While the snow on the ground and in the forecast for the following day framed the $250,000 Grade 3 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack with icy thoughts of winter, the winner did a pretty nice job of igniting thoughts of a certain Saturday in May.
Young, developing 3-year-olds who can successfully navigate two turns are a precious commodity at this time of year and Klaravich Stables' Risk Taking surely fits into that coveted category.
The son of Medaglia d'Oro trained by Chad Brown improved to 2-for-2 at a two-turn 1 1/8-mile distance as he took charge in the stretch and posted an impressive 3 3/4-length victory over a late-running Overtook in the Feb. 6 Withers for 3-year-olds.
"We thought highly of this horse and were disappointed he didn't show more in his first two starts but the addition of blinkers and getting him in two-turn dirt races really made a difference. He's come along now and he's starting to show in the afternoon the ability he had showed us in the morning before his career got under way," Brown said. "He's starting to get professional."
As good as Risk Taking looked in handling Saturday's 1 1/8-mile assignment, the glittering prize on the horizon comes at 1 1/4 miles in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, and the Klaravich colt's stretch kick certainly bodes well for the May 1 classic.
"With the way he ran today, he won't have any problem going a mile-and-a-quarter," jockey Eric Cancel said. "He came back good and he wasn't blowing too much. Distance won't be a problem for him."
Risk Taking, who has won two of four starts and began his career with a seventh in a six-furlong dirt sprint followed by a sixth in 1 1/16-mile turf race and a 1 1/8-mile maiden win on dirt, picked up 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points for Saturday's victory, and will likely need at least a top-three finish in one of the upcoming major preps to earn a berth in the Run for the Roses. At the moment, waiting for the Grade 2 Wood Memorial Presented by Resorts World Casino on April 3 at Aqueduct is Brown's preferred option.
"We'll see how he comes out of this race but it doesn't make a lot of sense to take him out of New York and it doesn't make sense to come back to a one-turn race (the March 6 Grade 3 Gotham Stakes at Aqueduct)," said Brown, who is targeting the Gotham with Klaravich's Highly Motivated. "What we'll probably do is keep him in New York because he's thriving here and train up to the Wood Memorial. But in the interim, we'll nominate to everything and I'll have several conversations with (owner) Seth Klarman about what to do."
Bred in Kentucky by G. Watts Humphrey out of the Distorted Humor mare Run a Risk, Risk Taking was purchased for $240,000 from the Lane's End consignment at the 2019 Keeneland September Sale. He is the lone winner from three foals to race by his dam, who also has a 2-year-old Gun Runner colt and a yearling Gun Runner filly.
A field of nine broke from the gate in the Withers, the second of the Aqueduct's four monthly Kentucky Derby preps, with Jerome Stakes winner Capo Kane grabbing the lead with 66-1 Mr. Doda giving chase for about four furlongs before retreating to last.
Cancel kept Risk Taking poised in sixth after a half-mile in :48.71 and gradually moved up into a striking position while racing three-wide on the final turn.
While Capo Kane held a clear lead at the top of the stretch it was quickly erased in the final furlong as Cancel kicked his mount into top gear. The bay colt forged to the front at the sixteenth pole and drew clear, earning rave reviews from Brown for Cancel, who stepped in for the injured Jose Lezcano.
"Eric stepped up a did a great job. Jose had ridden him terrific in his prior start and had advanced his development with the trip he gave him, and I thought Eric delivered another fine ride," Brown said by phone from Florida. "At every pole and on both turns he made great decisions with this horse. He's a young jockey who hasn't ridden much for us but when he has, he's made the most of those opportunities. It's a big credit to him to ride a race like this. I'm proud of him. He made a lot of good decisions in this race."
Cancel's agent, P.J. Campo, also made a wise decision in lobbying Brown for the ride, even though Cancel had been riding Overtook, who was second in the Withers.
"P.J. sought out this mount and related to me they really wanted to ride him," Brown said.
For the 24-year-old Cancel, who recorded just his third graded stakes win, there was delight over the opportunity to win a graded stakes for Brown, a four-time Eclipse Award winner, and Klaravich.
"I am grateful for this chance. It might not be as big of a win for Chad as it is for me. It's the greatest thing for me," said Cancel, who has 523 career wins and earnings of $30.4 million. "My agent did the job. He decided we had a really good chance to win with this horse."
The 9-5 favorite, who paid $5.80 to win, covered 1 1/8 miles in 1:51.91 on a fast track.
Overtook, a Curlin colt bought for $1 million from the Hill 'n' Dale Sales Agency consignment at the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, rallied from last to finish a clear second. Trained by Todd Pletcher, who also sent out Donegal Bay to a seventh-place finish, and owned by Repole Stable, Michael Tabor, St. Elias Stable, Mrs. John Magnier, and Derrick Smith, he netted four Kentucky Derby points.
"I thought the horse ran a good race. He's improving race by race, so he's done well. He's got a nice future. The distance is no problem for him. I think that more distance will be better for him," jockey Manny Franco said about a colt coming off a mile maiden win.
Capo Kane, a Street Sense colt owned by Bing Cherry Racing and Leonard Liberto and trained by Harold Wyner, was 1 1/4 lengths back in third and collected two qualifying points to give him 12.
Royal Number was fourth and picked up one point.