New York’s road to the Triple Crown continues this Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack with a 10 horse field of 3-year-olds set to compete in the 137th running of the Grade 3, $250,000 Withers Stakes at 1 1/16 miles.
As an official prep race for the Kentucky Derby on May 6 at Churchill Downs, the Withers winner will collect 10 qualifying points towards a bid in the “Run for the Roses.” An additional four points will be awarded to the second-place finisher, as well as two to third and one to fourth.
El Areeb, for M M G Stables and trainer Cathal Lynch, will headlinethe field by making a return to New York from Laurel Park after capturing the Grade 3 Jerome on January 2 at the Big A. A progeny of Exchange Rate, El Areeb has wheeled off three consecutive victories dating back to his maiden-breaking win on October 16 and is the most accomplished runner from the field with three wins from five starts.
#4 El Areeb – Maybe that win last time out in the Grade 3 Jerome Stakes was too good to be true…but there is just no way I could go against him in this spot as he looks to tower over the competition. I went into the race wanting to play against, but no matter how you look at the race he has the advantage. I do not think the muddy track moved him up all that much last time out as he’s ran solid on a fast track as well. This field isn’t the great, and I don’t know if this is a horse that can compete with the top class in the crop, but I don think he can handle the New York circuit fairly easily. Chalk for me in this one.
Horses to Play in Multi Race Wagers
#2 Apartfromthecrowd – This horse in my eyes is the only clear cut contender that might be able to take down El Areeb today. Most of the others have either already been beaten badly by El Areeb, or haven’t been close to him figure wise on paper. Apartfromthecrowd really doesn’t match up either, but the upside is there and his connections are strong. His last race, a maiden romp at Aqueduct, is probably the best race a horse has run in this race other than El Areeb’s Jerome Stakes romp. He’s worth a shot in your pick 4’s if you want to try to beat the heavy favorite.
#10 J Boys Echo – Stranger danger! The other nine horses have all been running at Aqueduct or at least the Atlantic region, but J Boys Echo makes the trip up after working out at Gulfstream Park for the winter so far this year. Last time out he finished fourth in the Grade 3 Delta Downs Jackpot which looks like a race that might end up being fairly strong. He had a bit of a rough trip in that one, but today he draws outside which might be ok as his jockey can pick his spot with him. I don’t think he came all the way from South Florida for no reason…
#5 Bonus Points – Finished second last time out in the Grade 3 Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct, but he was a long way behind El Areeb how ran away from the field that day. Obviously you must respect this horse because of trainer Todd Pletcher, but it’s hard to see a way he can turn the tables on El Areeb in this spot. Should run another solid race, but will be tough to compete on the win end of things.
#1 True Timber – Ran third in the Grade 3 Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct last time out, but he was simply no match for El Areeb. It’s hard to see how he could turn the tables on El Areeb in this spot, but will once again be a nice candidate to hit the board underneath El Areeb. Him and Bonus Points seem to be one in the same to me as they both could run well but have little chance to win.
#6 Filet of Sole – From a connections standpoint alone you have to respect this horse as Pletcher can beat you at anytime during the prep season. It took the horse four tries, but he got finally broke his maiden last time out Parx. Parx form vs. NYRA form can sometimes be sketchy though, so I’m still skeptical on the talent level this one has shown so far. This will give us a better indication on what the runner is all about.
#3 Jaime’s Angel – Was winless in three races sprinting, but stretched out for the first time last time out and dominated a maiden field at Aqueduct by five and a half lengths. That race served as a major eye opener for me, and makes me think he can make an impact in this race. With several horses in here that might be intriguing to bet Jaime’s Angel could get overlooked a little bit so the price will be right. If you like long shots he makes a little bit of sense.
#7 Always a Suspect – Stretches out for the first time in this race after running six furlongs for the first four races of his career. Last time out he ran a solid second in the 100k Lost in the Fog Stakes at Aqueduct so he might have enough class to compete against this bunch. The stretch out is a real question mark though.
#8 Small Bear – Since stretching out to two turns he has two straight wins so that is the good news. However, he hasn’t ran a very fast number yet, and he also won one of those race at Parx so the competition will stiffen today. We’ll see where he’s at class wise in this spot.
#9 Square Shooter – Parx shipper comes in to this race off of two straight wins to start his career. From a numbers standpoint he has some improvement to do, and usually the NYRA circuit is tougher than Parx. Good spot to give it a try though.