(Shotski winning the G2 Remsen Stakes / Coglianese Photo & Courtesy of NYRA)

From the NYRA Media Team:

Wachtel Stable, Gary Barber, Pantofel Stable and Mike Karty’s Shotski headlines a talented field of eight in Saturday’s G3, $250,000 Withers, a nine-furlong test for sophomores at Aqueduct Racetrack.

Trained by Jeremiah O’Dwyer, the bay son of Blame earned 10 Kentucky Derby qualifying points winning the G2 Remsen on December 7 at the Big A and he will look to double that total in the Withers, which offers 10-4-2-1 points to the top-four finishers.

Shotski graduated on October 3 at Laurel Park, dominating a nine-horse field by four lengths in a six-furlong maiden sprint. He followed up with a solid fourth in the Street Sense at Churchill Downs, just three-quarters of a length in arrears of third-place Silver Prospector, who came back to win the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club.

Sent to post at odds of 8-1 in his two-turn debut in the Remsen, Shotski led the way under a well-managed trip by Luis Saez and held off a furious charge from Ajaaweed to secure a half-length win.

O’Dwyer credited the heady ride by Saez, who retains the mount from post 5, as a key factor in Shotski’s Remsen score, which garnered an 86 Beyer Speed Figure.

“What I liked most about his Remsen win was that he put four lengths on the field at the top of the stretch. He ended up only winning by a half-length, but it was his first time going two turns,” said O’Dwyer.

Shotski has breezed six times at Laurel Park since the Remsen, including a January 24 five-eighths effort in 1:02 flat. O’Dwyer said Shotski has continued to improve and mature as he prepares for his 3-year-old debut.

“We know he likes the track, and we know he can get the distance,” said O’Dwyer. “We’re very happy with his training and he’s had a good series of works. Physically, he looks very strong.”

O’Dwyer said he expects another forwardly placed trip in the Withers.

“He’s very adaptable. He showed us that he can be up close to the pace,” said O’Dwyer. “He’s good from the gate. I would have to think that he would probably be in the first three early on.”

Shotski is in 10th place on the Derby points leaderboard making O’Dwyer cautiously optimistic of earning a spot in the starting gate on the first Saturday in May.

“It’s always in the back of your mind,” said O’Dwyer. “It’s really nice when you sit down and think about the fact that you could possibly have a nice horse for the Kentucky Derby, but it’s a long road ahead. If he can step up it’ll be another feather in his cap.”

Wertheimer and Frere homebred Portos has posted improving Beyers in each of his four starts, culminating in an 84 for his last-out maiden score when travelling nine furlongs over a sloppy Big A main track on New Year’s Eve.

Trained by Todd Pletcher, the improving Tapit grey is out of 2014 Busanda winner Fierce Boots. His second dam, the stakes-winner Shop Again, produced Grade 1-winner Power Broker.

Portos debuted in August at Saratoga when a rallying fourth in a nine-furlong maiden tilt and followed up with another closing effort to be third in October at Keeneland. In November, Portos switched tactics battling on the lead with the well-regarded Country Grammer ahead of an impressive 10 3/4-length maiden score.

Byron Hughes, New York-based assistant to Pletcher, said Portos has trained forwardly into the Withers.

“He’s doing well. He came out of his last race in good shape. It was his fourth start and he’s continued to mature each time he’s gone into the gate,” said Hughes. “We really think he appreciates going two turns, so we were glad to see him break his maiden the way he did in his last start. It looks like a talented field, but he’s certainly shown us enough in the mornings to think he can compete, especially at the distance.”

Pletcher is a three-time Withers winner having captured the Derby prep with Harlem Rocker (2008), Revolutionary (2013) and Far From Over (2015).

Portos will leave from the outside post under Jose Lezcano, who is currently the leading rider at the Aqueduct winter meet with 42 wins.

Cash is King and LC Racing’s Monday Morning Qb will make his graded-stakes debut out of a hard-fought three-quarter length score in the Heft on December 28 at Laurel Park.

Trained by Robert Reid, the dark bay son of Imagining graduated at second asking when sprinting 5 1/2-furlongs at Parx in November, earning a personal-best 85 Beyer.

