By J.J. Hysell
Three stakes that might have implications on the Kentucky Derby trail Saturday are the Grade 3 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct, the Grade 3 Hutcheson at Gulfstream and the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay.
The Withers offers Derby points (10 for the winner, 4 for second, 2 for third and 1 for fourth), while the Sam F. Davis and Hutcheson do not. The Withers and Sam F. Davis are 1 1/16-miles on dirt; the Hutcheson is seven furlongs.
It could be an interesting day for New York-based stallion Noble Causeway. The sire has a runner competing in each of the stakes races: undefeated colt Samraat, the 7-5 favorite in the Withers, and gelding Noble Cornerstone, who is 7-2 in the Sam F. Davis. Kent Desromeaux passed on a chance to ride Unbridled’s Note in the Arcadia Stakes at Santa Anita to stick with Noble Cornerstone. ““We really appreciate the opportunity given to us by Steve Asmussen, but Kent’s main focus is on winning the Derby and that’s the priority right now,” said Desormeaux’s agent Danny Thomas.
While Harpoon is the center of attention in the Sam F. Davis, keep an eye on Matador, the Mark Casse-trained Ontario-bred. He’s a son of Malibu Moon making his first start on dirt and he’s trained over a dirt surface at Palm Meadows very well. Cousin Stephen gets a second chance after a disappointing fifth in an allowance. Longshot Imaginethatmom’s lone win was the one time he ran over a fast dirt track.
The Withers features the heralded Uncle Sigh, a son of Indian Charlie who romped by nearly 15 lengths in his second start. He’ll likely be part of the pace from that rail spot. He does boast some stamina on the dam side, so his pedigree is intriguing regarding classic distances. Another interesting contender is the consistent Classic Giacnroll, a son of longshot Derby winner Giacomo. Also notable is Parx invader Honorable Judge, full brother of Breeders’ Cup Marathon winner and 2010 Withers victor Afleet Again. The Daily Racing Form’s David Grening reported that Honorable Judge had throat surgery after his tenth-place finish in the Iroquois, and he bounced back to win at Parx after that procedure.
At seven furlongs, the Hutcheson is tailored more for burgeoning sprinters, but a few of these contenders could head to the Fountain of Youth or the Florida Derby off a solid performance. C. Zee boasts an interesting pedigree as he is by Elusive Bluff, a son of Elusive Quality who was 2 for 2 in his short career. Spot, a son of Pulpit, boasts a great pedigree for stretching out and he turned a corner when switching to dirt last out. Todd Pletcher’s Trail Blaze could be a solid middle-distance runner in the making. Longshot Tashir faces tough company but has performed well on dirt.
In the maiden ranks, keep an eye on race 5 at Gulfstream Park Saturday. Sassicaia is a highly-regarded son of Bernardini, Ragtime makes his second start for Shug McGaughey and the one with the win-early pedigree is Va Banque. The performance of Madd Exchange in the fifth could give a read on Gambler’s Ghost in the Hutcheson.