New York’s road to the Kentucky Derby continues with Saturday’s Grade III, $250,000 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct. Six colts will clash in this 1 1/8-mile contest at approximately 4:35 p.m. EST. The Withers is the eighth of a scheduled nine races. Be sure to study this heat carefully if playing FanXT’s Daily Fantasy Jockey game!
#2 MARCONI (3-1) is the most appealing of the Todd Pletcher-trained Withers trio (the others being BAL HARBOUR and COLTANDMISSISSIPPI). A $2 million son of Tapit, MARCONI already has two 1 1/8-mile races under his belt, both at Aqueduct, including his runaway maiden score last time out. That effort was an improvement off his solid runner-up debut, and a similar step up would make him intimidating here. MARCONI’s half-mile tune-up drill for the Withers was strong, suggesting he’s in good form. Javier Castellano will stay at Gulfstream rather than make the trip north for MARCONI, but Manny Franco turned down FIRENZE FIRE to secure this assignment.
#4 AVERY ISLAND (8-5, morning-line favorite), like the top pick, also appreciates Aqueduct. He was a decisive winner in the Grade II Nashua two-back before taking second in the Grade II Remsen. Kiaran McLaughlin has AVERY ISLAND training sharply for this, and Joe Bravo will once again have the reins. He should be on or near a comfortable pace.
#1 FIRENZE FIRE (9-5) won the Jerome just three weeks ago over a muddy Aqueduct strip. His speed figures aren’t overwhelming, but he’s 4-for-6 lifetime with three stakes wins to boast. Trevor McCarthy picks up the mount.
#3 BAL HARBOUR (6-1) was shipped north by Pletcher in hopes of finding a softer spot than the Holy Bull. A win may still be out of his reach here, but the move appears to be worthwhile. BAL HARBOUR was a two-time stakes winner at two but his ability appears to have leveled off. He was no match for Mask in the Mucho Macho Man last time out. However, improvement while stretching out to nine furlongs isn’t out of the question. Meet-leading rider Kendrick Carmouche will be in the irons.
The play: $2 trifecta 2/1,3,4/1,3,4 ($12)
DFJ analysis: Manny Franco has several live mounts lined up for Saturday. Surprise Wonder, a 7-5 favorite, gets his day started in Race 2. Later on he has Under Suspicion, part of a favored 8-5 entry in Race 5. He rides four other horses at single-digit odds before getting a leg up on MARCONI in the Withers.
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