(Speed Runner / Photo Courtesy of NYRA)

From the NYRA Media Team:

Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher will be represented by a pair of contenders in Speed Runner and Khanate as he looks to secure his fourth win in Saturday’s Grade 3, $250,000 Withers, a nine-furlong test for sophomores, at Aqueduct Racetrack.

The Withers, a prep race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, will award the top-five finishers 20-10-6-4-2 qualifying points, respectively, towards the prestigious Grade 1 test on May 4 at Churchill Downs.

Pletcher previously won the Withers with Harlem Rocker [2008], Revolutionary [2013] and Far From Over [2015]. Revolutionary followed up his Withers score with a win in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby before closing from deep to finish third to the victorious Orb in that year’s Kentucky Derby.

Whisper Hill Farm’s Kentucky homebred Speed Runner has made both of his career starts in maiden special weights at the Big A, finishing a good third on debut in October in a seven-furlong sprint won by Billal, who will feature in Saturday’s Grade 3 Swale at Gulfstream Park.

The Gun Runner chestnut stretched out to nine furlongs on December 8 and utilized a prominent trip under returning rider Jose Lezcano to post a neck win over Malarchuk with Withers rival Society Man a further 4 1/4-lengths back in third.

“He’s always been a forward-training colt. I thought he ran respectably in his debut which was probably a little short of his ideal distance,” Pletcher said. “He seemed to make a move forward going a mile and an eighth in his second start. We felt like after stretching out around two turns, it just made sense to wait for the Withers. He’s trained well and he needs to continue to improve like all of them do at this stage.”

Speed Runner will exit the inside post under Lezcano.

“I think he has tactical speed. Jose can play it off the break from the rail and see where he is,” Pletcher said.

Speed Runner, a half-brother to Grade 1-winner Brilliant Speed and graded stakes-placed Souper Speedy, is out of the Gone West mare Speed Succeeds, who is a half-sister to graded stakes-winner Serenading and multiple graded stakes-placed Handpainted. His third dam, Passing Mood – a daughter of Canadian Hall of Famer Cool Mood – produced 1997 Grade 1 Belmont Stakes-winner Touch Gold.

Calumet Farm’s Khanate, a dark bay son of their stakes-winning stallion Hightail, will look to make amends from a distant third-place finish in the Jerome where he stumbled at the start before attending the early pace.

The $35,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase, out of the stakes-winning Any Given Saturday mare Mongolian Shopper, graduated by 10 1/2-lengths at third asking sprinting seven furlongs in a restricted maiden in October at Keeneland. He exited that effort to finish sixth in a 1 1/16-mile optional-claimer in November at Churchill ahead of his Jerome effort.

“He’s one we were expecting a little more from in his first couple of starts, so we were pleased to see him deliver what we were seeing in the mornings,” Pletcher said of the Keeneland score. “Things didn’t go smoothly at Churchill, but he made a nice middle move the other day [in the Jerome] before flattening out. Hopefully, getting back around two turns is going to help him. He’s another one that going that far he could probably have tactical speed.”

Khanate will exit the outermost post 9 under Eric Cancel.

“I don’t think he minds being out in the clear,” Pletcher said. “Sometimes, you’re a little concerned getting hung out too wide in the mile and an eighth races at Aqueduct, but it should work out. He’s been a pretty good gate horse, so hopefully he can get away alertly and get into a good rhythm.”

The Withers, named in honor of prominent 1800’s owner and breeder David Dunham Withers, predates the Kentucky Derby by one year with its inaugural running taking place in 1874. Coincidentally, the following year’s Withers was won by Aristides who also captured the very first running of the Kentucky Derby in 1875. Four other horses have both Withers and Kentucky Derby victories on their resume including Triple Crown winners Sir Barton [1919] and Count Fleet [1943] as well as Zev [1923] and Johnstown [1939].

Pletcher will be represented by five 2023 Breeders’ Cup alumni in stakes company on Saturday at Gulfstream Park, including Life’s an Audible [8th, Juvenile Turf] in the Grade 3 Sweetest Chant; Scalable [5th, Juvenile Fillies] in the Grade 3 Forward Gal; Noted [9th, Juvenile] and Agate Road [5th, Juvenile Turf] in the Grade 3 Kitten’s Joy; and Champion 2-Year-Old Colt Fierceness [1st, Juvenile] in the Grade 3 Holy Bull, which offers 20-10-6-4-2 Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top-five finishers.

Repole Stable’s Kentucky homebred Fierceness graduated by 11 1/4-lengths over muddy and sealed footing in his August debut traveling six furlongs at Saratoga Race Course. The impressive score garnered a lofty 95 Beyer Speed Figure.

