The Withers brings the Kentucky Derby trail back to Aqueduct
By New York Hot List Staff
The $250,000 Grade 3 Withers drew a field of eight 3-year-olds that are looking to make a step forward on the road to the 2020 Kentucky Derby. The mile and an eighth contest at Aqueduct will provide Derby qualifying points to the top four finishers [10-4-2-1].
Shotski was named the 2-1 morning line favorite based on his gate to wire victory in the Remsen (G2) at the Big A back in December. He will once again ship up to New York from the Laurel Park base of trainer Jeremiah O’ Dwyer.
“We know he likes the track, and we know he can get the distance,” said O’Dwyer. “We’re very happy with his training and he’s had a good series of works. Physically, he looks very strong.”
In the Withers, Shotski is likely to be part of a more contested early pace.
“He’s very adaptable. He showed us that he can be up close to the pace,” explained O’Dwyer. “He’s good from the gate. I would have to think that he would probably be in the first three early on.”
The fashionably-bred Portos, who is a son of Tapit and a stakes winning mare at Aqueduct, is the 3-1 morning line second choice. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Portos won his maiden special weight by more than 10-lengths on a sloppy track on Dec. 31. Since then, he stayed in New York under the care of Pletcher’s assistant Byron Hughes to prepare for this spot.
“He’s doing well. He came out of his last race in good shape. It was his fourth start and he’s continued to mature each time he’s gone into the gate,” said Hughes. “We really think he appreciates going two turns, so we were glad to see him break his maiden the way he did in his last start. It looks like a talented field, but he’s certainly shown us enough in the mornings to think he can compete, especially at the distance.”
Monday Morning Qb at 4-1 may be the hunch bet of football fans on the day before the Super Bowl. The winner of his last two races, including the Heft at Laurel, must stretch out to the nine-furlongs for the first time for trainer Robert Reid Jr.
“I don’t think it’ll be a problem with his pedigree,” said Reid. “He’s had a few three-quarter gallops in him and he has a good head on his shoulders. I know it’s a big jump from seven-eighths to a mile and an eighth around two turns, but I think he’s up to it.”
The New York breeding program will be represented by Prince of Pharoahs. The son of American Pharoah finished in a dead heat for second in the Jerome behind Independence and is listed at 8-1 for Aqueduct’s current leading trainer Linda Rice.
“He’s been training very well since his last start,” said Rice. “He’s received enough time off to since his start in the Jerome and showed us enough in the mornings for us to think he’s talented enough to compete.”
The Withers is slated as Race 8 on Saturday’s nine-race card with post-time scheduled for 4:25pm ET. The Cross-Country Pick 5 returns for the first time in 2020 with the Withers serving as the first leg.