The highlight race at Aqueduct on Saturday was the $250,000 Withers Stakes (G3), a 1 1/16 mile inner track contest for 3-year-olds and a points-scoring event in the Road to the Kentucky Derby. A field of 6 went to post before 5,109 fans under cloudy skies and temperatures in the mid 40's. Uncle Sigh, breaking his maiden by 14 lengths in his second start, was sent off as the 11-10 favorite over 6-5 second choice Samraat, undefeated in three starts including the Damon Runyon against New York-breds last out. Classic Giacnroll was the 13-2 third choice off his second place finish in the Jerome (G2).
Down the stretch in the Withers Stakes
Jockey Pablo Morales sent Uncle Sigh to the lead first time by and he set fractions of 24.00, 48.33, and 1:12.77 over the fast main track while pressed by Uncle Sigh to his outside, as the lead pair was well clear of the rest of the field. Entering the lane, jockey Jose Ortiz sent Samraat to challenge and he gained a short lead through 1 mile in 1:39.06. Samraat gradually extended his lead, finishing a length in front in 1:46.31. It was a long 10 1/4 lengths back from favorite Uncle Sigh to late-running 15-1 Scotland third.
Left: Samraat in the winner's circle. Winning trainer Rick Violette said, "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 (Uncle Sigh's connections) 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."
Right: Samraat heads back to the barn. Violette added, "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. his 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."
Left: Samraat returns after the race. Winning jockey Jose Ortiz said, "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 (Uncle Sigh) was used already."
Right: Samraat heads out for the post parade. Ortiz added, "At the 1/4 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. Rick did a tremendous job, bringing the horse to Palm Meadows and shipping him up here."
Left: Second place finisher and beaten favorite Uncle Sigh heads out for the post parade. Trainer Gary Contessa said, "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 Samraat comes back for the Gotham. I'll be there."
Right: Third place finisher Scotland returns after the race. The 15-1 shot raced last early under jockey Kendrick Carmouche then passed tired horses late to get third beatem 11 1/4 lengths. The Tony Dutrow trainee improved his record to 0 wins, 2 seconds, and 2 thirds in 4 starts, earning $67,400 for owners Harvey Clarke, Paul Braverman, and Team D.
Candyman E wins the Toboggan Stakes (G3)
Kicking off the Saturday stakes quartet, a field of 6 older horses sprinted 6 furlongs in the $150,000 Toboggan Stakes (G3). Dads Caps was sent off as the 5-4 favorite off his runner-up finish in the Spooky Mulder Stakes in December. In to challenge him included 5-2 second choice Candyman E, winner of the Spooky Mulder, and 4-1 third choice Praetereo, third in both the Spooky Mulder and the Lord of the Night Stakes.
Jockey Cornelio Velasquez sent Dads Caps to the early lead and he set fractions of 22.97 and 45.50 while as many as 2 lengths in front of Candyman E. In the lane, the lead pair drifted outward, but Candyman E took over the lead inside the 1/16 pole to win by 3/4 length in 1:10.34. It was another 2 1/2 lengths back to 22-1 longest shot Non Stop third.
Left: Candyman E heads to the winner's circle. Winning trainer David Jacobson said, "We had a lot of confidence in Candyman E. The plan was to not let (Dads Caps) get away. Chuckie did a great job stalking him, staying with him, and we were able to run him down in the last few jumps."
Right: Candyman E returns after the race. Winning jockey C.C. Lopez said, "I had no doubt my horse could probably beat him again, only because he beat him last time in the same fashion. I knew (Dads Caps) was faster than (Candyman E); I just tried to not give him too much of a lead. I tried to stay close to him. At the top of the stretch I hadn't gotten to my horse left-handed yet, and when I hit him left handed he went after him, and I knew he was going to win from there."
Left: Second place finisher and beaten favorite Dads Caps in the post parade. Trainer Rudy Rodriguez said, "Last time, he had a little bit of an excuse when he broke through the gate. The winner is a game horse."
