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Hong Kong Jockey Championship
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Manuel Franco and Sunny Ridge return after the 2016 Withers Stakes
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 under partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the high 30's. Flexibility was sent off as the 1-2 favorite off his second place finish in the Remsen (G2) followed by a win in the Jerome (G3) last out. In to challenge him included 15-4 second choice Sunny Ridge, seventh in last year's Sanford (G3) but second in both the Champagne (G1) and Delta Jackpot (G3), and 6-1 third choice Vorticity, second in the Jerome last out.
Down the stretch in the Withers Stakes
Pgm Horse Jockey Win Place Show 7 Sunny Ridge Franco 9.50 4.20 5.30 5 Vorticity Ortiz 6.00 7.90 6 Adventist Carmouche 8.60 Winning Time: 1:46.99 $2 Exacta 7-5 55.00 $2 Trifecta 7-5-6 308.00 $2 Superfecta 7-5-6-2 456.00
Left: Sunny Ridge in the winner's circle. Winning trainer Jason Servis said, "I knew he'd break sharp and that was just what he did. I felt pretty good going down the backside. Flexibility had some work to do and I was kind of where I needed to be. It might give him a little trouble sometimes he breaks so good. A win is a win, it's great. We'll nominate for the Gotham and we'll nominate for the Wood but we'll probably do one of them. I know the hype is going to be unbelievable but you know the Derby is 20 horses and the Preakness is always eight or nine. Run in the Wood, run good, then skip the Derby and run in the Preakness. I'd be okay with that."
Right: Sunny Ridge heads back to the barn. Servis added, "He's been very well-schooled; he stands great and he breaks good. I don't know if it's a good thing at 1 1/8 and all, but I knew he'd break sharp. And it seemed like no one was wanting to be on the lead so I was happy on the backside. I'm sitting second and I know Irad (aboard Flexibility) is on the inside and he's got work to do, so I was feeling pretty good."
Left: Sunny Ridge heads out for the post parade. Winning jockey Manuel Franco said, "Heading into the race we wanted to be close to the leader. We knew our horse has a lot of speed. Thankfully, the race setup for it to unfold that way and we took it from there and it worked out good. He's a real grinder, he has one pace and likes to run all day. I definitely like him going further."
Right: Sunny Ridge returns after the race.
Left: Second place finisher Vorticity heads out for the post parade. The 6-1 third choice set the pace under Jose Ortiz but could not hold off the winner. The James Lawrence trainee improved his record to 2 wins, 2 seconds, and 1 third in 5 starts, earning $190,400 for owner Matthew Schera.
Right: Third place finisher Adventist returns after the race. The 10-1 shot raced third a length off the pace under Kendrick Carmouche but could not improve, finishing third beaten 1 3/4 lengths. The Leah Gyarmati trainee improved his record to 1 win and 1 third in 2 starts, earning $61,000 for owner Treadway Racing Stable.
Fourth place finisher and beaten favorite Flexibility returns after the race. Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. said, "I had an inside position. I think that cost me a better finish. I was stuck there and had to wait a lot. He's the kind of horse you have to let him do his thing. Passing the half-mile, I couldn't do anything. The pace didn't help."
Sassicaia wins the Toboggan Stakes (G3)