02/08/2015 3:52PM

Road to the Derby analysis: Withers Stakes

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Debbie Roma
Far From Over wins the Withers Stakes on Saturday at Aqueduct.

Grade 3, $250,000 Withers Stakes, 1 1/16 miles, Aqueduct, Feb. 7, 2015
(10 Derby qualifying points for a win, 4 for second, 2 for third, 1 for fourth)

Winner: Far From Over
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Jockey: Manuel Franco
Owner: Black Rock Thoroughbreds LLLP
Beyer Speed Figure: 96

FAR FROM OVER turned in a highlight-reel performance, overcoming an awful stumble at the start to rally from last in the field of six and get the win.

Far From Over was making only the second start of his career, following a win on Aqueduct’s inner course – the same course over which the Withers was run – going two turns in his debut in December. In the interim, he was sent to be with Todd Pletcher’s main string at the Palm Beach Downs training center in Florida, then headed north for the Withers.

Jockey Manuel Franco never panicked, allowing Far From Over to gather himself and get back into the race under his own power. Far From Over began his rally in earnest on the final turn, was able to stay inside until mid-stretch, then had to come around the dueling leaders before drawing away while swapping over to his wrong lead nearing the finish.

:: ROAD TO THE KENTUCKY DERBY: Prep races, point standings, replays

My initial reaction watching this race was that Far From Over turned in a remarkable performance, but I also thought his being able to win despite that start was an indictment of his rivals, who looked gassed late, with just five lengths separating the first five finishers. However, the Beyer Speed Figure came back very good, a 96.

What to make of all that? I’m going to be wary of that fig for the time being. For now, I’m going to trust what I saw visually, crediting Far From Over for his achievement but believing everyone else disappointed.

EL KABEIR, who finished second, was seeking his third straight win and was the deservedly heavy favorite off his victory in the Jerome five weeks prior. Breaking from the outside post in this field of six, he was three paths wide on the first turn, then cleared MARCH and went up to engage CLASSY CLASS heading down the backstretch. Those two ran the second- and third-quarter miles of the race in 47.61 seconds, which might have left them weary late. El Kabeir got the better of Classy Class but could not stave off Far From Over.

Third-place finisher Classy Class veered out a bit after the start from his rail draw but made the lead, was challenged by El Kabeir, dueled with him until deep stretch, and lost the battle as well as the war. Being that Classy Class is by Discreetly Mine, I’m of the opinion the distances to be asked of Kentucky Derby contenders in upcoming preps will prove too big a hurdle for him.

TENCENDUR, who finished fourth, was in a good spot on the rail during the early going while tracking the leaders, could not keep pace, drifted a few lanes off the rail entering the lane, and was on his incorrect lead down the stretch.

March, who finished fifth, was a huge disappointment given his sensational trip and ride by Jose Ortiz. March was between both Classy Class and El Kabeir turning into the backstretch, but as the pace heated up, Ortiz shrewdly got out of there and fell into a seemingly perfect spot with March in third place behind two dueling leaders. March loomed a menacing threat entering the lane, but he was late to switch leads, then completely fell apart and managed to beat just one horse.

GENERAL BELLAMY was just outside Tencendur going around the first turn while behind the dueling leaders but gradually tailed off and finished well down the track in last place.