Break-Through Performance in Withers?

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9:19 am EST

By Greg “The Commish” Johnson
The Downey Profile

I have to tell you, one of my least favorite angles as a handicapper would have to be a state-bred meeting open company for the first time in a big race.  The problem with this in the Withers Stakes Saturday at Aqueduct is that the open company doesn't stand out over these state-breds.

With a few precious Derby points up for grabs, I’m sticking with one I’ve had my eye on for a while to produce a break-through performance.

It is fairly easy to identify the speed in this race as the undefeated Samraat. He’s done exactly zero wrong to this point against fellow New York-breds and is unchallenged on the front end at every call. He earned a decent Beyer Speed Figure of 95 in his last, despite a rather pedestrian finishing time. The training down in cozy warm Florida has been OK, and now he's back home in familiar surroundings. I certainly can’t blame anyone who wants take a shot at fifty cents to the dollar for him to take his fourth in a row.

Uncle Sigh is the other one with some early lick, and he's the other New Yorker. Uncle Sigh exits a romping maiden score on Dec. 27. He’s also sporting some nifty speed figures, and he has a pair of since-he-raced bullet workouts across town in prep for this. Connections have sounded off loud and clear that they will send him with Samraat if nothing else does. Time will tell if that means this guy is super live or that it was a suicide mission. It is not ridiculous to picture the match race starting at the top of the stretch, but I’m looking for an exacta that might pay a little more than a few bucks.

I’m exactly one for one this season hitting a maiden in a Kentucky Derby points race, that being Tapiture in the Kentucky Jockey Club.  I’ll again look for some similar lightning with my top pick, Scotland.

He just missed in his maiden at Laurel with a furious late run as the 7-5 favorite. He certainly moved forward in his next, grabbing the place dough against the likes of Surfing USA, who ran a respectable second to big time up-and-comer Top Billing at Gulfstream last weekend. Still a maiden, Scotland popped up in the Jerome Stakes, which admittedly wasn't run in a fast time, and again hit the board with a troubled early trip. Back to back bullet works since he raced, this $310,000 OBS April 2013 purchase can sit right off the speed and pull the trigger at the top of the stretch at a decent price.

The most experienced horse in the field is Classic Giacnroll. He could have something to say early as well, but it looks like his best chance is laying back and making a late run. He was poised to pounce about one length back at the top of the stretch in the Jerome, but lacked the needed punch late to get by Noble Moon. He's worth consideration in the exotics, but I’m looking at a price play instead to liven up the tote a bit.

Honorable Judge, at 15-1 on the morning line, is longest shot on the board and merits a good, long look. He crushed maidens in his debut by almost seven lengths as the 8-5 favorite at Parx. Connections thought enough of him to send him to the Iroquois at Churchill Downs against a pretty good bunch of horses. Despite not showing up that day, they regrouped and he again won for fun drawing off in a mile allowance race, with a vastly improved time and speed figure to boot. His trainer is winning at 29% routing and 26% with ponies that have won their last start. Keep an eye on the tote board with this guy as he is undefeated when bet hard AND running fresh. The longshot special.

Street Gent comes off a 1 1/8-mile maiden score on Dec. 1, so he makes his return to the races in a relatively tough spot after being away for two months.  His lone win was wire to wire, and I expect he should be prominent early. Double digit odds in all four previous starts, it’s fair to say he could make that five in a row in this one and looks like a pace casualty when the going gets going.



Good luck on all your plays and as usual, may the horse be with you!

Saturday, R9
Grade III Withers Stakes
1 1/16 Mile
Post Time: 4:20 ET

Post   Horse  ML  Jockey Sx  Wt Trainer
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