If you were on the verge of nodding off over your Racing Form, now’s the time to straighten up and pay attention. February will kick off with a stakes-filled weekend for 3-year-olds, as well as some important older horses. Saturday will see the road to the Triple Crown continue with the running of the Grade III Withers, the Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes, and the Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes. And while special attention should be paid to older horses like Tapizar in the Strub and Game on Dude in the San Antonio at Santa Anita, for sanity’s sake, let’s stick to one topic for this article.

One of New York’s oldest races, the Withers Stakes, has been moved up from the spring calendar to this Saturday and replaces the Whirlaway. Run in previous years at 1 mile, this year’s renewal will be run at 1 1/16th-miles. Headlining a field of seven will be Alpha, winner of last month’s Count Fleet Stakes. King Kid, the handsome third-place finisher of the Gulfstream Park Derby, was installed as the second choice on the morning line at 4-1. Swag Daddy is 2-for-2 at Aqueduct, winner of back-to-back 1 mile, 70 yards overnight stakes races at the track. Though this is Alpha’s race to lose, any of these entrants could take advantage of a misstep by the favorite; none of the contenders have more than six starts to their name, and with the exception of King Kid, all have won two races.

The Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes has turned out some interesting Triple Crown prospects over the years, including Bluegrass Cat, Any Given Saturday, and General Quarters. This year’s prep race for the Tampa Bay Derby will line up eleven 3-year-olds to contest the 1 1/16th-miles; the morning-line oddsmaker has given slight favoritism to the Gulfstream Park Derby winner, Reveron, over maiden winner Ecabroni. Perhaps it’s the runner-up in that inaugural derby that has given less confidence to Reveron’s backers—he beat favorite Casual Trick by a head, and that rival went on to lose an AOC race by some 30 lengths. Reveron is no slouch, though—the Gulfstream Park Derby was the topper of a three-race win-streak. Ecabroni, while only able to boast of one win in two starts, ran impressively to break his maiden at Gulfstream; the Todd Pletcher trainee took the lead early, and never buckled under pressure moving into the turn, gliding away to victory without ever being shown the whip. Prospective has the advantage of a win at Tampa Bay Downs in his most recent start, which came in the Pasco Stakes on January 14th.
 

Perhaps the most contentious of these 3-year-old races will be the Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes at Santa Anita. Liaison, winner of the Grade I CashCall Futurity, has been installed as the favorite over his rival, Rousing Sermon, who chased him to finish 2nd in both of their last two starts. Liaison could prove to be one of the nation’s top 3-year-olds if he holds his form from the CashCall and Real Quiet Stakes. Isn’t He Clever, by Smarty Jones, will make his first start at Santa Anita after racking up three wins in his tour of New Mexico and Oklahoma; Isn’t He Clever enters off an 11 ¾-length score in the Riley Allison Futurity at Sunland Park. Chips All In, a winner of four of five starts, will return to the dirt after a victory in the Eddie Logan Stakes over Santa Anita’s turf course, and wins over Del Mar, Golden Gate, and Arapahoe’s main track. Groovin’ Solo and Sky Kingdom will enter stakes competition for the first time off wins in maiden or allowance company.

We’re on a full-fledged journey to the Kentucky Derby now, folks. Quite a few horses have yet to prove themselves as serious prospects, but a handful of these hopefuls are starting to look like real contenders. While it’s too early to suspect if any of the horses who run this weekend will actually make it to the gate on the first Saturday in May, these races will begin to shape the Derby picture.

 

Saturday:
The Grade III Withers Stakes will air live from Aqueduct on TVG and HRTV. Post time is scheduled for approximately 4:05pm ET.
The Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes will air live from Tampa Bay Downs on TVG and HRTV. Post time is scheduled for approximately 5:00pm ET.
The Grade II Robert B. Lewis Stakes will air live from Santa Anita Park on HRTV. Post time is scheduled for approximately 6:05pm ET.