The Road to the Kentucky Derby with a Pletcher Duo in Withers Stakes

Aqueduct starting gateThe Road to the Kentucky Derby in the Empire State resumes on Saturday when a field of nine sophomores assemble for the 147th running of the Grade 3, $250,000 Withers at Aqueduct Racetrack.

The nine-furlong event over the main track is the second local prep of the calendar year for the Grade 1, $3 million Kentucky Derby on May 1 at Churchill Downs, and awards the top-four finishers points according to a 10-4-2-1 scale.

Trainer Todd Pletcher will be packing a one-two punch in pursuit of a fourth Withers victory, sending out maiden-winners Overtook and Donegal Bay, both of which will be making their respective stakes debut.

Big Mandatory Payout at Santa Anita on Saturday.

Owned by Repole Stable, St. Elias Stable, Michael Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier and Derrick Smith, Overtook graduated going a one-turn mile at Aqueduct on December 20. The son of multiple champion-producing sire Curlin was 10 lengths behind the pace before making a six-wide move around the far turn, making up considerable ground in the stretch to secure a two-length triumph while recording a 70 Beyer Speed Figure.

“There could be a good pace. Overtook wants to settle and make one run so we’ll allow him to do that,” said Pletcher, who trained Withers winners Harlem Rocker (2008), Revolutionary (2013) and Far From Over (2015).

Overtook finished a distant third to stablemate and fellow Curlin offspring Known Agenda on November 8 at the Big A in a nine-furlong maiden event. Known Agenda subsequently ran third in the Grade 2 Remsen and runner-up Greatest Honour was a next-out winner of the Grade 3 Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park.

Sporting blinkers in his first two career starts, Overtook raced without the hood in his maiden victory.

“I think he’s learning. He’s gained some confidence with the experience and we felt like the blinkers needed to come off,” Pletcher said. “He got a nice hot pace to run at which helped. He’s an improving horse that is bred to get better with more distance and more time. We’ve seen him making progress throughout and fall and winter. This is a big step up, but hopefully he’s up for it.”

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The royally bred Overtook was purchased for $1 million from the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale.

Jockey Manny Franco seeks his third Withers triumph when piloting Overtook from post 6.

Donegal Bay will be diving into deeper waters as he makes his two-turn debut.

Owned by Jerry Crawford’s Donegal Racing, Donegal Bay finished sixth on debut going 6 ½ furlongs at Saratoga. He showed a different dimension in his subsequent start, notching a front-running victory by 4 ¼ lengths going a one-turn mile at Gulfstream Park on December 12.

“I think it was the additional time, having a start under his belt as well as having some good works leading into that,” Pletcher said. “He also got a better start which a lot of horses do in their second race. He has a pretty high cruising speed. Pedigree-wise, he’s bred to go that far. It’s a big step up from a maiden race, but we’re hoping for a big run.”

Donegal Bay has been training forwardly along with Pletcher’s string at Palm Beach Downs and went a half-mile in 49.03 seconds on January 29 in his most recent work.

“It’s a bit of a tricky race,” Crawford said. “This is the time of year where some horses get better and some don’t, and he needs to get better on Saturday if he can turn himself into a contender. Obviously, there’s a fair amount of front-end speed and they’ll be asked to go a mile and an eighth at the same time. Donegal Racing has always been treated exceptionally well in New York and have had some good success up there.”

A son of 2010 Champion 2-Year-Old and Pletcher alumna Uncle Mo, Pletcher said that he sees a lot of similarities between Donegal Bay and his champion-producing sire.

“Donegal Bay is a little more on the narrow side, but you can see the same head and neck that Uncle Mo stamps his offspring with,” Pletcher said. “What I like is that from the past summer, the horse is starting to fill out. He seems to be doing really well.”

Meet-leading rider Kendrick Carmouche vies for a sixth stakes victory of the meet when taking the reins aboard Donegal Bay from post 7.

Bing Cherry Racing and Leonard Liberto’s Capo Kane returns to Aqueduct in pursuit of more Kentucky Derby qualifying points after capturing the Jerome on New Year’s Day.

Trained by Harold Wyner, Capo Kane earned 10 points toward a spot in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May when taking the one-turn mile in gate-to-wire fashion under jockey Dylan Davis. After commanding moderate fractions up front, Capo Kane came under a drive at the top of the stretch and extended his advantage to a 6 ¼-length triumph.

The son of Street Sense, who sired 2018 Withers winner Avery Island, broke his maiden going two turns at Parx Racing in identical front-running fashion, hitting the wire a 4 ½-length winner.

With 10 qualifying Derby points from the Jerome, Capo Kane is currently 13th on the leaderboard.

Davis, who rode last year’s Withers winner Max Player, will return to the saddle from post 3.

E.V Racing Stable’s Eagle Orb will be seeking to turn the tables on Capo Kane after finishing second in the Jerome.

The two-time winning New York-bred captured a stakes win in the November 14 Notebook at the Big A before the runner-up finish on New Year’s Day.

Tracking in third from the three path out of the gate, Eagle Orb came under a drive around the far turn and attempted to confront Capo Kane around the three-sixteenths, but was kept at bay at had to settle for second.

Trained by Rudy Rodriguez, the son of Orb is 24th on the leaderboard with four points.

Breaking from post 9, jockey Jorge Vargas, Jr. has the mount.

Look Out for Chad Brown

Klaravich Stables’ Risk Taking looks to capitalize off a winning performance at the Withers distance for trainer Chad Brown.

The son of Medaglia d’Oro made amends for two well-beaten performances in his first pair of starts when stretching out to two turns in a December 13 maiden special weight at the Big A. Risk Taking settled in fourth along the rail into the first turn and maintained position behind horses before making a three-wide move at the top of the stretch and taking command outside the sixteenth pole to run home a 2 ¼-length winner.

Purchased for $240,000 from the Lanes’ End consignment at the 2019 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, Risk Taking is out of the stakes-placed Distorted Humor mare Run a Risk and comes from the same family as champion-producing sire Seeking the Gold.

Jockey Eric Cancel will be back aboard from post 5.

Rounding out the field are Maryland invaders Shackqueenking [post 1, Trevor McCarthy] and Royal Number [post 2, Pablo Morales], as well as Mr. Doda [post 4, Luis Rodriguez Castro] and Civil War [post 8, Benjamin Hernandez].

The Withers is slated as Race 8 on Aqueduct’s nine-race program which has a first post of 1 p.m. Eastern.

The Withers, named in honor of prominent 1800’s owner and breeder David Dunham Withers, predates the Kentucky Derby by one year with its inaugural running taking place in 1874. Coincidentally, the following year’s Withers was won by Aristides who also captured the very first running of the Kentucky Derby in 1875. Four other horses have both the Withers and Kentucky Derby on their resume including Triple crown winners Sir Barton (1919) and Count Fleet (1943) as well as Zev (1923) and Johnstown (1939).

Source: Ryan Martin, edited press release

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Rich Nilsen is a 19-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 of the NHC twice. A former executive with and a member of the NHC Players’ Committee, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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