The 2016 Withers Stakes (G3) is the second of four Kentucky Derby prep races that are contested in New York. The Withers Stakes hasn’t produced a Triple Crown contender since Bernardini won the Preakness in 2006.
Early February is when the less precocious runners begin to mature and improve. Last out maiden winners are tested against one or two graded stakes winners and a handful of minor stakes types looking for their class niche. This year’s field of seven colts and geldings is no different.
The One to Beat:
FLEXIBILITY (Bluegrass Cat – Santa Vindi, by Vindication) appears to stand head and withers above this field and was designated the morning odds favorite. The Chad Brown trainee finished second in the Nashua and Remsen Stakes behind Mohaymen last year and in his first start of the season, Flexibility dominated the Jerome Stakes by over four lengths. Flexibility’s pretty gray rival is favored in the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park, and will face a tougher field than the Withers. Flexibility benefited from a sharp second to last four-furlong bullet and should be on his toes.
SUNNY RIDGE (Holy Bull – Lignum Vitae, by Songandaprayer) ran a monster race in the Delta Jackpot, missing by a bare neck to Exaggerator. The pretty gray Sunny Ridge holds the distinction of having the highest late pace speed figure and the only one with a triple digit speed figure in the field. He’s the first blacktype earner in two generations of his distaff line and Sunny Ridge’s third dam was the popular stakes veteran Bodacious Tatas.
DONEGAL MOON (Malibu Moon – Perfect Cause, by Giant’s Causeway) face planted at the start of the Jerome Stakes last time out, losing Manny Franco. Franco departs for Sunny Ridge and Aaron Gryder takes over today. Donegal Moon has a perfect pedigree for classic races. Donegal Moon’s second dam is the 1995 Champion Turf mare Possibly Perfect, so if he isn’t competitive here, there’s always the chance of a surface switch. Donegal Moon could jump to the lead from his rail position and his last two late pace speed figures are better than most of this field’s. Pletcher won the 2012 edition of the Remsen with the pace-pressing Overanalyze.
Minor Award Candidates
VORTICITY (Distorted Humor – Tar Heel Mom, by Flatter) fought head and head with Flexibility in the Jerome Stakes and was soundly put in his place. The well-bred colt certainly has the pedigree to relish two turns. His dam is a multiple stakes winning veteran sprinter, who incidentally, is a half-sister to 2005 Wither’s Stakes winner Scrappy T., who finished second to Afleet Alex in the Preakness after failing to trip his rival. Vorticity could benefit from an off of the pace running style as races get longer. Vorticity is looking at a minor award, unless he can sit off what could turn out to be a heated pace.
ADVENTIST (Any Given Saturday – Sharp Minister, by Deputy Minister) towered over a field of maidens in his debut, finishing 11 lengths clear of the field. He’s bred to go longer and the offspring of Any Given Saturday improve with age. The well-bred colt is a half-brother to the multiple stakes veteran Isn’t He Clever, who won up to 1 1/16 miles; He’s also a half to Group 3 winner Dijeerr and listed winner Sharp Writer. Their dam is a half-sister to the multiple graded stakes winning turf router Flag Down, who was second or third in six G1 events. It’s hard to say what Adventist will do off of a maiden sprint victory. He has a couple of stamina breezes under his girth, but trainer Leah Gyarmati has a 5% win rate with horses stretching out. Adventist could spoil somebody’s superfecta.
Not Going to Get Them Today:
KING KRANZ (Munnings – Queen Congie, by Henny Hughes) is a tough colt with some ability. He needed six tries to win his maiden, but picked up some listed blacktype earnings along the way. He finally won his last start in the Lost in the Fog Stakes. His pedigree screams sprinter and he may find the Withers a tough spot to make his two turn debut, if he even wants to go that far.
CARDS OF STONE (Bustin Stones – Shuffle the Deck, by High Yield) couldn’t beat state-bred optional claimers last time out.
Track bias: Early speed rules on Aqueduct’s inner track. 22% of the meet’s winners at a mile and beyond have wired the field. Pace pressers have finished first 46% of the time. Naturally, every horse in the race is either a speed freak or a pace presser.
Sunny Ridge isn’t a need the lead type. He’s successfully sat off of the pace and makes a huge run. If the pace is torrid, look for him to beat the track bias. Flexiblity is another one who can sit back early. He’s the class of the race, but we might get better odds with the pretty gray gelding. 15-1 morning line on a Pletcher horse? Toss Donegal Moon into the mix! Adventist is intriguing and his family likes to win. This is a good learning experience for him and a huge step up, but he could round out the superfecta.
#7 SUNNY RIDGE (5-2)
#2 FLEXIBILITY (7-5)
#1 DONEGAL MOON (15-1)
#6 ADVENTIST (5-1)