The first New York graded route on the road to Kentucky Derby 2012 was run at Aqueduct on Saturday and overwhelming favorite Alpha did not disappoint in a facile G3 Withers tally.
G3 Withers (2-4-12): 90 BSF (Alpha)
Alpha was my original number one Derby contender when I posted my first blog about the current sophomore class last September and he is on the upswing for Godolphin and Kiaran McLaughlin.
Alpha began his career with a facile extended sprint win at Saratoga last summer before rallying for the place behind Union Rags in the G1 Champagne. He lost his top ranking on my list after coming apart at the gate and finishing up the track in the G1 BC Juvenile but he always remained in my top ten.
I gave the Count Fleet hero a C+ grade for his win on Jan 7 and thought he was more professional in the Withers. He behaved in the gate, sat a wide stalking trip from the outside post, and was hand urged while clearly best under Ramon Dominguez on Feb 4.
Alpha has all of the tools to make a splash on the first Saturday in May. He is bred top and bottom (Bernardini-Nijinsky II) to improve as distances increase and his sharp conditioner has Kentucky Derby experience. Godolphin wants to win the Derby and they are going about it the right way this time after buying young talent and unsuccessfully shipping to/from Dubai in the past.
The promising son of Bernardini is making nice progress on the Beyer scale, going from an 85 in the Count Fleet to a 90 in the Withers. I love his tactical speed and top notch jockey Ramon Dominguez rides him well. He needs to run faster to be considered a serious Derby player but he is only getting warmed up at a mile and a sixteenth and is clearly moving in the right direction.
There was not much depth in the Withers. Outsider Speightscity completed the exacta at 44-1.Rallying show finisher Tiger Walk has potential for Sagamore Farm. He was making his first start of the year and handles turf/dirt.
Withers Stakes Grade: B-