By Dick Downey
Samraat and Uncle Sigh, a pair of New York-breds coming off dominant victories, will face open company for the first time in the 134th running of the Withers Stakes at Aqueduct.
The 1 1/16-mile Withers drew six to compete for $250,000 and carries 17 Kentucky Derby points, with 10 going to the winner.
Both Samraat and Uncle Sigh led from start to finish to win by double digits at a mile, 70 yards at Aqueduct in their most recent starts.
Samraat, unbeaten in three races, took the Damon Runyon Stakes by 16 3/4 lengths and was subsequently shipped to Florida for training by trainer Rick Violette, Jr. He debuted at Belmont in October going six furlongs and won by 3 1/2 lengths. He followed that up with an allowance win at 7 1/2 furlongs. Both those races were on the main track.
In the Damon Runyon, Samraat set moderate fractions pull away in the stretch as jockey Jose Ortiz sat still in the saddle.
Since that race, Samraat has turned in four workouts at Palm Meadows, including a pair of one-mile breezes -- 1:41.85 on Jan. 17 and 1:46.60 on Jan. 24.
"He had a few races close together and ran such a big race in the Damon Runyon, and because the Damon Runyon had been delayed it seemed like the Jerome would be back too quick," said Violette. "We sent him to Florida, and it seems like that's been the right move with the way the weather has been. He's been doing great, as usual."
Jose Ortiz retains the mount aboard Samraat, who drew post position 5 as the 7-5 morning-line favorite.
Violette said he believes Samraat, a son of Noble Causeway, doesn't necessarily need the lead.
"I think he has been faster," said Violette. "He's obviously pretty quick and showed it when he went to the lead from the inside in a sprint. If others want to be more aggressive, he can let them do that."
Samraat's main challenger may be Uncle Sigh, 9-5 on the morning line, and trainer Gary Contessa hopes something challenges him.
"Honestly, I'm hoping somebody keeps Samraat honest," said Contessa. "If nobody else wants to go with him, I'll tell my rider to go out with him. I'm not looking at it as us having to beat one horse, because we have to beat all the horses, but I'm not going to let Samraat get an easy lead this time."
Uncle Sigh broke his maiden by 14 1/2 lengths on Dec. 27 in his second outing and missed by just a head when second from off the pace in his debut, a six-furlong race on off going at the track on Dec. 7. Stretching out next time, he won easily in hand for Pablo Morales.
"I think you'd be hard pressed to find a horse who broke his maiden so impressively," said Contessa. "His first two weren't just visually impressive, but the numbers back it up. This is the logical next spot. You're not going to find many multiple winners in the race, and most will be eligible for an entry-level allowance."
Uncle Sigh will leave from the rail with Morales in the irons once again.
Also coming off a gate-to-wire maiden win is Street Gent, who prevailed by three-quarters of a length in his fourth start on Dec. 1 at the Big A.
To begin his career, Street Gent finished off the board in two turf races. Switched to dirt, he was beaten 8 1/2 lengths in November going nine furlongs. His maiden-breaker was at the same distance. He's a stable mate of Noble Moon, the Jerome winner that's nursing a foot problem for trainer Leah Gyarmati.
"Pedigree, and the way he moved on the dirt, were the reasons we decided to try him on the turf right away," said Gyarmati. "He's a big one, and he just doesn't look pretty moving on the dirt. His works weren't that impressive either. We thought we'd try him right away there when we still had some decent turf and get it out of the way, rather than finding out he's a turf horse in the middle of the winter.
"I thought his third start was pretty decent," Gyarmati said. "Obviously there was a dramatic difference between the way he ran on the dirt and the way he ran on the turf. You have to throw those first two races out completely because of the surface. He also left the gate a little slowly; he kind of ducked over and didn't have a good experience at the gate his first two starts. I think doing a little gate work and the change in surface made the difference. Between his third and fourth starts, he was just progressing."
Irad Ortiz, Jr. has the call aboard Street Gent, who drew post 2 and was installed at 12-1 on the morning line.
The field also includes Classic Giacnroll and Scotland, second and third in the Jerome, and Honorable Judge, who took an allowance at Parx Racing by 2 1/4 lengths on Nov. 3. There'll be more about them later.
Also on the Saturday card are the Toboggan, the Busher, and the Correction Stakes.
Grade III Withers Stakes
1 1/16 Mile
Post Time: 4:20 ET
|1||Uncle Sigh (NY)||9-5||P. Morales||C||116||G. Contessa|
|2||Street Gent (KY)||12-1||I. Ortiz Jr.||C||116||L. Gyarmati|
|3||Scotland (KY)||8-1||K. Carmouche||C||116||A. Dutrow|
|4||Classic Giacnroll (KY)||5-1||C. Velasquez||C||116||L. Guerrero|
|5||Samraat (NY)||7-5||J. Ortiz||C||118||R. Violette Jr.|
|6||Honorable Judge (PA)||15-1||J. Bisono||C||118||R. Reid Jr.|
All will run with Lasix
Owners: 1 - Wounded Warrior Stables and Robertson, Anthony C. ; 2 - Treadway Racing Stable ; 3 - Clarke, Harvey A., Braverman, Paul and Team D ; 4 - Guerrero, Lisa and Besecker, Joseph E. ; 5 - My Meadowview Farm ; 6 - Cash is King LLC
Breeders: 1 - Milfer Farm Inc.; 2 - Peter Van Andel; 3 - Trackside Farm & Chet Blackey; 4 - Dermot Joyce; 5 - My Meadowview LLC; 6 - Roll Z Dice Racing Stable