(Uncle Heavy winning the G3 Withers Stakes / Photo by Susie Raisher & Courtesy of NYRA)
From the NYRA Media Team / Brian Bohl:
Michael Milam’s Uncle Heavy demonstrated an appreciation for added distance, needing every inch of the 1 1/8-mile course to run down El Grande O in the shadow of the wire, winning Saturday’s Grade 3, $250,000 Withers at Aqueduct Racetrack by a nose.
The Withers, a prep race on the Road to the Kentucky Derby with 20-10-6-4-2 qualifying points on the line for the top-five finishers, showcased an exciting crop of sophomores, with Uncle Heavy taking a major step towards a potential Run for the Roses entry on May 4 at Churchill Downs by winning for the third time in four starts and his first start at more than one mile for trainer Butch Reid, Jr.
Uncle Heavy, breaking from post 8, stalked from sixth position as El Grande O led the nine-horse field through an opening quarter-mile in 24.14 seconds on a muddy and sealed main track. Khanate battled on the lead with El Grande O to take command with the half-mile mark in 49.49 and three-quarters in 1:14.44.
El Grande O, under jockey Kendrick Carmouche, re-gained the advantage out of the final turn, overtaking Khanate on the inside. El Grande O appeared to draw away when straightened for home, but jockey Mychel Sanchez, who kept Uncle Heavy forwardly placed, found another gear in the final furlong. The Social Inclusion colt drew away from even-money favorite Lightline and surged past Khanate before zeroing in on El Grande O, getting up in the final jumps to hit the wire in 1:53.79.
The New York-bred El Grande O, trained by Linda Rice, garnered 10 qualifying points by finishing 2 1/2 lengths ahead of the Brad Cox trainee Lightline for second. Deposition and Khanate finished fourth and fifth, respectively, to also net points, while Speed Runner, Mission Beach, Society Man and Seminole Chief completed the order finish.
Off at 9-1, Uncle Heavy, bred in Pennsylvania by Reid Jr.’s sister-in-law Barbara Reid, paid $20.60 on a $2 win bet and improved his career earnings to $293,580.
“I thought the whole way around I was going to have a lot of horse to finish up,” Sanchez said. “Usually, I’m a little far back but I was closer to them the whole way around. I was tracking them and just had to wait and hope he would finish like he always did. It seems like at the three-eighths, when they sprint from him, they got away from him a little bit. He’s a big horse, he doesn’t have that quick reaction. Once he got fully going, he made up all the ground and made it look easy.”
Uncle Heavy made his first three starts at Parx, including a victorious debut sprinting six furlongs in October and his first stakes win in the mile-and-70-yards Wait For It last out against fellow Pennsylvania-breds in December.
After adding more distance in every start, Reid, Jr. said his charge is showing he likes the increased distance.
“He looked like he was just hitting his best stride about fifty yards from the wire. He really started stretching out nice,” Reid, Jr. said. “I have always felt all along with this horse, the further the better. He certainly proved that today. A mile and an eighth was obviously well within his grasp. He actually missed one of his breezes, and a few days of galloping due to the inclement weather, so for him to go ahead and do that is quite a testament to the horse’s staying ability.”
The next Kentucky Derby prep on the horizon for Uncle Heavy could be the 1 1/8-mile Grade 2, $750,000 Wood Memorial presented by Resorts World Casino on April 6 at the Big A, offering 100-50-25-15-10 points towards the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby.
“We’re going to keep him around two turns from here on out,” Reid, Jr. said. “We’ll definitely have a look at the Wood, there’s no doubt about that. We’re going to sit down with Mikey [Milam] and start plotting and planning from here on in.”
El Grande O, a New York-homebred for Barry Schwartz, moved to 3-5-1 in 10 career starts and brought his Kentucky Derby points total to 15, adding to his runner-up effort last out in the one-turn mile Jerome here on January 6.
Rice said she was pleased with the game effort from the dark bay son of Take Charge Indy, out of the Unbridled’s Song mare Rainbow’s Song.
“It was a really good effort. He took a lot of pressure early – I didn’t really expect that much pressure early, but we had discussed just going ahead and putting him on the lead,” Rice said. “He had been on the lead going shorter. I thought it was a great effort – heartbreaker. I thought we were home at the eighth pole.”
Live racing resumes Sunday at Aqueduct with a nine-race card. First post is 12:20 p.m. Eastern.
America’s Day at the Races will present daily coverage and analysis of the winter meet at Aqueduct Racetrack on the networks of FOX Sports. For the complete broadcast schedule, visit https://www.nyra.com/aqueduct/racing/tv-schedule.