Samraat edges Uncle Sigh in lengthy Withers battle
By Jon Forbes | 02/01/2014 06:08 PM ET
The first time they passed the wire in the 134th running of the Grade 3, 1 1/16-mile Withers for 3-year-olds, Samraat led by a neck over Uncle Sigh. One lap later, Samraat capped a veritable match race of New York-breds by outlasting Uncle Sigh to prevail by one length and remain unbeaten in four starts on Saturday at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Backed as the second choice in the $250,000 Withers off a 16 ¾-length win in the Damon Runyon on December 18, Samraat broke alertly from post position 5 and led in the opening furlong before ceding the lead to Uncle Sigh, who was hustled from post 1. Uncle Sigh led by a half-length through an opening quarter mile in 24.00 and a half in 48.33 as Samraat tracked intently in second, with the rest of the field following five lengths behind the top two.
Following three quarters in 1:12.77, Samraat drew to the throatlatch of Uncle Sigh before claiming a narrow lead inside the quarter pole. Uncle Sigh tried to stay with his opponent, but Samraat gradually extended his advantage as he was hand urged home by jockey Jose Ortiz. It was an additional 10 ¼ lengths back to third-place finisher Scotland.
"My horse broke really good, I tried to go out and get the lead," said Ortiz. "By the half mile I had a lot of horse but [Uncle Sigh] was used already. He ran a big race.
"At the quarter pole I thought I had a little more horse; I thought I was going to pass him," Ortiz added. "My horse didn't pick it up the way I thought he was going to, but he came through."
The final time for 1 1/16 miles over the inner track was 1:46.31, with Samraat returning $4.30 for a $2 win wager. Uncle Sigh was slightly favored over Samraat, with both colts going off at 1.15-1.
Samraat, a homebred for Len Riggio's My Meadowview Farms, had an experience edge over Uncle Sigh, having also won a six-furlong maiden race by 3 ½ lengths in October at Belmont and a 7 ½-furlong entry-level allowance by 5 ½ lengths in November at Aqueduct prior to his romp in the Damon Runyon, his two-turn debut. Uncle Sigh had won a single race in two starts at Aqueduct, finishing second by a head in a six-furlong sprint in December and breaking his maiden by 14 ½ lengths when traveling one mile, 70 yards on December 27. Both colts were facing open company for the first time in the Withers.
"It was a long drive," said winning trainer Rick Violette. "[Uncle Sigh] was kind of tested in his first race. We haven't been. We left the rest of the field. As fast as we went early, it wasn't like all of a sudden somebody from out of the clouds was going to get there. Hats off to both horses. They ran a huge, huge race today, and I think they'll show up later in the year."
Violette said he is hopeful the test Samraat received in the Withers will help him in the future.
"You got to [have a tough race] before you get to the bigger races," said Violette. "They have to learn how to fight. I really thought that happened to Easy Goer his 3-year-old year. He had never really been in a fight until the Preakness, and he became a better horse after that.
"This was a tough race," Violette added. "We might wait for the Wood Memorial [Grade 1, $1 million, April 5]. We're in a good spot now. If he's kind of kicking the walls down he can certainly come back for the Gotham [Grade 3, $500,000, March 1] or we can wait for the Wood or the Louisiana Derby [Grade 2, $1 million, March 29]. There are a lot of options."
Samraat, a son of Noble Causeway, has earned $283,200, including $150,000 for his Withers victory.
Gary Contessa, who trains Uncle Sigh for Chip McEwen's Wounded Warrior Stables and Anthony C. Robertson, said Uncle Sigh will now target the Gotham, which he hopes will be a rematch with Samraat.
"Maybe he got me on experience today; I look forward to Rocky II," said Contessa. "That's how I feel after a race like this; this was Rocky, I'm ready for Rocky II. He ran well. I think the difference was that I, having the No. 1 hole, had to set the pace. My horse isn't very experienced and I think he's really going to mature off this effort. He never stopped running. I look forward to the rematch. Hopefully [Samraat] comes back for the Gotham. I'll be there."
Classic Giacnroll, Honorable Judge, and Street Gent completed the order of finish.