Brian’s Derby Preps 2016: The Withers

 Aqueduct: The GIII, $250,000 Withers at 1 1/16 miles (Kentucky Derby qualifying points: 10-4-2-1)

#1 Donegal Moon (15-1): It’s rare you get a longshot from Pletcher in a 3yo graded stakes, but this son of Malibu Moon certainly fits the bill, as he was well-beaten by today’s favorite Flexibility in the GII Remsen to end his juvenile campaign and then tossed the jockey early behind that runner in the local GIII Jerome earlier this month. If you’re a fan, you get a speedy runner with a good draw from one of the best barns in the country at a big price, and it’s not like behind the chalk there’s a ton in here. But on paper he’s never run fast enough to threaten a group like this, let alone beat them; passing.

Flexibility and Irad Ortiz Jr. win the Jerome at Aqueduct earlier this month. NYRA/Chelsea Durand

Flexibility and Irad Ortiz Jr. win the Jerome at Aqueduct earlier this month. NYRA/Chelsea Durand

#2 Flexibility (7-5): Talented New York-bred basically had to win the Jerome with the way the race shook out, as he was stalking a three-way speed duel, but he sure did it the right way and the margin could have been more if he was asked. Son of Bluegrass Cat has that Samraat look to him, as that runner was another Empire-bred who did some good things in these parts over the winter with a similar versatile running style a few years back. Brown has done little wrong all meet and it’s nice to see him wheel this colt right back off such a powerful local win, so until someone knocks him off the mountain, he’s the king of South Ozone Park; seems too tough to deny.

#3 Cards of Stone (20-1): Longshot impressed in his debut win against fellow NYBs going one-turn, then was an underlaid and well-beaten second going two turns here in the slop in an optional claimer 20 days ago and now picks a tough spot to try open waters for the first time. Bond has enjoyed a banner meet with limited starters and there’s speed and a hint of a rating gear in this corner, so he could trip out nicely. But you have to wonder how far he wants to go, as dad Bustin Stones never went beyond seven furlongs, and this gelding didn’t seem to like that extra turn last time, as he was backing up late; can’t see it.

#4 King Kranz (8-1): The speed of the speed stretches out past 6 1/2 furlongs for the first time and will likely try to take them as far as he can on the lead, which seems a tall ask as dad Munnings and damsire Henny Hughes were both crack sprinters. Classy sort was thrown to the wolves time and again by Terranova, running in several stakes while still a maiden, but he never blinked and finally got the job done in a pricey listed stakes over the track last time, so it’s not like they are tossing a 30-1 in the ring and hoping. This track has been known to carry his type a lot longer than you would think, and Zayat and Terranova teamed up nicely with the stretch-out sprinter El Kabeir in these NY winter graded stakes for 3-year-olds last year, but with some pace to his inside and outside and a one-turn pedigree, this seems like a big ask; pop and stop time.

#5 Vorticity (8-1): Price player impressed last time when he was a distant second to Flexibility in the Jerome, as he dueled on the inside the entire way yet was still a clear second when the dust settled, in his two-turn debut to boot. Of course, the waters get a lot deeper today and he’s got 4 1/4 lengths to make up on the big dog, but he draws perfectly for his style today and will be dictating from the outside this time around, as opposed to taking all the worst of it down inside. Well-bred son of Distorted Humor has answered every question that Lawrence has asked and seemingly is improving with each race, so while beating the chalk might be out of reach, he’s got every chance to best the rest and add some spice to your exotics; expecting another big run.

#6 Adventist (5-1): The wildcard looked like a freak running off in the lane in his debut here going 6 furlongs in December and now stretches out and takes on winners for the first time, but you know what they say: if you’ve got a 3yo in your barn that can run, well, you better see what you have. Gyarmati and Treadway have teamed up for some serious success on the NYRA circuit over the past few years, and this son of Any Given Saturday is certainly bred to be a nice horse and relish this added ground, too, and this is the right time to take a shot, with a field that is a bit vulnerable, aside from the favorite. So while there’s a chance “too much, too soon” is in play, there’s also a chance that he’s ready to toss his hat into the ring as one serious 3yo; watching closely today.

#7 Sunny Ridge (5-2): The main danger to the chalk did some big things at 2, including running second in the GI Champagne at Belmont Park in October, then just missing in his two-turn debut, when second, beaten a neck, by heavyweight Exaggerator in the GIII Delta Jackpot to end his campaign in November. The rub is that both those runs came over very wet race tracks, so how he handles a dry one against solid foes is up for debate at this point. And that’s before we even mention that this son of Holy Bull has just three published works since the Jackpot and just two since December 22, and that 1/25 drill when he went :55 for 4 furlongs makes you wonder if he was pulling a jockey in a sulky, as opposed to having one on his back. Plus, this wide draw leaves little margin for error and the normally potent Servis is off to a very rough start to the meet, too. Point being, sure he’s good enough on paper, but taking a short price on a horse who has a lot of questions and probably isn’t as good as the chalk on his best day to begin with just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense; taking a strong stand against.


#2 Flexibility

#5 Vorticity

#6 Adventist

#7 Sunny Ridge


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