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Saturday’s $250,000 Withers Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct will serve as the second of four Kentucky Derby Prep events in the state of New York. The winner will earn 10 important points towards the Kentucky Derby, with the second-place finisher earning 4, third place 2, and fourth 1. The race will be one of three Derby Prep events this weekend, with the Holy Bull Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park and the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita Park also on the slate. The Withers, set for race eight on the card, has a local post time of 4:25 PM ET.
The race lacks an established presence outside of Shotski, who makes his 3-year-old debut after winning the Remsen Stakes (G2) here last time out. Shotski broke his maiden on second asking at Laurel Park before finishing fourth in the Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs two races back. He will be ridden by Luis Seaz as he breaks from post 5.
Trainer Todd Pletcher could have the up-and-coming horse in recent maiden special weight winner Portos. The Tapit colt was a runaway 10 3/4-length winner over this track last time out, his first in four tries. He’ll break from post 8 for his first try against stakes company with Jose Lezcano along for the ride.
Another interesting prospect in the field is Monday Morning Qb, shipping in from Laurel Park where he won the 7-furlong Heft Stakes last time out. Before that impressive victory, he was a maiden special weight winner at Parx by a solid 2 1/4 lengths. He will have rider Jose Vargas, Jr., aboard as he breaks from post 2.
The full field from the rail out includes Mr. Shortandsimple, Monday Morning Qb, Max Player, New Commission, Shotski, Prince of Pharoahs, Vanzzy, and Portos.
#5 Shotski – Simply put, if he runs back to his Resmen Stakes (G2) effort, then he will be awfully tough to beat here. He seized the early advantage in the Remsen on the back side before opening up a big lead in the stretch. The horses that he faced in that event seem better than what he’ll see here, another positive sign that he can pick up a victory. Finally, the fact that jockey Luis Saez will miss a full day of riding at Gulfstream Park to ride him might be the best sign of all. He should outclass this group.
#8 Portos – It took this horse four starts to break his maiden, but he did it in style last time out over this surface. After tracking the pace in fourth, he sprung to the lead on the turn before burying his rivals for a 10 3/4-length triumph. That victory also came at this same distance, another positive sign. The pace setup should be perfect for him to come with a run in the end, making him one who you need to play.
#2 Monday Morning Qb – After a couple of impressive starts sprinting, this colt stretches out in distance for the first time. Most recently, he won the Heft Stakes at Laurel back by 3/4 lengths, holding off a late charge from fellow competitor New Commission. The stretch out makes this a tougher challenger and he will likely be on the lead from this inside post. His talent makes him a solid contender, though, especially in this winnable prep.
#4 New Commission – If you like Monday Morning Qb in this spot, then it is only logical to like New Commission. After breaking his maiden at Parx two starts back, this rare Georgia-bred on the Derby Trail faced off against Monday Morning Qb in the Heft Stakes at Laurel Park, finishing second by 3/4 of a length. Those two races show that he has ability and make him a player in a field devoid of star power.
#7 Vanzzy – He’s finished first or second in his last three starts, including taking the Display Stakes last time out over the synthetic surface at Woodbine. He broke his maiden three starts back over the dirt at Parx, but synthetic may be his best surface. Still, he’s worth a look if the price is good enough.
#3 Max Player – This Honor Code colt has some intrigue, but he must improve quite a bit from a speed figure standpoint. The stretch out in distance could help him with that, and his last-out maiden special weight score at Parx was visually impressive. Of the three throw outs, he’s the best.
#1 Shortandsimple – He’ll try to make the tough jump from claiming company to stakes horses in this spot. Last time out, he won by a nose in a $50k claimer over this track, and three starts back, he broke his maiden while in for a $30k tag. This is a much bigger challenge.
#6 Prince of Pharoahs – The dead-heat second place finisher of the Jerome Stakes shows up here in a logical next spot, but he’ll have to improve from a speed figure standpoint in order to have a chance.
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