After trainer Brad Cox wisely opted to scratch Gary and Mary West's homebred son of Candy Ride from the Grade 3 Southwest Stakes on Jan. 28 in order to avoid facing Arabian Knight, the trip from Arkansas to New York for the Withers, originally scheduled for Feb. 4, was problematic. Aside from some delays in arranging a fight, the winter conditions at Aqueduct forced the New York Racing Association to cancel racing and shift the $250,000 Withers to Feb. 11.
Nevertheless, there was indeed a happy ending to the story as none of those delays bothered Hit Show in the least as he pulled away in the stretch and posted a convincing 5 1/2-length victory over Arctic Arrogance in the 1 1/8-mile prep race for the Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve for 3-year-olds at the Big A.
"Maybe getting him there last week was challenging but overal he made it and I'm glad we called the audible and didn't run in the Southwest," Cox said by phone. "It worked out well. It didn't hurt that they delayed the race for a week. He ran really good and I'm proud of him."
By virtue of the Withers being part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, the victory in his stakes debut vaulted Hit Show into the thick of the chase for the Run for the Roses. With many miles to go before the first Saturday in May, collecting 20 qualifying points put Hit Show in a tie for fourth on the leaderboard in the scramble for one of 20 spots in the starting gate for the May 6 opening leg of the Triple Crown.
Considering how last year's 2022 Preakness Stakes was captured by Withers winner Early Voting, notching an impressive two-turn win in February at nine furlongs in just his fourth start speaks well for Hit Show's prospects in the important tests ahead, such as the $750,000 Grade 2 Wood Memorial presented by NYRA Bets, also at the Big A on April 8.
"We've known from the start he would stretch out and be at his best around two turns and I'm proud of what he was able to accomplish. He needs to get bigger and stronger and continue his march to the Kentucky Derby," Cox said about a colt who posted his third win in four starts and took a Dec. 17 two-turn mile allowance optional claimer at Oaklawn in his last start. "I'll talk with the West team about what to do next, but if we stay in New York it would likely be the Wood."
Hit Show is all alone in the stretch in the Withers Stakes. (Adam Coglianese/NYRA)
Cox also noted how being a son of the Grade 2-winning Tapit mare Actress gives Hit Show an excellent distance pedigree.
"He's a Tapit colt and that line is very strong in New York," said Cox. "They run well at all the tracks and especially the Belmont Stakes. He's a nice colt and with distance, the more the better for him."
Arctic Arrogance, Chester and Mary Broman's homebred son of Frosted who was the 7-5 second choice, set early fractions of :23.53 and :48.09 while leading by a half-length over 80-1 shot Prove Right. Meanwhile, jockey Manny Franco was content to keep Hit Show on the rail in fifth before moving out a path on the final turn and challenging Arctic Arrogance.
Hit Show swept to the lead at the three-sixteenth pole and cruised under the wire in 1:54.71. He paid $4.60 as the 6-5 favorite.
"When it was time to move, he was there for me," Franco said. "I had to pull him up to make him stop (on the gallop-out)."