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Our Braintrust will make his first start for new owner Gary Barber and trainer Mark Casse while also attempting to earn more Kentucky Derby qualifying points when he competes against a talented seven-horse field in Saturday's 139th running of the Grade 3, $250,000 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack.
Offering 10-4-2-1 qualifying points for the "Run for the Roses" on May 4 at Churchill Downs, the Withers is the second of four races on the New York path to the Kentucky Derby. It will be Race 9 on the Saturday, February 2, 2019 card.
Race 9 on Aqueduct's Saturday card with a Post Time of 4:30 PM
|2||Sir Winston||6-1||Dylan Davis
|5||Lucky Lee||8-1||Frankie Pennington
|6||Our Braintrust||5-2||Jose Lezcano
|7||Not That Brady||15-1||Reylu Gutierrez
Both the television and live audiences at the Big A will see the return of Our Braintrust, who finished second by 1 ½ lengths behind Mind Control in NYRA's first Derby prep of the year in the one-mile Jerome Stakes on New Year's Day.
Following that race, which moved Our Braintrust's career record to 2-2-0 in four starts, Barber purchased the Freud colt from Maryland horseman and previous trainer Cathal Lynch and transferred him to Casse's care.
"Obviously, we haven't had Our Braintrust for very long, but he's done everything you can ask for," Casse said. "I thought he's worked well. It looks like he's pretty versatile. I know last time he came from off the speed. It's not an easy race. Everyone is trying to figure out where they fit in for the 3-year-old division. That's what you're doing in January and February; just trying to figure out who is going to mature from 2 to 3."
After winning his debut at 4 ½ furlongs last May at Laurel Park, Our Braintrust has run at longer distances in each subsequent race, including a victory in his second race in the 5 ½-furlong Tremont in June at Belmont Park. A runner-up effort in the seven-furlong Maryland Juvenile Futurity in December at Laurel was his first race in six months as he rested a nagging shin issue.
Casse will now stretch Our Braintrust out to two turns for the first time in the 1 1/8-mile Withers, carded as Race 9 with a post time of 4:30 p.m.
"I think that's an unknown for everybody," Casse said about the distance. "For us, the sooner you can find out those things, the better. I'd rather find out now and if he can't, we'll adjust and do other things. But until he proves he can't do it, we're going to try it.
"He's won as a sprinter and he can kind of do a little bit of everything," he added. "When the dust clears, his best fit may be the grass. We're still trying to learn more about him."
Jose Lezcano will pick up the mount, drawing post 6.
Tracy Farmer's Sir Winston has fared well at longer distances and will be shipping to Aqueduct for the first time after two wins and a third-place finish in his last three starts over Woodbine's Tapeta surface.
Like his stablemate, Sir Winston's appearance in the Withers will also contribute to Casse's fact-finding mission for his promising colts. The son of Awesome Again has improved his Beyer Speed Figures in each of his five career starts, including a 79 last out in a one-length win in the Display on December 8. He has been training in Ocala, Florida and doing well, according to Casse.
"Sir Winston is a mystery horse for us," Casse said. "He's performed well on the synthetic. He's been training over the dirt in Ocala and training well. We're not really sure how we'll run on the dirt."
Sir Winston's second career race was on the turf, finishing ninth on July 21 at Saratoga in his last non-Woodbine race. Casse said returning to the grass could be a possibility if the dirt track isn't favorable.
"We just want to see if he can handle the dirt and if he can't, we know he'll probably like the grass, he's run there before," Casse said. "It's all part of the puzzle and trying to figure out what pieces fit where."
Dylan Davis will be in the irons from post 2.
R.A. Hill Stable's Tax, claimed for $50,000 out of a maiden-breaking win on October 21 at Keeneland, will make his first start since running third in the Grade 2 Remsen on December 1 at Aqueduct.
Contested at the Withers distance, Tax, who was making his stakes debut in just his third start, stayed off the early lead in the Remsen and finished strong, hitting the wire just behind Network Effect and the winner Maximus Mischief. He earned a 93 Beyer, the highest of any Withers contender.
