How to Bet the Withers Stakes

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

January 31st, 2019

For a race with only seven starters, there’s a surprising amount of depth and talent in Saturday’s $250,000 Withers Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct.

I say “surprising” in part because the Withers is a nine-furlong Road to the Kentucky Derby prep race being held in the cold month of February up at Aqueduct in New York, and the race usually comes up a little light on quality. But this year, the Withers has attracted three stakes winner, a graded stakes-placed runner, and three last-out maiden or allowance winners, so handicappers have plenty of options to choose from.

The quality in the Withers is one reason why I’m going to take a shot at playing the race as narrowly as possible. It would be easy to spread around in the exotics, covering as many of these promising runners as possible, and wind up hitting a trifecta or superfecta that is hardly worth your investment.

Besides, I get the feeling that two horses—#1 Tax and #5 Lucky Lee—might be a cut above the rest in the Withers.

Tax needs no introduction; he already run once over this track and distance, finishing third in the Remsen Stakes (gr. II) two months ago. I really liked Tax’s effort that day, as he made a strong move from just off the pace to challenge eventual winner Maximus Mischief for supremacy, and while Tax ultimately failed to sustain his bid, he held on well enough to be beaten just a half-length for second place while posting a 93 Beyer and a 103 BRIS speed figure.

Tax would be my clear choice in the Withers if not for the presence of Lucky Lee, who could well be any kind after winning a pair of one-mile events at Parx Racing by a combined 11 ½ lengths. Lucky Lee has a seemingly effortless way of running and has dominated his opposition with complete authority; even better, he’s run fast while doing so, posting an 88 Beyer and 100 BRIS speed figure for an allowance victory on November 17. Trained by John Servis, Lucky Lee is bred like he’ll have no trouble handling the extra furlong on Saturday, and he figures to secure a perfect trip stalking #7 Not That Brady through the early stages of the race.

If forced to choose between Tax or Lucky Lee, I would narrowly side with Lucky Lee, but for wagering purposes I’ll be happy to box them in a large exacta and play them on top of a trifecta with Not That Brady and #6 Our Braintrust underneath:

$10 exacta: 1,5 with 1,5 ($20) $2.5 trifecta: 1,5 with 1,5 with 6,7 ($10)

Good luck!