The Morning Line: Withers Stakes

Goldolphin Sends Their Alpha Male

According to folk etymology, the word alpha is connected to the term “to invent” thus alpha is the first letter invented.  It is the first letter in the Greek alphabet and in Greek numerals it has a value of 1.  That is exactly where trainer Kieran MacLaughlin hopes his talented young colt Alpha finishes in Saturday’s Grade 3 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct.

Owned by Godolphin Racing, Alpha looks to capitalize on a small Withers field and maintain his winning ways.  Despite only one workout since his 2 3/4 win in the Count Fleet Stakes last month, Alpha appears to be the one to beat under jockey Ramon Dominguez.

Previously the one-turn mile Withers was run in late April at the New York track.  However the NYRA placed the stakes race on hiatus last year.  After deciding to bring it back in 2012, the race was able to retain its graded status, upped its distance to 1 1/16 miles, and was rescheduled for early February in lieu of the ungraded Whirlaway Stakes.  A win today will give the winning connections a $120,000 check to bank in graded earnings and inch closer to the starting gate at Churchill Downs. 

The starting gate has been a problem for Alpha in the past.  His gate issues have cost him possible victories in the Grade 1 Champagne (2nd to Union Rags) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (11th).  Since his win in the Count Fleet, where he also encountered gate issues, he has had two schooling sessions and MacLaughlin feels the situation is slowly but surely coming under control.  Being on the outside of a 7-horse field may be a perfect draw for the son of Bernardini.

Speed will be an issue on Saturday and a number of horses look to upset the even money favorite Alpha.  King Kid looks to move forward after a 3rd place finish in the Gulfstream Derby on Jan. 1., his second career start.  Hakama is 2 for 2 since being stretched out in distance and the wins have come on the front end.  Kentucky Derby winning trainers Todd Pletcher and Rick Dutrow send a pair of possible upset winners with How Do I Win and Swag Daddy.

$200,000 Withers (gr. III, Race 9, 4:05 p.m.), 3YO, 1 1/16 Miles (Inner Dirt)
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey, Trainer, Odds
1. Hakama, 118, J Pimentel, M Trombetta, 5-1
2. Speightscity, 118, D Cohen, G Contessa, 20-1
3. Swag Daddy, 120, J Alvarado, R Dutrow Jr., 10-1
4. King Kid, 116, M Luzzi D Romans, 4-1
5. How Do I Win, 116, C Velasquez, T Pletcher, 10-1
6. Tiger Walk, 118, H Karamanos, I Correas, 6-1
7. Alpha, 120, R Dominguez, K McLaughlin, Even

If Alpha can overcome his gate issues, he looks to not only be a serious threat in the Withers but also a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender.  He has the pedigree and ability to cover longer distances.  If he breaks well on Saturday, look for him in the winner’s circle.  At 5-1 odds Hakama is a contender on the front end.  He has proven he can win going two turns and could provide just enough speed to steal the race from Alpha and the other starters.

The Withers begins the New York trail to the Kentucky Derby with the Gotham Stakes and the Wood Memorial in the upcoming months.  It is an exciting time in the Big Apple and we wish the Withers starters and connections good luck and safe racing.

Written by Big Brink

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