The Arch gelding will have jockey Junior Alvarado's services from the rail.
"He's bred to run all day, he's a well-bred horse," trainer Danny Gargan said. "Last time, we kind of chased the pace a little bit. This time, there should be enough pace in the race where we'll be able to sit off of it. Hopefully, we finish a little better. If we can get an effort like last time, we think we'll be all right."
Repole Stable and Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners' Moretti will make his first stakes appearance. The Todd Pletcher trainee, who finished second in his debut on November 14 at Aqueduct before breaking his maiden at 1 1/8 miles on the same track on December 2, was purchased for $900,000 at the 2017 Saratoga Sale.
The Medaglia d'Oro colt is a half-brother to 2017 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile-winner Battle of Midway and will break from post 3 with Manny Franco set to ride.
The New York-bred Not That Brady, fresh off his win in the Damon Runyon on New Year's Eve, will make his 3-year-old bow for trainer Rudy Rodriguez, drawing post 7 with Reylu Gutierrez.
Two other first-time stakes starters, Admire, for trainer Dale Romans, and Lucky Lee, for trainer John Servis, will break from posts 4 and 5, respectively.
Moretti, a $900,000 purchase at the 2017 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Sale, graduated impressively on December 20 over 1 1/8-miles on the Aqueduct main track for trainer Todd Pletcher and owners Repole Stable and Eclipse Thoroughbreds.
By Medaglia d'Oro and out of the Grade 1 winning mare Rigoletta, Moretti is a half-brother to 2017 Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile winner Battle of Midway.
"Medaglia d'Oro is a world-class stallion and being a half-brother to Battle of Midway, he has a real stallion's pedigree and that's what we're always looking for, hoping to develop horses to a stud career," said Pletcher. "He certainly has all the tools if he can continue his racing career in the right direction."
The Kentucky Derby hopeful, set to make his stakes debut in the Grade 3 Withers, finished second in his November 14 debut in a one-turn mile at the Big A.
Pletcher said the added distance played a big factor in Moretti's maiden win.
"The key was the mile and an eighth. We feel he's a horse that wants a route of ground and two turns. He's very well bred, and we thought it was a good effort," said Pletcher.
Velazquez, aboard for both of Moretti's starts, provided a couple reminders to the young colt who drifted out greenly late in the lane of his maiden win.
"He still seems like he's learning. When he made the lead, he waited a little bit but that's a sign, hopefully, that there's more in the tank," said Pletcher. "He's come back well and we're looking forward to stepping up to stakes company in the Withers and continuing his development."
While its all systems go for Moretti's Derby hopes, Pletcher also provided an update on the promising Sombeyay, winner of the Grade 3 Sanford on July 21 at Saratoga, who has been on the shelf since finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity on October 6 at Keeneland.
"He's doing fine. He just started back in training at my dad's training center in Ocala. I'd say he's a little late to the party to get on the Triple Crown scene, but hopefully we'll see him at Belmont in the spring," said Pletcher.
Trainer Mark Casse, in search of his first Withers win, will have two bites at the apple when he sends out Sir Winston and recent private purchase Our Braintrust in the second of New York's Kentucky Derby preps on February 2 at the Big A.
Our Braintrust, a dark bay son of Freud, boasts a record of two wins and two seconds from four starts. The talented colt, previously trained and part-owned by Cathal Lynch, won his first two starts, including the Tremont at Belmont on June 8, before finishing second in the Maryland Juvenile Futurity on December 8 at Laurel Park ahead of completing the exacta in the Jerome on New Year's Day.
New owner Gary Barber purchased the colt following the Jerome.
"We thought his race in the Jerome was very good and we're always looking for prospects," said Casse.
Our Braintrust breezed four furlongs in 49 seconds on January 22 at Casse's training center in Ocala, Florida.
"I really like him. I've trained a few Freuds and some of them tend to be on the more compact side, but with this horse he has a little more length to him. So far, he's been a wonderful horse to be around," said Casse.
The Jerome, a one-turn mile, is the longest race on the page for Our Braintrust, and the dark bay will now stretch out to two turns for the first time for his new connections.