Last out, in the seven-furlong Heft under returning pilot Jorge Vargas, Jr., Monday Morning Qb rallied through the turn and took command at the at the three-sixteenths pole before holding off a late charge from Withers rival New Commission.

Reid said Monday Morning Qb has room for improvement off his winning stakes debut.

“He made a couple of mistakes in his last start and didn’t break that cleanly and he switched leads after he turned for home,” said Reid. “So, there’s a couple of things we’ve been trying to refine and work on since his last start, but he’s been doing better in the mornings. Now, he just has to prove it in the afternoon.”

Monday Morning Qb will make his first start around two-turns in the Withers, which Reid said should suit the Maryland-bred colt.

“I don’t think it’ll be a problem with his pedigree,” said Reid. “He’s had a few three-quarter gallops in him and he has a good head on his shoulders. I know it’s a big jump from seven-eighths to a mile and an eighth around two turns, but I think he’s up to it.”

Monday Morning Qb will leave from post 2.

Vanzzy, trained by Michael Pino for Smart Angle, will enter the Grade 3 Withers off of a driving half-length score in the Display at Woodbine Racetrack.

Vanzzy debuted in September at Parx in a strong maiden tilt won by the undefeated graded-stakes winner Independence Hall, and graduated at second asking in a one-mile maiden event on October 14.

After finishing second in his stakes debut on November 5 in the Parx Juvenile, Vanzzy shipped north to Woodbine on December 14 and made all the running under Patrick Husbands.

“He was first-time blinkers last time and the added ground helped,” said Pino. “He’s mature but he’s a slow maturing horse. He’s not a crack sprinter type horse. Hopefully, he can step up and learn again next out.”

Junior Alvarado picks up the mount aboard Vanzzy from post 7.

Trainer Linda Rice, who recently notched her 2,000th career victory, will saddle Prince of Pharoahs and Max Player as she looks to secure her first Withers win.

Darlene Bilinski and Harry Patten’s Prince of Pharoahs graduated at second asking in his dirt debut at Belmont Park on October 13. The dark bay son of 2015 Triple Crown champion American Pharoah returned on New Year’s Day to finish a chasing second to the undefeated Independence Hall in the Jerome.

“He’s been training very well since his last start,” said Rice. “He’s received enough time off to since his start in the Jerome and showed us enough in the mornings for us to think he’s talented enough to compete.”

George Hall’s Max Player will make his Big A debut after two strong efforts at Parx in one-mile maiden events to start his career. The dark bay Honor Code colt finished second at first asking on November 12, and showed marked improvement on December 17 when drawing off to a 4 1/4-length score on a sloppy track over next-out winner Irish Cork.

“He’s was a little green when he first joined us but he’s starting to mature and behave more professionally,” said Rice. “He’s put in a nice couple of breezes since breaking his maiden, so we think he deserves a shot in here to see where he ranks among his peers.”

Kendrick Carmouche will guide Prince of Pharoahs from post 6, while Max Player will emerge from post 3 under Dylan Davis.

New Commission, a Georgia-bred son of Field Commission owned and trained by Diane Day, boasts a record of 1-2-0 from five starts. The chestnut colt endured wide trips in his first three starts before utilizing a front-running effort to graduate by a widening 12 1/4-lengths on December 1 on a Parx main track rated good. Last out, New Commission made a menacing late run to miss by less than a length in the Heft.

Abner Adorno retains the mount from post 4.

Mr. Shortandsimple, owned and trained by Rudy Rodriquez, has won two of four career starts. The bay son of Pioneerof the Nile, bred in Kentucky by WinStar Farm, prevailed by a narrow nose last out in a one-mile $50,000 claiming event on December 30 at Aqueduct.

Reylu Gutierrez will pilot Mr. Shortandsimple in his stakes debut from the inside post.

The Withers is slated as Race 8 on Saturday’s nine-race card, featuring a 1 p.m. first post.

A commemorative 2020 NYRA racing calendar will be available free, while supplies last, to customers purchasing a Post Parade program. The calendar will be available at the program seller’s booth located on the first floor of the Aqueduct clubhouse. For more information, please visit NYRA.com.