Friday, February 6, 2015

Handicapping the Withers Stakes

Dortmund vs. Firing Line in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes here.


Aqueduct starting gate The 2015 Withers Stakes (G-3) pits Jerome Stakes hero El Kabeir against a seemingly over matched field of last out maiden winners. Early February is when the less precocious runners begin to mature and improve. Kiaran McLaughlin has been hogging the Wither’s winner’s circle. He’s had his picture taken three times in the last ten years. Todd Pletcher has captured the 1 1/16 mile race twice in that time frame. Both of them have contestants who, if they run as expected, could pull an upset on the pretty gray El Kabeir.

The Big Hoss

El_Kabeir_1 EL KABEIR (Scat Daddy - Great Venue, by Unbridled's Song) kicked off his three year old season with a scintillating victory in the 1 mile 70 yard Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct last month, galloping under the wire 4 ½ lengths ahead of his nearest competitor. El Kabeir’s immediate family is loaded with talent. Four of his dam’s five half siblings own blacktype. Read his pedigree profile here.




FAR FROM OVER (Blame - Alchemist, by A.P. Indy) won his debut on December12. He was briefly headed but determinedly came back at the wire. It was more than six lengths back to the third place finisher. The time for the 1 mile 70 yards was 1:43.11, which was the second-fastest time for that distance in the racing week. For comparison, El Kabeir won the Jerome in 1:44.69. Far From Over has the best pedigree in the field and the farther the better for him. He is a half brother to a listed winner and to the multiple G-1 stakes placed And Why Not. His dam placed in 1 1/8 mile Grade 3 stakes. She’s a full sister to Turnback the Alarm Handicap heroine ALTESSE. Far From Over’s second dam is ALDIZA, who won graded events from 6 ½ furlongs to 1 1/8 miles. Far From Over is inbred to the blue hen COURTLY DEE through full sisters Althea, the second dam of Blame’s sire Arch, and Aishah, who is Far From Over’s third dam. The todd Pletcher trainee worked a second to last bullet in preparation for the Withers.


MARCH (Blame - Lifeinthefastlane, by Unbridled's Song) earned his maiden victory by a neck in his second start. Like Far From Over, March is a son of Breeders’ Cup Classic hero Blame and March should improve with maturity and distance. He’s a half brother to Bay Shore Stakes (G-3) hero EIGHTYFIVEINAFIFTY. There’s little blacktype in March’s Claiborne-bred immediate female family, however, this is the distaff line of the Grade 1 winning sire SEEKING THE GOLD, Champion Juvenile Filly QUEEN OF THE STAGE, Remsen hero FAST PLAY and REVIEWER, sire of the legendary RUFFIAN. Conditioned by Chad Brown, March prepped with a pre-race bullet breeze.


CLASSY CLASS (Discreetly Mine - Collegiate, by Saarland) was tossed into the 1 1/8 mile Remsen last year after a score at 6 ½ furlongs. Not surprising that he weakened in the stretch. Classy Class’s stakes placed dam is a half sister to a stakes winning turf miler and stakes winning sprinter. The colt receives stamina attributes through his damsire, but his sire and distaff line strongly lean towards miler speed. Classy Class may find 1 1/16 miles at the top of his scope. The Kiaran McLaughlin trainee draws the rail which could help.

Long Shot Chance

UNRIVALED (Super Saver - Safely, by Unbridled) began his career last July in sprints, but it wasn’t until late December when he put it all together, easily out distancing a full field of maidens going a mile at PARX. Yes, the time was a yawn inducing 1:43.52, however, Unrivaled galloped to a 15 length win, little more than a paid breeze. So what’s so special about this colt? He’s an April foal whose pedigree suggests that Unrivaled should improve with maturity and could handle classic distances. His dam is a full sister to HONEST MAN, who hit his best stride as a four and five year old, with victories in the Mineshaft Handicap at 1 1/6 miles and the 1 1/8 miles Philip H. Iselin Stakes, both Grade 3 events. Unrivaled’s second dam OATH won the Spinaway (G-1) and she’s a half sister to Champion Juvenile WAR PASS. Unrivaled could be one of those colts who will mature rapidly.

TENCENDUR (Warrior's Reward - Still Secret, by Hennessy) got up to beat state-bred maidens by ¾ length in his last race. He was pinned on the inside for most of the race with nowhere to go and had a tough time getting out for running room. Once he was free, the George Weaver colt lengthened stride nicely. The son of the top ten Freshman Sire is a half brother to the multiple restricted stakes winner MOTHER RUSSIA. In his debut, Tencendur was beaten by over six lengths by March On. Tencendur’s speed figure improved in his second start and he gets a jockey upgrade to Cornelio Velasquez.

Not today

GENERAL BELLAMY (Bellamy Road - Sweet Again, by Awesome Again) had an excuse in the Jerome, as he bobbled at the start of the race. He finished a one-paced third, never gaining ground at any point. The colt’s dam is an unraced daughter of Alabama Stakes (G-1) winner SWEET SYMPHONY. Slow but steady describes this colt. His speed figures are improving, but very slowly, and his works are conservative, but steady. Slow and steady may win some races, but not at 1 1/16 miles at Aqueduct.


Track bias: Early speed rules on Aqueduct’s inner track. 20% of the meet’s winners at a mile and beyond have wired the field. Pace pressers have finished first 46% of the time.

El Kabeir is a free-running colt who likes to wing it on or near the lead. That and his far outside post, combined with his miler pedigree could make El Kabeir a vulnerable favorite if one of the other contenders takes it to him early. Could a last out maiden winner beat the Champ? Sure, Todd Pletcher did it with Revolutionary in 2013. His contender Far From Over has the speed and could pull an upset.




#5 UNRIVALED – longshot play