Horse racing action on this year’s Kentucky Derby Trail heats things up this Saturday at both Aqueduct and Gulfstream Park with a pair of important graded stakes races.
The following is a look at my top two contenders that should come together for a solid sports pick for both the Withers Stakes at Aqueduct and the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream.
Withers Stakes- Aqueduct Racetrack
The Withers is a Grade 3 stakes race for three-year old thoroughbreds with a total prize purse of $250,000. It will be contested on the dirt at Aqueduct over a distance of 1 1/16 miles.
Going through the list of the seven horses entered for Saturday’s race, the class of the field in my book would be Flexibility. Trained by Chad Brown and ridden by veteran jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., this New York-bred colt has already proven himself as a three-year old with a victory in the Grade 3 Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct on Jan. 2.
Another plus for Saturday’s race is a proven ability to finish in the money at this track with a second-place finish in the Grade 2 Nashua Stakes on Nov. 4 followed by another second-place run in the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes later that month as a juvenile.
Vorticity is also in the field for the Withers after finishing second to Flexibility in the Jerome, but my second choice for this race would be Sunny Ridge. This three-year old New Jersey-bred colt is a pedigree of the famed racehorse Holy Bull, which is the namesake of this Saturday’s other big stakes race. Trained by Jason Servis and ridden by Manuel Franco, he first caught the attention of horse bettors with a second-place finish in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park on Oct. 3.
Sunny Ridge’s first victory at a higher class came in the non-graded Sapling Stakes at Monmouth Park in early September and he closed-out his juvenile campaign with a second-place finish in the Grade 3 Delta Downs Jackpot at Delta Downs on Nov. 21.
Holy Bull Stakes- Gulfstream Park
This year’s Holy Bull is a Grade 2 stakes race for three-year old thoroughbreds with a total prize purse of $350,000. It will be contested on the dirt at Gulfstream over a distance of 1 1/16 miles.
The field for Saturday’s Holy Bull has six entries as of Thursday’s list on Horse Racing Nation, but the clear morning line favorite should be Mohaymen. This three-year old Kentucky-bred colt is ranked 20th by HRN with a rating of 8.33. Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin and ridden by jockey Junior Alvarado, he has already established himself as a legitimate Kentucky Derby contender with back-to-back victories at Aqueduct in last year’s Nashua and Remsen Stakes.
Mohaymen is a pedigree of Tapit with a progeny that goes back to AP Indy. He went a perfect 3-0 as a juvenile with a first-place run in a Maiden Special Weight race at Belmont Park in late September.
The battle for second place in the Holy Bull should be a good one between Conquest Big E and Greenpointcrusader, but I am going with the latter of the two as my second choice. Greenpointcrusader is trained by Dominick Schettino and famed jockey John Velazquez is expected to get the ride. This three-year old Kentucky-bred colt faded to seventh in last November’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland after finishing in the money in his first three races as a juvenile.
The biggest victory of his early racing career came in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont. This is another colt that can be traced back to AP Indy as a sibling with a progeny that goes all the way back to Seattle Slew.