November 27th. I expect Victor Espinoza to put him not he lead and not look back.