02/01/2012 4:21PM

Aqueduct: Hakama using Withers as audition for Kentucky Derby trail

Barbara D. Livingston
Alpha, winner of the Count Fleet last month, is among the top threats the Maryland-based Hakama will challenge in Saturday's Withers.

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Six years ago, the Maryland-based trainer Mike Trombetta used Aqueduct as a path to get to the Kentucky Derby with Sweetnorthernsaint, who finished seventh behind Barbaro in the 2006 Kentucky Derby as the lukewarm 5-1 favorite.

Sweetnorthernsaint won a maiden race over the inner track in his third start and the Miracle Wood Stakes at Laurel in his fourth start before returning to Aqueduct, where he was beaten less than a length in the Gotham Stakes.

Saturday, Trombetta will return to New York with the 3-year-old Hakama, who will try to get on the Derby trail when he faces Count Fleet Stakes winner Alpha and five other 3-year-olds in the Grade 3, $200,000 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct.

The Withers, put on a one-year hiatus by the New York Racing Association, has returned and been scheduled in place of the Whirlaway Stakes, which was ungraded. Able to retain its Grade 3 status, the Withers provides the winner the chance to earn $120,000 in graded earnings, a key component to gaining entry into the Derby field.

Hakama is a son of First Samurai out of the Unbridled mare Check, making him a half-brother to the once promising Claiborne Farm-owned colt Bind.

Hakama lost his first two starts in sprints at Monmouth and Laurel. For his third start, Trombetta opted to stretch the colt out in distance and slapped a pair of blinkers on him. Some combination of the two seemed to do the trick as Hakama rolled to a two-length maiden win over the inner track on Dec. 10. Trombetta chose not to send Hakama back to New York for the Count Fleet on New Year’s Day, opting instead to run him at Laurel in a first-level allowance race, which Hakama won by 1 1/4 lengths.

Trombetta said he thought about shipping Hakama here for the Count Fleet but said the colt “maybe lacked the seasoning to do that race.”

Now, Trombetta feels “with two route races under his belt he’s ready to try the deeper waters.”

The field for the Withers is topped by Alpha, winner of the Count Fleet, and Swag Daddy, who is 2 for 2 in New York-bred stakes company around two turns over the inner track. Other entrants include Florida shipper King Kid, Speightscity, How Do I Win, and Tiger Walk.

“I think I fit,” Trombetta said.

Swag Daddy, who won two stakes in four weeks over the inner track, worked four furlongs in 50.17 seconds over the inner track.

Withers S. (G3), Post Time: 4:05 ET Saturday

Purse: $200,000; 1 1/16 miles





ML Odds



M. Trombetta

J. Pimentel




G. Contessa

D. Cohen



Swag Daddy

R. Dutrow, Jr.

J. Alvarado



King Kid

D. Romans

M. Luzzi



How Do I Win

T. Pletcher

C. Velasquez



Tiger Walk

I. Correas

H. Karamanos




K. McLaughlin

R. Dominguez