Brian Nadeau is back this year to offer insight and analysis on this year’s road to the Kentucky Derby. A handicapper at Horseplayer Now and Capital OTB, he’ll analyze every official Derby points race and the three Triple Crown races, back at Brooklyn Backstretch for the sixth year.
Aqueduct: The Grade III, $200,000 Withers at 1 1/16 miles (Kentucky Derby qualifying points: 10-4-2-1)
by Brian Nadeau
#1 True Timber (8-1): One of three here exiting last month’s local prep, the GIII Jerome, was beaten a pole by rousing winner El Areeb and has over 11 lengths to make up, though getting back to a fast track could help, as the latter obviously freaked in the mud that day. Son of Mineshaft was testing two turns and winners for the first time that day, too, and it’s not like McLaughlin to run them where they can’t compete, so while a win seems a bit out of reach, he’s got every right to improve and get a piece of this; exotics candidate.
#2 Apartfromthecrowd (5-1): Dangerous newcomer won a sharp MSW over the track and distance last time for Brown and certainly rates as a horse to watch in the division, though it must be noted that he rode a golden rail much of the way to secure that win. Rapidly improving son of Gio Ponti isn’t necessarily bred to run on the main track, but his sire has proven very versatile in his brief career at stud (think champion sprinter Drefong), and, aside from the big favorite, there’s no one else in here to fear; logical exacta partner.
#3 Jamie’s Angel (50-1): Giant longshot looked good rallying from close range to break his maiden easily over the track and distance last time but is stepping way up and will have to run many lengths faster to threaten, let alone win. Metivier has quietly had a solid meet for his standards and this son of Mission Impazible is on the upswing, but this is way too much, way too soon; easy toss.
#4 El Areeb (6-5): The deserving heavy chalk looked awesome romping home in the mud to win the Withers by 11 1/4 lengths in his two-turn debut for Lynch, and while he needs to prove it going long on dry land, his prior two sprint wins on a fast track were every bit as dominant and about as fast, too. Well-bred son of Exchange Rate does meet a bit tougher today and could regress off such a big win, but even if that’s the case, it’s a bit implausible to see him losing to a group as unappealing as this one; onward and upward.
#5 Bonus Points (12-1): The first of two from Pletcher has the “someone had to be 2nd” feel to him in the Withers and certainly is one of many in here looking up at the heavy chalk. Majestic Warrior colt has basically been stuck in neutral for much of his career without giving any hint of a breakthrough, and while that can happen overnight with an early season 3-year-old, there’s really no reason to think it’s today for this guy; underneath, if at all.
#6 Fillet of Sole (10-1): Pletcher’s second needed slop and the length of the Parx Racing stretch to break his maiden last time, but if nothing else, he did do it in his first assignment going two turns, and the figure he earned puts him in the mix with everyone but the favorite. Son of Union Rags has a nice stalking gear that will come in handy today, and there’s not a lot of speed signed on, so he should be up close and look to move off the far turn and seemingly is coming into this the right way too; could spice things up underneath.
#7 Always a Suspect (20-1): The second from McLaughlin was a game 2nd in the local 6-furlong Lost in the Fog and figures to take this group as far as he can on the lead as he stretches out past 6 furlongs for the first time. Son of Exchange Rate has plenty of stamina in his pedigree, and if they leave him alone early and the track is an inside highway today, he could get brave, though it’s not like they’re going to let him get too far out of their sights either; know him early, not sure about late.
#8 Small Bear (30-1): Longshot enters off two straight wins and it’s probably no coincidence that they were the first two-turn starts of this son of Macho Uno’s career, as he’s clearly bred for the trip and is finally getting to do what he wants. Of course, beating optional claimers at Parx doesn’t really equate to a GIII Withers win, but Sciacca has had a really good six months or so, saddles an improving runner who is getting good at the right time, and the price will certainly be right; you could do way worse.
#9 Square Shooter (12-1): Speedy son of Trappe Shot will put his 2-for-2 record on the line when he tries stakes foes and two turns for the first time, while making his initial start away from Parx too. Lerman isn’t a 25% trainer by running horses over their head, and it’s that time of year when you have to throw these lightly raced but talented 3yos against the stakes wall and see if they stick, but from a wide draw with no edge on paper, this seems like a tall task; pop and stop seems likely.
#10 J Boys Echo (4-1): Extremely tricky read was fancied in the GIII Delta Jackpot and delivered a weird kind of no-show 4th, as he was up close and wide early, then dropped back, then rallied again late and passed a few, though he was a first down behind winner Gunnevera. It’s nice to see Romans forge on, and as a son of Mineshaft, this colt is bred for this and beyond, and those who saw the MSW win at Keeneland two back know that there’s a ton of talent here; you just wonder if he got exposed a bit last time; using, but with little confidence.
#4 El Areeb
#10 J Boys Echo
#6 Fillet of Sole