Road to the Kentucky Derby Includes Withers Stakes
The 137TH running of The Withers Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct this Saturday has drawn a field of 10 three-year-olds. This race also is a qualifying race for the Kentucky Derby as the winner will receive 10 points for the win with the top four finishers receiving 10-4-2-1 qualifying points. The Withers is run at 1 1/16 miles and has a purse of $250,000 with the winner receiving $150,000.
The prohibitive favorite is El Areeb listed at 6/5 on the morning line. He enters on a 3-race winning streak. His last race in the Jerome (G3) was another impressive performance over the muddy inner track at Aqueduct. El Areeb was the controlling speed and scampered off to a 11 ¼ length win. He looks to be the controlling speed once again Saturday and his connections have stated he would only have two more starts off his Jerome (G3) win, so that tells us he’s still kicking the stalls down and they can no longer keep him from running. We also need to note that El Areeb is giving 6 pounds to the rest of the field carrying 122 pounds. El Areeb stretches out further at 1 1/16 miles, but his connections feel he’s ready.
“We’ve always thought he was going to be a two-turn horse, and he’s just been getting better and better,” said trainer Cathal Lynch. “Most of his works here in the morning are around two turns. We gave him a sharp work yesterday, but most of his works in the morning are around a mile to a mile-and-an-eighth to a -quarter, and it seems the farther he goes the better.”
We’ve owned this race in years past, as last year we had Sunny Ridge as our top play. The Kentucky Derby prep races since the conception of the qualifying point systems have been won by mostly favorites. So you’ve got to know when to buck the chalk at the betting windows. We feel today that they won’t squeeze the lemon dry with El Areeb as we see the Wood Memorial being his key race as his connections will skip the Gotham Stakes in March.
One of the better 2-year-old maiden wins in 2016 was by Dale Romans trainee J Boys Echo, who breaks from the outside post and is the top contender at 4/1 in the Withers. A 3-year-old colt by Mineshaft, J Boys Echo broke poorly and ducked in his first start, was last of 10 at the quarter pole before rallying for a 2nd place finish at 6 ½ furlongs. Later that month in October, he was shipped to Keeneland and was bet down as the favorite in a field of 12. J Boys Echo rewarded his betting backers with a big powerful push down the lane striding home a winner by 5 ½ lengths at today’s same distance. Romans then shipped him to Louisiana for the $1 million Delta Downs Jackpot for his third race in six weeks.
The Delta Downs main track is a bullring and the turns are very tight. J Boys Echo broke outward that afternoon as he was in post position 9 of 10 runners and also was staring the bounce theory right in the eye as well. He ran in spurts that afternoon and gave a decent account of himself finishing 4th as the second betting choice behind the winner and early Derby contender Gunnevera. Now he ships to Aqueduct instead of facing Breeders’ Cup Juvenile champion Classic Empire in the Holy Bull at Gulfstream. Romans should have this colt ready to run a big race.
The other win contender is from the Chad Brown barn Apartfromthecrowd (5/1). He’s been somewhat disappointing for his connections thus far, but made strides in breaking his maiden last time out over this track at a similar distance at Aqueduct. He came back with a solid 4 furlong work Jan. 28 at Belmont and he seems to have figured it out now off his impressive maiden win by 4 lengths with his powerful finish in a race that was run very slow for the first 6 furlongs. The change of jockey to Irad Ortiz, Jr. makes Apartfromthecrowd the other option with J Boys Echo to put in your win bets and rolling wagers in favor of heavy favorite El Areeb.
The Withers Stakes is race 8 at Aqueduct on Saturday, Feb. 4 with a post time of 4:20 ET.
Kenny Schmitt contributed to this article. Follow him on Twitter @FBWinners.