"You never know until you try, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't have some reservations about it, but we're going to give it a try and hope for the best," said Casse.
Tracy Farmer's homebred Sir Winston, a chestnut son of Canadian Hall of Famer Awesome Again, is something of a late bloomer who graduated, via dead heat, at third asking at Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto.
Out of the graded stakes winning router La Gran Bailadora, Sir Winston ran a creditable third in the Grade 3 Grey Stakes and arrives at the Withers from a length score in the Display, a 1 1/6-mile route on Woodbine's Tapeta surface.
"He didn't show a lot early on, but with his pedigree you wouldn't expect it. He's gotten better as he's gotten older," said Casse. "We've had some time with him now and he's had four solid works over the dirt at our training center and he's a bit of a mystery horse. I don't think the mile and an eighth will be a problem."
Farmer campaigned the great New York-bred Commentator, who captured the Grade 1 Whitney in 2005 and 2008. His other past stable stars include such stalwarts as $3-million earner Albert the Great and Sun King, who banked more than $2.2-million in purse earnings.
"Tracy Farmer is a new client of ours and it was exciting for us to win a stakes with him at Woodbine, especially with a homebred," said Casse. "Tracy and his wife Carol are longtime thoroughbred owners, but they slowed down for a while. They're getting back into the game now and getting back in a big way. We're excited to have them as owners."
Casse holds a strong hand for the Kentucky Derby with his prime contender, War of Will, fresh off a victory in the Grade 3 LeComte on January 19 at Fair Grounds.
"He's doing extremely well. I can't say enough great things about him, and I think he's an absolute superstar," said Casse.
War of Will made his first four stars on turf, including a troubled fifth in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. He then switched to dirt to graduate on November 24 at Churchill Downs before stepping up as a stakes winner at Fair Grounds.
"I think he's a better dirt horse, although with a better trip in the Breeders' Cup he could have been a Breeders' Cup winner," said Casse. "But it was probably a blessing because had he won the Breeders' Cup, it would have been much tougher to try him on the dirt. Sometimes things happen for a reason."
Casse said War of Will is likely to stay in Louisiana for his next Derby prep on February 16 in the Risen Star Stakes.
Hugh Lynch and Corms Racing Stables Tax, who finished third in the 105th running of the Grade 2, $250,000 Remsen on December 1 at Aqueduct, will take his next step towards the Kentucky Derby in the Grade 3, $250,000 Withers as well.
Trained by Danny Gargan, Tax, a dark bay son of Arch, was claimed for $50,000 out of a winning effort in a 1 1/16-mile maiden event at Keeneland on October 21. In the gelding's only previous start, Tax finished a game second when sprinting 6 1/2-furlongs in a maiden claiming tilt at Churchill Downs.
"He's a well-bred horse and bred to run long. He'd only run the one race going short and I didn't expect him to be a sprinter. He's a big, strong horse," said Gargan. "On replays, he looked like a good mover, so we took a shot on him.
"When we claimed him, we thought he would be a real good grass horse, but when we started working him on the dirt, he worked really well," continued Gargan. "So, we decided to give him a shot in the Remsen."
The talented gelding, who earned a 66 Beyer Speed Figure in his maiden score, stepped his number up significantly in the Remsen when taking on the highly-regarded Maximus Mischief at the top of the lane and staying on strong to finish third, earning a 93 Beyer.
"The effort is a little better than it looks because we went after the winner. We tried to win the race and if we would have tried to be second, we could have been second," said Gargan. "On the turn, we went after the horse that was in front [Maximus Mischief]. That was our game plan, to see if we could eyeball him and beat him. Obviously, he's a really nice horse and a little more seasoned than our horse. We were aggressive and I like being aggressive in a race."
Tax has breezed three times since the Remsen, including a four-furlong breeze in 49.23 seconds on January 16 on the Belmont Park training track.
"We might work him again on Friday depending on the weather, if not, he'll go Saturday," said Gargan. "I think he got a lot out of his last race and he's doing really well right now."
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