Tax Rallies Inside to Win Rough Running of Withers Stakes

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February 3rd, 2019

It was a messy race from start to finish, but when the dust settled it was the 2-1 favorite Tax who emerged victorious in the $250,000 Withers Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct, gamely rallying up the rail to prevail in a three-way photo finish.

It all began when the gates opened and the seven starters were dispatched to a rather ragged start. Tax, breaking from the rail under jockey Junior Alvarado, stumbled at the start but was somehow still the quickest horse out of the gate, while the 4-1 shot Lucky Lee was slow into stride and failed to seriously threaten from there.

Tax briefly appeared poised to take the early lead, but then the speedy Not That Brady—another slow starter who was caught very wide entering the first turn—unleashed a bold burst of acceleration in an effort to clear the field, seize the lead, and secure the rail. The move was ultimately successful, but in the process Not That Brady bunched up the runners to his inside and caused Admire to check and steady sharply in between horses.

More than a quarter-mile was required before the runners settled down into comfortable positions, with Not That Brady showing the way through fractions of :23.56, :47.39, and 1:11.44—a steady pace over a track that seemed to be playing a bit quicker than usual. All the while, Tax saved ground along the rail, biding his time and waiting for an opening to appear.

The opening appeared at the top of the stretch, at which point the race became messy again. Just as Tax was advancing on the inside, Not That Brady drifted in and stalled his momentum; then Not That Brady corrected his course and drifted outward, bumping with the rallying Our Braintrust. This simultaneously put a damper on Our Braintrust’s momentum and provided a new opening for Tax, who quickly surged through to establish a lead of nearly a length.

But Not That Brady—finally on a straight course—wasn’t done yet, and re-rallied in the final strides to make the finish close. At the wire, Tax held on to win by a neck, while not That Brady edged Our Braintrust for second by a neck. The final time over the testing nine-furlong distance was 1:50.23.
"I was hoping the hole would open up and I got lucky and got through," Alvarado told the New York Racing Association. "He responded right away when we got the space, it was just enough for him. When we got to the lead at the sixteenth pole he started waiting again for the horses. He's a big guy, but mentally he's not 100 percent in the game yet. He's still learning and today was a great learning experience for him."

Trained by Danny Gargan and owned by the partnership of R. A. Hill Stable, Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Hugh Lynch, and Corms Racing Stable, Tax earned 10 qualification points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, boosting his total to 12.