Road to the Kentucky Derby re-opens at Aqueduct

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Road to the Kentucky Derby re-opens at Aqueduct

By Bob Ehalt

The second of four stakes on New York’s road to the Kentucky Derby takes place Saturday when seven 3-year-olds will journey around two turns in the Withers Stakes at Aqueduct.

Run at a mile-and-an-eighth, the Withers promises to provide some insight as to the distance capabilities of several contenders with an eye on the Kentucky Derby.

The top finishers will also receive 10-4-2-1 points in the Road to the Kentucky Derby series that will determine the 20 starters in the Run for the Roses.

Leading the way is Tax, the 5-2 favorite.

Claimed for $50,000 by trainer Danny Gargan out of a maiden claiming win at Keeneland, Tax was entered in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct in his first start for his new connections and turned in a solid performance.

Second behind Maximus Mischief for much of the race, Tax weakened in the final furlong as Maximus Mischief scored by 2 ¼ lengths over Network Effect. Tax finished third, a half-length behind Network Effort.

With neither Maximus Mischief or Network Effect on hand, Tax should be a major threat from the rail under jockey Junior Alvarado.

“He’s bred to run all day, he’s a well-bred horse,” Gargan said. “Last time, we kind of chased the pace a little bit. This time, there should be enough pace in the race where we’ll be able to sit off of it. Hopefully, we finish a little better. If we can get an effort like last time, we think we’ll be all right.”

The main threat could be Moretti, a $900,000 yearling buy, who is coming off a maiden win for seven-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Todd Pletcher. A winner by 3 ¼ lengths in an Aqueduct maiden race at nine furlongs, the 3-1 second choice adds blinkers for Saturday’s stakes debut.

Lucky Lee (7-2) also makes his stakes debut after rolling to easy maiden and allowance wins at Parx.

With the Super Bowl a day away, Not That Brady (4-1) stands as an interesting proposition after winning the Damon Runyon for state-breds in his previous start.

Our Braintrust (6-1) was purchased by Gary Barber after finishing second to Hopeful winner Mind Control in the Jerome on New Year’s Day and will make his first start for trainer Mark Casse in the Withers.

“Obviously, we haven’t had Our Braintrust for very long, but he’s done everything you can ask for,” Casse said. “I thought he’s worked well. It looks like he’s pretty versatile. I know last time he came from off the speed. It’s not an easy race. Everyone is trying to figure out where they fit in for the 3-year-old division. That’s what you’re doing in January and February, just trying to figure out who is going to mature from two to three.”

The field also includes Sir Winston (12-1) and Admire (15-1).