Withers Looks to be Key Derby Prep


Damon Runyon Stakes winner Samraat is one of Ellis Starr's picks for this weekend's Withers (Photo courtesy of NYRA/Coglinese Photos).

The 2014 edition of the Grade 3, $250,000 Withers Stakes might once again be a key prep race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby just as it was last year when won by Revolutionary, who then captured the Louisiana Derby before a third place finish in the Kentucky Derby. Not only that, but the Withers is a points race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, earning the winner 10 points that may prove quite important in deciding which horses can enter the starting gate on the first Saturday in May. Leading the Withers field are a pair of runners- the undefeated Samraat and Uncle Sigh, who both dominated recently at over the track. Samraat brings a perfect three-for-three record into the Withers and decimated the field to win the Damon Runyon Stakes by 16 lengths on December 18. Nine days later Uncle Sigh was equally impressive when victorious by 14 lengths. Among the four signed up to try to upset, Grade 2 Jerome Stakes runner-up and third place finishers, respectively, Classic Giacnroll and Scotland both have room to improve. Street Gent returns from two months away but was a winner when last seen on the track, as was Honorable Judge, so both add depth to this short and talented field of 3-year-olds trying to make their mark in the division in this year's Wither's Stakes.

Uncle Sigh missed by a head on the finish line in his debut on December 7 running in a sprint (six-furlongs, or three-quarters of a mile) then improved markedly just 20 days later when stretched out to two-turns, winning by 14 lengths and earning a 107 Equibase Speed Figure. To put that effort in perspective, Samraat earned a 108 figure winning a stakes race over the same track and at the same distance nine days earlier. Flattered when the runner-up from that December 27 race came back to win, Uncle Sigh draws the advantageous rail for the Withers and has lots of room to improve in only the third start of his career, which gives him the slight edge over Samraat and the rest of a talented field.

Samraat has been perfect in three races to date, in each essentially leading from start to finish. His most recent effort when victorious by 16 lengths in the Damon Runyon Stakes (for New York-bred horses only) was his best yet, earning a career best 108 figure. Although both Samraat and Uncle Sigh appear to have the same front running style, the fact that Samraat's pace figures (measurement of speed in the early stages) are lower than his speed figures may indicate he doesn't really need the lead to succeed. With logical improvement forthcoming in his second two-turn race, Samraat has every right to once again blow his opponents away to win the Withers Stakes.

Street Gent took five tries to finally win his first race, but two of those were on turf and he improved markedly from his first main track try to his second when going from an 83 to a 94. Rested two months since that victory on Dec. 1, Street Gent has a shot to improve similarly again, which would put his figure in the 105 range and within striking distance of the kind of effort it's going to take to win this race. Additionally, although Samraat and Uncle Sigh may have the ability to run well from off the pace, it appears Street Gent could be the one dictating the early tempo and in that case he might prove an elusive target to post the upset win.

Classic Giacnroll (94 figure) and Scotland (90 figure) just finished second and third, respectively, in the Jerome Stakes, won by highly regarded Noble Moon, but both ran evenly in the last quarter mile and never threatened to win. Honorable Judge won a two-turn race with an 86 figure when last seen but that was three months ago (November 3) and it might be a lot to expect him to run well enough to beat any of the top contenders without a prep race first. 

My Selections:

Uncle Sigh


Street Gent 

$250,000 Withers Stakes

Saturday, Race 9, Aqueduct, 4:20 PM E.T.

One Mile And One Sixteenth, 3-year-olds







Uncle Sigh (NY)

Pablo Morales


Gary Contessa


Street Gent (KY)

Irad Ortiz Jr.


Leah Gyarmati


Scotland (KY)

Kendrick Carmouche


Tony Dutrow


Classic Giacnroll (KY)

Cornelio Velasquez


Lisa Guerrero


Samraat (NY)

Jose Ortiz


Rick Violette Jr.


Honorable Judge (PA)

John Bisono


Robert Reid Jr.


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