On Saturday at Aqueduct, seven starters will try each other out in the Grade III Withers Stakes, a newly-installed fixture in the Winter meeting.
Alpha, a Bernardini colt who carries the colors of Godolphin Stable, is the even-money morning line favorite. He started his 2012 campaign with a 2 1/2-length victory in January’s Count Fleet under Ramon Dominguez, who returns in the Withers.
“We’re excited to be running him, to be in this position,” said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. “Our stomachs were upset last weekend when Consortium didn’t run well in the slop at Gulfstream (in the Holy Bull), so we’re thankful for Alpha. But we have to do it day by day, race by race.”
Alpha breaks from the outside post 7.
While Alpha has already competed in Grade I company, finishing second to Union Rags in the Champagne and eleventh behind Hansen in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, several rivals will be testing the waters in Saturday’s race.
Hakama, who makes his stakes debut, is 2-1-1 from four starts, including a maiden win at a mile and 70 yards at Aqueduct on Dec. 10 and an optional claiming win at the Withers distance at Laurel Park on Jan. 4.
“He’s graduated himself into this position,” said trainer Michael Trombetta of the chestnut son of First Samurai. “He looks like he’s a good fit – he ran well in two sprints and two routes – and we’re seeing if he’s ready to take the next step.”
Julian Pimentel is aboard Hakama, who drew the rail at 5-1 on the morning line.
Trainer Dale Romans sends in the lightly raced King Kid, who was most recently third in the Gulfstream Park Derby on New Year’s Day. King Kid broke his maiden at Churchill Downs on Nov. 26.
“He’s a horse we’ve always thought a lot of, and we’d like him to run big Saturday and see if he belongs,” said Romans/ “It would be nice to get $120,000 of graded stakes earnings and then be selective about where he’d go next.”
Mike Luzzi has the mount on King Kid, 4-1 on the morning line, from post 4.
How Do I Win closed out his 2-year-old campaign with a pair of victories and then finished fourth, beaten more than six lengths by Alpha, in the Count Fleet.
“He’s a horse, who, frankly, has been a bit of a disappointment,” said trainer Todd Pletcher. “He’s one of those horses that, when things go right, is capable of running a big race. Cornelio told me he thought he took too much of a hold in the Count Fleet, so without seeing all the form, the likely strategy will be to put him on the lead and hope he gets loose.”
Velasquez returns aboard How Do I Win, who leaves from post 5 and is 10-1 on the morning line.
Tiger Walk, who will be making his sophomore and stakes debut in the Withers, enters off a pair of wins at Laurel Park, having finished fourth and tenth in two maiden outings at Saratoga. The Tale of the Cat colt, 6-1 on the morning line, drew post 6 and will be ridden by Horacio Karamanos.
Speightscity, from the barn of Gary Contessa, was fifth in the Count Fleet and campaigned to off-the-board finishes in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and the Grade II Remsen Stakes. He's 20-1 and gets the services of David Cohen.
Swag Daddy, trained by Rick Dutrow, Jr. -- who's managed to hold on to his New York trainer's license, thanks to a court order staying a major suspension -- closed out his 2-year-old campaign with victories in the Damon Runyon and Restrainor Stakes at the Big A. Set at 10-1 on the morning line, Swag Daddy will be ridden by Junior Alvarado.
--Edited NYRA release with additional content by Dick Downey