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Hit Show won the 2023 Withers Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct, a prep race for the 2023 Kentucky Derby (G1). Is the Brad Cox trainee now a major threat moving forward? Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!
Gary and Mary West’s Kentucky homebred Hit Show announced his presence in the sophomore division with an emphatic 5 1/2-length victory in Saturday’s Grade 3, $250,000 Withers, a nine-furlong test for 3-year-olds, at Aqueduct Racetrack.
The Withers, which was rescheduled from February 4 after cold temperatures and high winds forced the cancelation of the card, awarded 20-8-6-4-2 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top-five finishers. Hit Show is now third on the Road to the Kentucky Derby leaderboard.
Trained by two-time Eclipse Award-winner Brad Cox, Hit Show lived up to his 6-5 favoritism and scored the first stakes triumph of his career on the heels of a 3 1/2-length optional claiming score in December at Oaklawn Park. He was scratched from the January 28 Grade 3 Southwest over the same oval in favor of the Withers.
“I just liked the way the Withers was coming up,” Cox said of the decision. “I thought he fit well with the group. Obviously, he was 6-5, so everybody else thought so, too. It actually worked out well delaying the race a week as we had a little bit of an issue getting [a flight] out of Memphis. We would have made the race last week, but we would have been close on getting there in time.”
Breaking sharply from post 4 under Manny Franco, Hit Show and longshot Prove Right raced prominently behind post-time second choice Arctic Arrogance, who was sent to the front from the inside post by Jose Lezcano to lead the field of seven into the first turn. Prove Right tracked closely in second with Andiamo a Firenze taking up third position as the trio put 3 1/2 lengths between them and Hit Show through an opening quarter-mile in 23.53 seconds over the fast main track.
Prove Right inched closer to the outside of Arctic Arrogance down the backstretch while a patient Franco held inside position aboard Hit Show in fourth. Both Andiamo a Firenze and Hit Show were asked for more through a half-mile in 48.09 as Arctic Arrogance pulled away from a retreating Prove Right. Hit Show had plenty when asked by Franco, but lacked room as Arctic Arrogance hugged the rail in front of him and a stubborn Prove Right hung to his outside through three-quarters in 1:13.43.
Hit Show swung wide as the field exited the turn and displayed an impressive turn of foot, easily overtaking second position from a tiring Andiamo a Firenze and setting his sights on a game Arctic Arrogance, who came under right-handed encouragement from Lezcano at the top of the stretch. Hit Show proved too much for his pacesetting foe and passed by with ease at the eighth-pole, cruising home under confident handling from Franco in a final time of 1:54.71.
2023 Kentucky Derby
Arctic Arrogance, who raced with blinkers for the first time, stayed on strongly to complete the exacta by 6 1/4 lengths over the rallying General Banker with Andiamo a Firenze completing the superfecta by a head over Prove Right. Jungfrau and Ninetyprcentmaddie completed the order of finish.
Franco, who celebrated his third Withers triumph, said he had an ideal trip.
“The horse helped me a lot. He had a clean break,” Franco said. “He broke so sharp out of there and put me in a perfect position. I wanted to be fourth or fifth and I was following the right horse [Arctic Arrogance] and I was so happy with the position. When it was time to move, he was there for me. He responded really well and got the job done.
“He’s a little green,” added Franco. “He’s learning race by race and I think he’ll be OK. I think the more distance the better for him. I put my hands down [in the gallop out] and I didn’t pull on him. I just let him gallop out and he kept going around. I had to pull him up to make him stop.”
Hit Show, a grey son of Candy Ride out of the dual graded stakes-winner Actress, banked $137,500 for his victory and improved his lifetime record to 4-3-0-0, adding to his aforementioned optional claiming victory and a debut maiden score in October at Keeneland. He returned $4.60 for a $2 win wager.
Cox said he will consider the Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino on April 8, which awards 100-40-30-20-10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top-five finishers, as a potential next target for Hit Show.
“I’m going to talk it over with the Wests and we’ll make a decision,” said Cox. “He’ll go back to Belmont tonight and chill out there for a while and recover and we’ll come up with a game plan for him. It very well could be the Wood Memorial. He obviously likes the racetrack there and we’ll see how things go.”
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Linda Rice, trainer of Arctic Arrogance, said the son of Frosted may be distance limited as he posted his third consecutive runner-up effort in a Kentucky Derby prep at the Big A, including the Grade 2 Remsen in December and Jerome in January.
“Drawing the one hole, we decided we needed to be aggressive and get position going into the first turn,” said Rice. “He got pressured a little bit by a longshot, but all in all I thought it was a really good effort and the winner today was very good.”
Rice said Arctic Arrogance will likely turn his attention to a cutback next in the one-mile Grade 3, $300,000 Gotham on March 4, which awards 50-20-15-10-5 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top-fiver finishers.
“I think that we’ll just take it race by race, one at a time,” said Rice. “I have felt that he might be more of a miler. After today’s effort, if things had gone better, I would have probably skipped the Gotham and gone to the Wood. But Jose and I were just chatting and I think he may be better at a flat mile, so we may go ahead and run in the Gotham.”
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