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February 2nd, 2013 − Aqueduct
COUNTDOWN REWIND: WITHERS STAKES
By Jeremy Plonk
Date: Saturday, February 2, 2013
Kentucky Derby Points Awarded: 10-4-2-1
Distance: 1-1/16 miles (2 turns)
HANDICAPPERS’ RECAP: This Grade 3 $200,000 event didn’t lure a field high on accomplishment as none of the eight starters owned a prior stakes win in open company. The two-three-four finishers in the Grade 2 Jerome from Jan. 5 returned, led by runner-up SIETE DE OROS (Ramon Preciado), while SMOOTH BERT (Leah Gyarmati) notched the Damon Runyon Stakes in December against fellow New York-bred runners. The Withers appeared a race very capable of being won on the class rise and well-bred and well-backed maiden winner REVOLUTIONARY (Todd Pletcher) was hammered to 3-4 favoritism on the strength of his 102 Beyer on Dec. 28. The pace appeared very light on paper and capable of being stolen up front. But REVOLUTIONARY overcame all that and more with a memorable rally.
ON THE CLOCK: SIETE DE OROS set the tempo and led into deep stretch with consistent splits of 24.22, 23.96 and 24.30. The Withers played out like it looked on paper with a very easy pace of 1:12.48 through six furlongs. The fourth quarter went in 25.53 and the final sixteenth in 6.31 for a final time of 1:44.32 that doesn’t tell the tale. Still the time clocked more than six lengths faster than the same-day Busher Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, won by the sharp Princess of Sylmar.
THE EYE TEST: To appreciate the Withers, you must look beyond the clock and apparent class of the runners in the field. The trip suffered by REVOLUTIONARY certainly harkened back memories of I’ll What Revenge in the Wood Memorial, and even Zenyatta’s chess-piece maneuverability in her Santa Margarita Handicap zig-zag. As wild as it was at the end, it started at the break. VALID (Kiaran McLaughlin) suffered the worst stumble you’ll ever see without dismounting the jockey right at the start, breaking just inside REVOLUTIONARY. That incident didn’t cause any chain reaction, but certainly was within view of horse and rider and probably took them a stride or two to regain their bearings. By then, valuable position was lost into the first turn. Instead, the big favorite wound up sixth around the clubhouse turn on the inside and stuck behind a dawdling pace that SIETE DE OROS was trying to back up. REVOLUTIONARY had to be restrained a bit and he became rank. Because the field lined up five across the track down the backstretch and into the far turn, jockey Javier Castellano had little choice but to stay inside and bide his time for a seam. And that proved a challenge and a half. Last entering the top of the stretch, REVOLUTIONARY had to zig and zag between horses in the stretch in a deft display of athleticism. While he changed leads repeatedly, that may have been more of a situation caused by his need for constant shifting like a football running back or a basketballer on the cross-over dribble. His late explosion between runners was eye-catching and the gallop-out was fantastic. This was a special effort given the circumstance. ESCAPEFROMREALITY was sharp from the gate, but showed professionalism by being able to back off and relax in a very good stakes and two-turn debut. He clearly was second-best despite a closer margin than that may suggest. SIETE DE OROS had the best trip of all and couldn’t hold on. AMERIGO VESPUCCI was trapped inside in the Jerome and you can’t fault Eric Rodriguez for wanting to get his mount out of that pickle this time. But a four-wide and early run on the far turn left him lacking in the stretch after a light exchange of bumps, and he just may be more effective at a bit shorter distance. SMOOTH BERT had a wide trip on the clubhouse turn. LONG RIVER had no excuse and simply has proven a cut below.
PROJECTING THE WITHERS FORWARD: REVOLUTIONARY now heads to Florida to train with the Pletcher A-team the rest of the spring, but WinStar Farm racing chief Elliott Walden likely will call the shots where they’ll head next. They appear intent on just one more prep race, which I think will come in either the Louisiana Derby or Wood Memorial based on past history and fit. This is a very serious Kentucky Derby threat. ESCAPEFROMREALITY figures a legitimate candidate on the New York path in coming races, while SIETE DE OROS and AMERIGO VESPUCCI may soon tap out on distance abilities, but look to be longtime success stories in the Mid-Atlantic stakes ranks.