The City of Light bay faltered to seventh-of-8 as the odds-on favorite after lunging at the break over a sloppy and sealed surface in the Grade 1 Champagne in October at Belmont at the Big A, but returned to winning form with a powerful 6 1/4-length score in the 1 1/16-mile Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on November 3 at Santa Anita to register a 105 Beyer. The runner-up of that event, Muth, returned to win the Grade 2 San Vicente at Santa Anita last month, while the Pletcher-trained third-place finisher Locked is a well-regarded Derby prospect.

“We were super happy with the result and looking at the race now, it was very impressive,” Pletcher said. “It was a really strong group of colts – Muth has come back and won since, and we still hold Locked in high regard. For him to win that emphatically against that field is hopefully a sign that he’s extra special and can continue to do that and move forward.”

Pletcher said Fierceness has trained forwardly at Palm Beach Downs for his seasonal debut in Saturday’s 1 1/16-mile test, including a bullet five-eighths breeze in 59.48 seconds on January 20.

“He’s had a really good winter. He came to Palm Beach Downs after the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and settled in well,” Pletcher said. “We mapped out a schedule with the Holy Bull in mind as his first start and knock on wood everything has gone according to plan. He’s had some impressive breezes and we’re looking forward to getting the season started.”

Hall of Famer John Velazquez retains the mount from post 7.

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Dutrow, Jr. has high praise for White Abarrio heading into Saudi Cup

Trainer Rick Dutrow, Jr. expressed his confidence on Wednesday in C2 Racing and La Milagrosa Stable’s multiple Grade 1-winner White Abarrio, who will top the string of American-based horses heading to Saudi Arabia for the two-day Saudi Cup weekend slated for February 24-25 at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh.

The 5-year-old son of Race Day has more than impressed his conditioner with his recent works at Santa Anita Park, where he has remained since his dominant victory in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic in November with Irad Ortiz, Jr. in the irons.

“He’s doing good, and better than ever,” said Dutrow, Jr. “He’s showing us all the signs that he’s completely on it again, and it’s not too much time now before he heads over to the desert. We’re extremely excited about what could be here.”

White Abarrio, who is slated to ship to Saudi Arabia on February 13, aims for his third consecutive Grade/Group 1 score after taking the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the Whitney three months prior at Saratoga Race Course. A victory or top finish in the $20 million test for older horses traveling 1,800 meters [about nine furlongs] would make White Abarrio the highest earning trainee in Dutrow, Jr.’s career, which also includes 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam and Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown, among others.

The veteran conditioner spoke volumes of White Abarrio’s intelligence and competitive spirit, and said the talented grey needs little guidance in his preparations.

“He’s so easy to train, man. I mean, he does it himself,” said Dutrow, Jr. “It’s more of just watching him train, and he’s fun to be around. He’s in such command of himself, and he thinks he’s the best thing that’s ever happened in this world. We love watching him do his thing. It’s not really the training that’s involved here, because he loves it and this is his game.”

White Abarrio began his career in Florida with conditioner Saffie Joseph, Jr., who saddled him to victories in the Grade 3 Holy Bull and Grade 1 Florida Derby ahead of an off-the-board finish in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby. He closed out his sophomore campaign with a game third-place effort in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile Handicap presented by NYRA Bets before making two more starts in Florida for Joseph, Jr. when eighth in the Grade 1 Pegasus World Cup and victorious in a March optional claiming tilt. He was then transferred to the care of Dutrow, Jr. in May, and finished third in the Grade 1 Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap in June en route to his Whitney and Breeders’ Cup triumphs.

Dutrow, Jr. said he believes White Abarrio has found his best stride thanks to a finely tuned racing and exercise schedule.

“When I picked him up, it was a three month break from the Florida [allowance win] to the Met Mile, and then another few months to the Whitney and a few months to the Breeders’ Cup. And now, a few months again to this one,” said Dutrow, Jr. “He excels with time, as most of them would.”

Dutrow, Jr. said White Abarrio’s raw talent, combined with the expertise from his brother and assistant, Chip, and exercise rider Emily Ellingwood, have made California the perfect place to prepare for the richest horse race in the world.

“There’s not a whole lot of instructions that go around this guy, and when you throw Irad up there, you never have to say a word,” Dutrow, Jr. said. “He’s so easy to be around and he’s a total racehorse. He gets in a zone to beat other horses, and we don’t have to do a whole lot of stuff with him. We’ve just got to keep Emily around him, keep my brother Chip around him, and when it’s game time, keep Irad around him. Then, we will just be the happiest people that ever lived.”

