New York-breds Samraat, Uncle Sigh top Withers
By Jon Forbes | 01/27/2014 04:11 PM ET
Samraat and Uncle Sigh, a pair of New York-breds coming off dominant victories, will face open company for the first time when they compete in the 134th running of the Grade 3, $250,000 Withers for 3-year-olds on Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack.
The 1 1/16-mile Withers is the second of three graded stakes at Aqueduct for 3-year-olds contested around two turns that build to the Grade 1, $1 million Wood Memorial on April 5. All four events are points races in the "Road to the Kentucky Derby" series.
Joining the Withers on the February 1 card are the Grade 3, $150,000 Toboggan, $100,000 Busher, and $100,000 Correction.
Both Samraat and Uncle Sigh led from start to finish and won by double digits when traveling one mile, 70 yards at Aqueduct in their most recent starts. Samraat, who is unbeaten in three races, took the Damon Runyon by 16 ¾ lengths, with Uncle Sigh breaking his maiden by 14 ½ lengths on December 27 in his second start.
Samraat, who is owned and was bred by Leonard Riggio's My Meadowview Farm, debuted at Belmont in October, blasting off from post position 1 in a six-furlong dash and opening up under a drive to win by 3 ½ lengths. He made an additional start around one turn, using front-running tactics again to take a 7 ½-furlong entry-level allowance on November 22 over Aqueduct's main track.
In the Damon Runyon, Samraat set soft fractions of 24.55 and 49.73 seconds while leading by one length. Never asked for his best run, Samraat proceeded to pull away in the stretch as jockey Jose Ortiz stood still in the saddle.
Since that race, Samraat has turned in four workouts at Palm Meadows in Florida, including a pair of one-mile breezes (1:41.85 on January 17 and 1:46.60 on January 24).
"He had a few races close together and ran such a big race in the Damon Runyon, and because the Damon Runyon had been delayed it seemed like the [Grade 2] Jerome [on January 4] would be back too quick," said trainer Rick Violette. "We sent him to Florida, and it seems like that's been the right move with the way the weather has been [in New York]. He's been doing great, as usual."
Jose Ortiz retains the mount aboard Samraat, who drew post position 5 as the 7-5 morning-line favorite.
Violette believes Samraat, a son of Noble Causeway, doesn't necessarily need the lead.
"I think he has been faster [than his opponents]," said Violette. "He's obviously pretty quick, and showed it when he went to the lead from the inside in a sprint [in his debut]. If others want to be more aggressive, he can let them do that."
Samraat's ability to withstand a challenge or race from off the pace might be challenged in the Withers because Gary Contessa, trainer of Uncle Sigh, is determined to not let Samraat set slow fractions.
"Honestly, I'm hoping somebody keeps Samraat honest," said Contessa. "If nobody else wants to go with him, I'll tell my rider to go out with him. I'm not looking at it as us having to beat one horse because we have to beat all the horses, but I'm not going to let Samraat get an easy lead this time."
Uncle Sigh, an Indian Charlie colt campaigned by Chip McEwen's Wounded Warrior Stables, missed by just a head when second in his debut, a six-furlong race in the mud on December 7 at Aqueduct, after coming from off the pace. Stretching out in distance on December 27, he cleared on the lead and never looked back, running away under Pablo Morales' hand ride.
"I think you'd be hard pressed to find a horse who broke his maiden so impressively," said Contessa. "His first two weren't just visually impressive, but the numbers back it up. This is the logical next spot. You're not going to find many multiple winners in the race, and most will be eligible for [an entry-level allowance."
Uncle Sigh, the 9-5 second choice on the morning line, will leave from the rail with Morales in the irons once again.
Also coming off a gate-to-wire maiden win is Street Gent, who prevailed by three-quarters of a length in his fourth start on December 1 at Aqueduct.
Street Gent finished off the board in his first two outings, a pair of turf events in the fall at Belmont. Subsequently switched to the dirt, he was third, beaten 8 ¼ lengths, in November before repelling Tourist's late challenge to earn his diploma in December. Both dirt races were contested at 1 1/8 miles on Aqueduct's main track.
Street Gent is trained by Leah Gyarmati for Jeff Treadway's Treadway Racing Stable, who combined to win the Grade 2 Jerome on January 4 with Noble Moon.
"Pedigree, and the way he moved on the dirt, were the reasons we decided to try [Street Gent] on the turf right away," said Gyarmati. "He's a big [horse] and he just doesn't look pretty moving on the dirt. His works weren't that impressive either. We thought we'd try him right away there when we still had some decent turf and get it out of the way, rather than finding out he's a turf horse in the middle of the winter.
"I thought his third start was pretty decent," Gyarmati added. "Obviously there was a dramatic difference between the way he ran on the dirt and the way he ran on the turf. You have to throw those first two races out completely because of the surface. He also left the gate a little slowly; he kind of ducked over and didn't have a good experience at the gate his first two starts. I think doing a little gate work and the change in surface made the difference. Between his third and fourth starts, he was just progressing."
Irad Ortiz, Jr. has the call aboard Street Gent, who drew post 2 and was installed at 12-1 on the morning line.
The field also includes Classic Giacnroll and Scotland, respectively second and third in the Jerome, and Honorable Judge, who took an allowance at Parx Racing by 2 ¼ lengths on November 3.