Just as he did when winning the Count Fleet Stakes a month earlier, Alpha easily defeated an overmatched field to take the $200,000 Withers (gr. III) (VIDEO) by 3 1/4 lengths Feb. 4 at Aqueduct.
The talented 3-year-old son of Bernardini banked an important $120,000 of graded earnings en route to proving he is a legitimate threat on the Triple Crown trail.
The Withers, on hiatus a year ago and previously run at a one-turn mile on the main track the week before the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), was moved to its new spot on the calendar and held at 1 1/16 miles on the inner dirt. Sent off as the overwhelming 3-10 favorite in a field of seven, Alpha covered the distance on the fast track in 1:44.23 under Ramon Dominguez.
Owned by Godolphin Racing and trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, Alpha could remain in New York for the $400,000 Gotham (gr. III) on March 3, or head down to Florida for his next race. A decision on that will come in the near future.
"The plans will be to talk to Simon Crisford from Godolphin to see which way to go,” McLaughlin said. “He’s here in New York right now, but he could relocate, or he could run back in the Gotham in a month. We’ll just have to talk about it. At least we got $120,000 in graded earnings going forward to the first Saturday in May. That’s important.”
Alpha, who has had difficulties in the starting gate since his career began, broke perfectly from post 7 this time and was ridden patiently by Dominguez despite being wide throughout. How Do I Win, as expected, set the pace under Cornelio Velasquez and held that lead for six furlongs while clicking off fractions of :23.71, :48.04, and 1:12.71. Hakama pressed the pace, while Speightscity and Alpha were also up close.
When they came off the final turn How Do I Win, Hakama, and Alpha were lined up across the track, but as soon as they straightened away Alpha took control from the outside and began to kick away. He opened up a commanding four-length lead at the eighth-pole and was hand-ridden to the wire by Dominguez.
Speightscity, sent off at 44-1 and ridden by David Cohen, was a surprising second, 1 3/4 lengths in front of Tiger Walk. How Do I Win tired to finish fourth.
“He was excellent (in the gate),” Dominguez said. “He walked in there and my idea was to bring him along and try not to mess with him. The (starter) had to push him back to get him into position and he was perfect. I know they have done a lot of schooling and (the gate) wasn’t an issue today.
“I was a little more familiar with the horse and I kind of knew what to expect, but I thought he moved forward from his last race. Although that race was good to begin with, I was very happy with his race today. I thought he improved. He finished up nice, and the last eighth he was really doing it on his own and galloped out good. Just the way you want to see.”
Alpha improved to 3-1-0 from five starts. He broke his maiden in his debut last summer at Saratoga, then finished runner-up to Union Rags in the Champagne (gr. I). The bay colt completed his season with an 11th-place effort in the Grey Goose Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I).
“I think he improved some (from the Count Fleet) because of how wide he was both trips, and he was better in the gate,” McLaughlin said. “He gets a better grade for this race; if it was a ‘B’ last time, he gets an ‘A’ this time.”
Bred by Darley and out of the Nijinsky II mare Munnaya, Alpha upped his earnings to $300,000.
The winner paid $2.70, $2.50, and $2.10. The exacta (7-2) returned $32.40 and the trifecta (7-2-6) was worth $132.