On the East Coast, Dutrow, Jr. recently enjoyed stakes success with P and G Stable’s Guanare, who captured the seven-furlong Spectacular Bid over muddy and sealed footing at Laurel Park on Saturday. The Runhappy sophomore tracked two lengths back under Romero Maragh in last-of-3 through the first quarter-mile before coming into contention in the turn. He took a one-length advantage at the stretch call with a three-wide trip before powering home a 2 3/4-length winner in a final time of 1:25.16. He was awarded an 84 Beyer Speed Figure for the effort.

“He’s another one that thinks he’s good, and we’re very happy with him,” said Dutrow, Jr. “He shipped out of town on a muddy track that we weren’t sure he was liking very much, but he got the job done. We’ve having fun with Guanare and I love the owners. They’re good people.”

The win marked the third consecutive for Guanare, who graduated at second asking in October sprinting 6 1/2 furlongs at Belmont at the Big A and followed with a dominant 6 3/4-length score in a local starter optional claimer going the same distance in November. The runner-up of the latter race, Iridescent, won a starter event next out ahead of a runner-up effort in the Jimmy Winkfield.

The next open-company sprint stakes for sophomores on the NYRA calendar is the seven-furlong Listed $175,000 Bay Shore on April 6, but Dutrow, Jr. said he has not yet selected the next target for Guanare.

“We’re very happy with him again. [Yesterday] was his first day back on the track and he looked like he was ready to run again. He’s already over the race for crying out loud,” Dutrow, Jr. said, with a laugh. “He carries so much energy. He’s won three in a row, so I’m glancing at what’s in store for him around town. We’re going to lay back and let him [tell us].”

Dutrow, Jr. and P and G Stable could have another strong prospect later this year in the impressive maiden winner El Capi, who was recently sidelined due to shin issues. The Maclean’s Music sophomore graduated on debut on December 2 here with a 9 1/2-length romp in wire-to-wire fashion over muddy and sealed footing. He earned a lofty 99 Beyer for the effort.

Dutrow, Jr. said El Capi is benefitting from his time away from the racetrack.

“We’re getting excellent reports on him, so we’ll get him fresh and ready to go,” said Dutrow, Jr. “I don’t know when yet, but Dr. [Larry] Bramlage will clear him when he’s ready and he’ll come back. We’re very excited to get that little fellow back. We love him. He blew us away in his first start, and we can’t wait to get him back the right way to see what he has in store for us.”

Dutrow, Jr. added he is also looking forward to the return of graded stakes-winner Petulante, who arrived in his barn this fall from previous trainer Victor Barboza. The 5-year-old Arrogate colt has worked five times at Belmont for Dutrow, Jr., most recently covering a half-mile in 48.90 seconds Tuesday.

“We’ve got our hands on him now and he’s doing very good,” said Dutrow, Jr. “He’s got potential and he’s a solid fellow. I know he’s better in his training now, so it’s just a matter of getting him back to the races to see how he’ll run.”

Petulante won the Grade 3 Salvator Mile in June at Monmouth Park on the heels of back-to-back optional claiming victories. He boasts a record of 6-4-2-0 with $236,555 in earnings.

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St. Lewis hoping to witness a G3 Withers upset by Deposition

Deposition will make his graded stakes debut for owner-trainer Uriah St. Lewis in Saturday’s Grade 3, $250,000 Withers, a nine-furlong test for sophomores, at Aqueduct Racetrack.

The Withers, a prep race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, will award the top-five finishers 20-10-6-4-2 qualifying points, respectively, towards the prestigious Grade 1 test on May 4 at Churchill Downs.

The 3-year-old Constitution colt, a $77,000 purchase by St. Lewis’ Trin-Brook Stable at the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-Year-Olds in Training Sale, graduated at fifth asking when traveling one mile and 70 yards around two turns on November 21 at Parx Racing.

He followed last out with a distant seventh-place finish in the seven-furlong Heft on December 30 at Laurel Park. Deposition has breezed back twice over the Parx main track, including a five-eighths bullet gate breeze with blinkers on in 58.58 on January 23.

“We put blinkers on him and that’s the reason we took him to the gate,” St. Lewis said. “The jockey said was looking around in his last race at Laurel instead of paying attention.”

Deposition, who will sport blinkers on Saturday when he exits post 2 under Dexter Haddock, made one previous appearance at the Big A, finishing a troubled sixth on November 4 after stumbling at the break in a one-turn mile maiden special weight in which Kentucky Derby prospects Sierra Leone and Change of Command finished one-two. He returned 10 days later to finish a good third in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight at Parx where he was blocked at the quarter-pole before flattening.

