As the road to the 147th Kentucky Derby rolls along, US Racing looks back at some history of many of the prep races that now offer qualifying points to Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs on May 1.
By Margaret Ransom
The $250,000 Withers Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct on Saturday is one of the oldest stakes for 3-year-olds contested in the country. The race was named for New York businessman, horse owner and breeder, and one time Monmouth Park owner David Dunham Withers, who owned the 1890 winner of the race, King Eric.
First offered on the New York racing stakes calendar in 1874, the Withers has been run at five different tracks – Jerome Park, Morris Park, Jamaica Race Course, Belmont Park and now Aqueduct. It wasn’t contested in 2011 but was brought back on the calendar for 2012 and has remained a staple as an early New York Kentucky Derby (G1) prep since.
Gotham Stakes and April’s Wood Memorial
The race offers Road to the Derby points to make the gate for the Run for the Roses – 10-4-2-1 to the top-four finishers. For the time being, the winner is squarely among the better candidates to make the starting gate in Louisville considering 10 others are tied in seventh on the current list with 10 points each.
The Withers has been a strong indicator for both next month’s Gotham Stakes (G3) and April’s Wood Memorial (G2), but overall it hasn’t had much impact on any of the Triple Crown races recently, though historically it boasts some famous names on the winners’ list.
Aristides won the second running of the race in 1875 before wearing the roses, and other notable runners with their names in the history books as Withers winners are Duke of Magenta, Tyrant, Hanover, Domino, Colin, Sir Barton, Man o’War, Blue Larkspur, Johnstown, Count Fleet, Polynesian, Hill Prince, Native Dancer, Jaipur, Dr. Fager, Bold Reasoning, Key to the Mint, Housebuster, Dixie Brass, and Bernardini.
A year ago, Max Player won this race before making the gate for all three of the COVID-19 reshuffled Triple Crown races, picking up a third in the Belmont Stakes (G1) and fifth-place finishes in the Derby and the Preakness (G1).
The polar vortex and blizzard that gripped much of the Eastern U.S. this week, including New York, is expected to have passed by Saturday, but it will be cold with temperatures unlikely to top 40 degrees. The Withers has been carded as the afternoon’s eighth race with a post time of 4:25 p.m. ET.
To mitigate risk and reduce the spread of COVID-19, New York state currently requires all racetracks to operate without spectators in attendance and for the essential staff and employees to operate following strict health and safety guidelines. A limited number of owners licensed by the state are currently permitted to attend live racing on the day their horse is entered.
For the third year, the race has been extended a sixteenth of a mile from 1 1/16 miles to 1 1/8 miles.
The field for the Withers, with riders and trainers and pedigree: