Aqueduct’s Road to the Kentucky Derby will cross the halfway point with Saturday’s running of the $250,000 Grade 3 Withers Stakes. Held at 1 1/8 miles on the main track, the Withers is the third of five annual Derby preps contested at Aqueduct, with the Grade 3 Gotham Stakes on Mar. 6 and the Grade 2 Wood Memorial Stakes on April 3 still to follow.
The Withers is a historic event with an impressive roster of winners, including such legendary runners as Man o’ War, Dr. Fager, Count Fleet, and Native Dancer. The 2021 renewal has attracted nine promising young Derby contenders to the mix, and while it’s unlikely any will achieve the same level of fame as Man o’ War … anything is possible, right?
At first glance, the most formidable of the Withers entrants is #3 Capo Kane, a son of 2007 Grade 1 Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense. A speedy front-runner, Capo Kane finished second in his debut sprinting but has since gone 2-for-2 in route races. On New Year’s Day, he was an eye-catching winner of the one-mile Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct, leading all the way to dominate by 6 1/4 lengths.
But can Capo Kane repeat the feat on Saturday? In the Jerome, Capo Kane benefited from securing an easy lead on a muddy track, allowing him to romp away down the homestretch. He’ll face a deeper field in the Withers and may receive more pressure on the front end, so the bay colt doesn’t appear unbeatable while stretching out over 1 1/8 miles.
Indeed, Capo Kane could face a stern test from #7 Donegal Bay, who ships in from Florida for three-time Withers-winning trainer Todd Pletcher. Distance shouldn’t be any issue for Donegal Bay, who brings a strongly stamina-oriented pedigree to the mix. His sire, champion 2-year-old male Uncle Mo, is responsible for a bevy of long-winded runners led by 2016 Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist. Donegal Bay’s dam sire, Empire Maker, is likewise renowned as a source of stamina and won the 2003 Belmont Stakes racing 1 1/2 miles.
Like Capo Kane, Donegal Bay has front-running speed. In a one-mile maiden race on Dec. 12 at Gulfstream Park, the bay gelding dashed to the lead through respectable quarter-mile fractions of :23.60, :46.52, and 1:10.99, then forged clear with authority to win by 4 1/4 lengths. Notably, runner-up Simovitch came right back to win his next start against similar competition.
Donegal Bay has been training strongly for his stakes debut, working a fast half-mile in :49 on Jan. 29 at Palm Beach Downs. He figures to relish every inch of the 1 1/8-mile distance and has drawn well in post seven, setting the stage for a perfect trip pressing or stalking Capo Kane through the early going. Hot jockey Kendrick Carmouche (a 24% winner at Aqueduct) has been named to ride, a noteworthy development considering Pletcher and Carmouche have gone 5-for-12 (42%) together over the last two months.
In short, Donegal Bay looms as a serious threat to upset Capo Kane and secure 10 qualification points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby. I’m excited to play him on top of all my tickets.
For second and third place, Capo Kane is a logical contender, but we’ll also use #5 Risk Taking. Conditioned by four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown, Risk Taking was a work in progress last fall, failing to challenge in his first two starts sprinting on dirt and running long on turf.
When Risk Taking added blinkers for a 1 1/8-mile maiden race at Aqueduct … wow, did he deliver! Unleashing a strong finish from mid-pack, Risk Taking galloped past his rivals in the final eighth of a mile to win by 2 1/4 lengths. The son of Medaglia d’Oro posted strong speed figures and will stick to the same track and distance for the Withers, stamping Risk Taking as an obvious choice to finish in the top three.
Bettors playing on small budgets can consider playing Donegal Bay to win and calling it a day. But bettors with more capital to spend can invest in exacta or trifecta tickets and aim to take home a much larger payday.
Wagering Strategy on a $10 Budget
$10 to win on #7 Donegal Bay
What to say at the betting window: Aqueduct, 8th race, $10 to win on 7
Wagering Strategy on a $25 Budget
$15 to win on #7 Donegal Bay
What to say at the betting window: Aqueduct, 8th race, $15 to win on 7
$5 exacta: 7 with 3,5 ($10)
What to say at the betting window: Aqueduct, 8th race, $5 exacta 7 with 3,5
Wagering Strategy on a $50 Budget
$20 to win on #7 Donegal Bay
What to say at the betting window: Aqueduct, 8th race, $20 to win on 7
$5 trifecta: 7 with 3,5 with 3,5 ($10)
What to say at the betting window: Aqueduct, 8th race, $5 trifecta 7 with 3,5 with 3,5
$2 trifecta: 7 with 3,5 with 1,2,6 ($12)
What to say at the betting window: Aqueduct, 8th race, $2 trifecta 7 with 3,5 with 1,2,6
$2 trifecta: 7 with 2,6 with 3,5 ($8)
What to say at the betting window: Aqueduct, 8th race, $2 trifecta 7 with 2,6 with 3,5
Good luck, and enjoy the race!