“He’s been a little unlucky. That’s why we ran him back quick because we wanted to break his maiden,” St. Lewis said. “He’s a nice horse and does everything right. With a little luck, he might win a few races.”

St. Lewis said two turns and a patient trip allowed Deposition to finally graduate.

“He was blocked in that race, too. He waited for a spot and when it opened, he went about his business,” St. Lewis said.

Deposition’s second dam is dual Grade 1-winner Country Star, who captured the Darley Alcibiades and Hollywood Starlet as a juvenile before running sixth in the following year’s Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks.

“He’s a good-looking animal. He carries good flesh,” St. Lewis said. “He has good family and he might want turf at some point, too.”

St. Lewis has a history of posting upset stakes scores on the NYRA circuit, famously taking the 2018 Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park with 45-1 shot Discreet Lover. In 2021, he captured the Big A’s Queens County with 42-1 shot Forewarned.

“I don’t mind taking a shot. If they can run, I bring them. If they can’t, they stay here,” said St. Lewis, with a laugh.

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GSW Manny Wah seeks to attain millionaire status in G3 Toboggan

Susan Moulton’s graded stakes-winner Manny Wah, who is cross-entered in Saturday’s Forego at Turfway Park, will ship north for his first career appearance in the Empire State in pursuit of attaining millionaire status in Saturday’s Grade 3, $175,000 Toboggan, a seven-furlong sprint for older horses, at Aqueduct Racetrack.

Trained by Will Walden, the chestnut son of Will Take Charge currently boasts total purse earnings of $920,196 through lifetime record of 42-5-9-7. A win in the Toboggan would award him $96,250 and make him racing’s newest millionaire in his 43rd lifetime outing and the first start of his 8-year-old campaign.

“We train a few horses for Susan and she called me up one day and said she was going to move him over,” said Walden. “She’d like to make him a millionaire – he’s come this far. The purse is bigger there than at Turfway, and we’re asking a few questions here, but we’re taking in information that we can use going forward to get him over the million-dollar mark.”

Manny Wah, who makes his second outing for Walden after making 40 of his first 41 starts for conditioner Wayne Catalano, seeks to land his second graded score after taking the Grade 2 Phoenix by a neck over Long Range Toddy in October 2022. The veteran chestnut has kept in top company throughout his career, which also includes three additional graded placings and a close fourth in the 2022 Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

In his first start for Walden, Manny Wah tried synthetic for the first time since August 2019 when drawing the outermost post 11 in the six-furlong Holiday Cheer at Turfway. There, he trailed in last 9 1/2 lengths off the pace and steadily made up ground to finish fourth three lengths behind the victorious Night Time.

“The way he ran last time, he got caught almost 10 lengths off the pace and only got beat three lengths for it all,” said Walden. “In the mornings, he comes off the track with a buck and is playing, and he gives us all the signs he wants to keep doing this and to compete.”

Manny Wah has not raced beyond six furlongs since finishing an even eighth in the seven-furlong Grade 3 Commonwealth Cup in April 2022, but Walden expressed confidence in jockey Dylan Davis’ ability to play the pace as Manny Wah emerges from post 3-of-7 on Saturday.

“He seems to run on whatever you put him on. The seven-eighths is a little bit of a question, but I don’t see any reason why he won’t handle the surface there,” said Walden. “I think he likes a pretty solid pace up front. He’s a closing type sprinter, so we hope for an honest pace. There’s not a crazy bunch of speed in this race, so I think Dylan will find himself laying a little closer to the pace than he normally does, but it will be towards the back of the pack.

“He came out of his last race great and he’s been training better going into this race than that race,” added Walden. “He was telling us he’s sitting on a big race, so we felt like we would take a shot. We’ve got Dylan, who’s electric right now, so we’ll try to get lucky.”

Walden, the son of multiple Grade 1-winning trainer and WinStar Farm President and CEO Elliot Walden, began training in 2022 after working for several top barns on the East Coast, including Hall of Famers Bill Mott and Todd Pletcher, where he honed his skills with some of racing’s most elite horses. Walden said Manny Wah ranks highly amongst the horses he has worked with.

“Class exudes from him. I’ve been fortunate enough to be around some nice horses and he’s one of the classiest I’ve been ever been around,” said Walden. “Anybody that gets on his back comes back singing his praises. You’d feel comfortable putting a toddler on his back. He’s the barn pet and everybody loves him. He’s a cool horse be around and we’re grateful to have the opportunity to be around him.”