The Withers brings the Kentucky Derby trail back to Aqueduct
by Matt Shifman
The road to the 2019 Kentucky Derby returns to Aqueduct on Saturday with the $250,000 Withers. The mile and an eighth Grade 3 stakes carries with it Derby qualifying points distributed [10-4-2-1] to the top four finishers.
Tax [PP1 – ML 2-1], who has two Derby points from his third-place finish in the Remsen (G2), was claimed for $50,000 from his maiden victory at Keeneland in October by trainer Danny Gargan. After the claim they brought him to New York and hit the Derby trail.
“He’s a well-bred horse and bred to run long. He’d only run the one race going short and I didn’t expect him to be a sprinter. He’s a big, strong horse,” said Gargan. “On replays, he looked like a good mover, so we took a shot on him.
“When we claimed him, we thought he would be a real good grass horse, but when we started working him on the dirt, he worked really well,” continued Gargan. “So, we decided to give him a shot in the Remsen.”
Trainer Mark Casse will test two Derby prospects from his barn in the Withers. Even though Our Braintrust [PP6 – ML 6-1], picked up 4 points when he ran second in the Jerome, he is new to Casse’s care because Gary Barber purchased the son of Freud after that race.
“We thought his race in the Jerome was very good and we’re always looking for prospects,” said Casse. “I really like him. I’ve trained a few Freuds and some of them tend to be on the more compact side, but with this horse he has a little more length to him. So far, he’s been a wonderful horse to be around,” said Casse.
Casse also has Our Winston [PP2 – ML 12-1], who will be making the switch from being graded stakes placed on the synthetic surface at Woodbine to the dirt at Aqueduct.
“You never know until you try, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have some reservations about it, but we’re going to give it a try and hope for the best,” said Casse. “He didn’t show a lot early on, but with his pedigree you wouldn’t expect it. He’s gotten better as he’s gotten older. We’ve had some time with him now and he’s had four solid works over the dirt at our training center and he’s a bit of a mystery horse. I don’t think the mile and an eighth will be a problem.”
Todd Pletcher has the December maiden winner Moretti [PP3 – ML 3-1] in the field. The $900,000 yearling purchase got that victory going the mile and an eighth distance at Aqueduct. The promising youngster will need to step up against winners.
Lucky Lee [PP5 – ML 7-2] comes from the connections of the Eclipse Award winning filly Jaywalk. The John Servis-trainee comes to the Big A with two wins in a row at Parx going a two-turn mile. He likes to run on the lead and earned at very solid 88 Beyer Speed Figure last time out.
Dale Romans shipped Admire [PP4 – ML 15-1] to New York after winning a maiden special weight at Churchill Downs back in November. He’s been training at Gulfstream Park for Romans, who sent J Boys Echo north to win the Gotham in 2017.
Recent New York-bred stakes winner Not That Brady [PP7 – ML 4-1] from the barn of Rudy Rodriguez rounds out the field.
The Withers is slated as race 9 out of 10 with post-time scheduled for 4:28 pm ET. It is the first leg of a cross-country Pick 5 combining races from Aqueduct and Oaklawn Park.
The race will be part of a 2½ national telecast on Fox Sports 2 from 4:00 to 6:30 pm ET that includes all three Kentucky Derby prep races.