Right: Third place finisher Non Stop in the post parade. The 22-1 shot raced in third 4 lengths off the pace under jockey Abel Lezcano, but failed to rally finishing third beaten 3 1/4 lengths. The Dave Cannizzo trainee improved his record to 6 wins, 5 seconds, and 2 thirds in 24 starts, earning $252,889 for owner Good Karma Stables.
Lion D N A (inside) wins the Correction Stakes
A field of 10 older fillies and mares sprinted 6 furlongs on the inner track in the $100,000 Correction Stakes. 9-2 third choice Baby J and 2-1 favorite Lion D N A battled for the early lead through fractions of 23.46 and 46.21. At the top of the stretch, Lion D N A and jockey C.C. Lopez gained a 1 1/2 length lead as Baby J tired. 4-1 second choice Delightful Quality, who stalked the pacesetters in third early, put in a late bid but Lion D N A held her off by a head in 1:11.32. It was another 2 1/4 lengths back to late-running 6-1 Masasi third.
Left: Lion D N A in the winner's circle. Winning trainer Rudy Rodriguez said, "It looks like she's getting a little better. I was very, very confident about her today, and we're lucky she ran her race. She broke sharply today, so that was good. We claimed her because she could run for a $16,000 starter allowance, but she looks like she is getting better. We can run her in starter allowance races if she needs relief, but hopefully she'll keep improving and we'll put her where she belongs."
Right: Lion D N A returns after the race. Winning jockey C.C. Lopez said, "She didn't break all that well then kind of ran off. But she settled down and I knew she was a winner turning for home."
Left: Second place finisher Delightful Quality in the post parade. The 4-1 second choice stalked the pace in third under jockey Eddie Castro then closed late but just missed.
Right: Third place finisher Masasi gets a pat before the post parade. The 6-1 shot raced in fifth early under jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. then passed tired horses late to get third beaten 2 1/4 lengths.
Joint Return wins the Busher Stakes
A field of seven 3-year-old fillies went to post in the $100,000 Busher Stakes, a 1 1/16 mile inner track contest and a points-scoring race on the Road to the Kentucky Oaks. 4-1 third choice Fierce Boots set the pace of 24.58, 50.28, and 1:15.90 while pressed by 18-1 Ketel Twist and 6-1 Fleet of Gold. Turning for home 7-1 Joint Return, who was last early, came out 5 wide to circle the field, taking over the lead at the 3/16 pole. Kept to task by jockey Kendrick Carmouche she drew off to win by 4 1/4 lengths over 2-1 second choice Vero Amore in 1:48.49. It was another 1/2 length back to Ketel Twist third, while 8-5 favorite Ballylee checked in fifth.
Left: Joint Return in the winner's circle. Winning jockey Kendrick Carmouche said, "Today she was really on the muscle as I warmed her up. We left there and she put me in a good position. Being 4 1/2 or 5 lengths off of it is a good pace for her, and I thought from there they couldn't beat her."
Right: Joint Return returns after the race.
Left: Second place finisher Vero Amore in the post parade. Trainer Butch Reid said, "Good race, first time around two turns and coming back on short notice like we did. She's always game, gives it a try. The jock said she was fine and pulled up fine. We'll give her a month now and look for a better spot."
Right: Third place finisher Ketel Twist returns after the race. The 18-1 shot pressed the pace under jockey Mike Luzzi, then tired late to finish third beaten 4 3/4 lengths. The Bill Mott trainee improved her record to 1 win, 3 seconds, and 1 third in 8 starts, earning $123,046 for owner Turf Stable (Rusty Jones).
Fifth place finisher and beaten favorite Ballylee heads out for the post parade. Trainer Tom Albertrani said, "She was in a tight spot a couple of times throughout the race. She never really got a chance to do a whole lot of running when I did think she needed to get herself going. It didn't work out."