By Dick Downey
The Withers Stakes at Aqueduct turned into a two-horse match race between a pair of New York-breds that dueled all the way around the track. Samraat finally got the best of Uncle Sigh.
Uncle Sigh and Pablo Morales took the lead early from post 1 with Samraat, ridden by Jose Ortiz, Jr., just off their flank on the outside. They stayed in that configuration until they were about to hit the stretch, when Samraat began inching forward. He cleared Uncle Sigh by a length at the wire. Both horses were sent off at even money odds in the field of six.
Following early fractions of: 24.00,: 48.33 and 1:12.77, the winning time was 1:46.31. Rick Violette, Jr. trains the winner.
Scotland rallied from last to finish third, beaten 11 1/4 lengths. Classic Giacnroll was 2 3/4 lengths behind him, followed by Honorable Judge and Street Gent.
The Withers victory followed a dominant win of the restricted Damon Runyon Stakes on Dec. 18. Samraat is now undefeated in four races.
Kentucky Derby points were on the line, and Samraat earned his first 10. Uncle Sigh picked up four, Scotland got two, and Classic Giacnroll got one. The 15 Prep Season races for the 2014 Kentucky Derby have been won by 15 different horses.
From the purse of $250,000, Samraat picked up $150,000. He paid $4.30 to win, $2.50 to place and $2.10 to show.
By Noble Causeway, Samraat is out of Little Indian Girl, by Indian Charlie. He's a homebred owned by My Meadowview Farm.
Rick Violette: "It was a long drive. (Uncle Sigh) was kind of tested in his first race. We haven't been. We left the rest of the field. As fast as we went early, it wasn't like all of a sudden somebody from out of the clouds was going to get there. Hats off to both horses. They ran a huge, huge race today, and I think they'll show up later in the year.
"We broke really well. The only thing was we weren't going to just surrender the lead, because then it would have been a quarter in :25 and it would have been no contest. If they were going to go, they were going to have to step on the gas. That was the plan: make them commit, and then we can lay off of them, and that's what happened.
"You got to (have a tough race) before you get to the bigger races. They have to learn how to fight. I really thought that happened to Easy Goer his 3-year-old year. He had never really been in a fight until the Preakness, and he became a better horse after that.
"This was a tough race. We might wait for the Wood Memorial. We're in a good spot now. If he's kind of kicking the walls down he can certainly come back for the Gotham or we can wait for the Wood or the Louisiana Derby. There are a lot of options."
Jose Ortiz: "My horse broke really good, I tried to go out and get the lead. By the half mile I had a lot of horse but he was used already. He ran a big race. At the quarter pole, I thought I had a little more horse; I thought I was going to pass him. My horse didn't pick it up the way I thought he was going to, but he came through. He did a tremendous job, bringing the horse to Palm Meadows and shipping him up here."
Gary Contessa, trainer of Uncle Sigh: "Maybe he got me on experience today; I look forward to Rocky II. That's how I feel after a race like this; this was Rocky, I'm ready for Rocky II. He ran well. I think the difference was that I, having the No. 1 hole, had to set the pace. My horse isn't very experienced, and I think he's really going to mature off this effort. He never stopped running. I look forward to the rematch. Hopefully he comes back for the Gotham. I'll be there."
Pablo Morales, jockey aboard Uncle Sigh: "It's a shame he got beat because he was trying so hard. He just got outrun today. He gave me everything he had, he never stopped. I think if I would have been on the outside and (Samraat) had been on the inside then, I'd probably beat him, but I did everything to beat him and it wasn't enough."