Friday, February 2, 2018

Handicapper's Corner: Withers Stakes (G3)

2018 Withers Stakes: Short on Horses, Long on Quality

By: Laurie Ross, IMTBreds

The 2018 Withers Stakes will be contested at 1 1/8 miles for the first time in the race’s history. Traditionally held at a mile, the Grade 3 event was lengthened to 1 1/16 miles in 2012.  The top four finishers will earn qualifying points for the 2018 Kentucky Derby.

A short field of six colts are entered, half of them trained by Todd Pletcher.

The late-running FIRENZE FIRE may be favored after his half-length victory in the Jerome Stakes. Last year, the bay colt captured the Sanford and Champagne Stakes, but couldn’t get the job done in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Family class and closing running style may help, but his pedigree says miler and 1 1/8 miles may be at the apex of his distance range. Trainer Jason Servis conditioned 2016 Withers champ, Sunny Ridge.

After making short work of a maiden field and the Nashua Stakes, AVERY ISLAND switched running styles in the Remsen and was best of the rest behind runaway winner Catholic Boy.  By Street Sense out of an A.P. Indy mare, Avery Island has the pedigree to handle classic distances. He should be able to settle on or near the lead and kick it in turning for home.

MARCONI is a half-brother to Breeders' Cup Classic hero Mucho Macho Man. The pretty gray colt’s full sister is a stakes winning sprinter.  Marconi has only two starts under his girth, but both at 1 1/8 miles. He’s fit and Pletcher’s best hope to capture the Withers Stakes.

There’s always that one horse who finds trouble but winds up in the money despite the bumping, slow starts, and traffic.  BAL HARBOUR is that horse. He’s done The Bump (a reference to a popular ‘70’s dance for the younger readers), so many times, he could teach classes.  Bal Harbour has a miler’s pedigree but will likely be in the back of the pack looking for trouble. If he gets untangled in time, look for him to spoil the superfecta. 

So far, COLTANDMISSISSIPPI hasn’t lived up to his fancy $400K auction price. His most impressive race was a six-length score over optional claimers at Calder…uh, Gulfstream Park West. Bal Harbour has beaten him twice by a zip code. To be fair, Coltandmississippi’s last two starts were over sloppy tracks, and this delicate flower doesn’t like to get his hooves dirty. He’s bred along the same lines as American Pharoah. His dam was a multiple stakes winner as a two-year-old, and she’s a half-sister to a graded stakes placed sprinter. 

CALIFORNIA NIGHT is a last out maiden winner. The dark bay won his 6 1/2 length debut for fun. His dam was a hard-knocking sprinter/miler who was in the money 28 of 47 starts. Not much blacktype in the family, but they like to win. Could be the race’s wildcard.

Todd Pletcher and Kiaran McLaughlin each own three Withers Stakes trophies.

The short field makes this a jockey’s race. The pace will likely be slow and most of the field bunched. AVERY ISLAND could sit on the inside of CALIFORNIA NIGHT. MARCONI and COLTANDMISSISSIPPI may settle mid-pack with FIRENZE FIRE BAL HARBOUR right behind.

#2 MARCONI (3-1)
#3 BAL HARBOUR (6-1)

Not a good betting race. If you’re compelled to bet, toss a couple bucks on California Night to place/show if his odds are 10-1 or higher. And then call gambler’s anonymous.  


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