Withers Pits Saratoga County, Forest Danger

(from Aqueduct report)
Kentucky Derby Day is always a big one at Aqueduct, where two stakes will be featured on Saturday, the $150,000 Withers Stakes (g. III) and the $100,000 Beaugay Handicap (gr. IIIT).

The Withers, run at one mile for 3-year-olds, has attracted undefeated Forest Danger, Gotham (gr. III) winner Saratoga County and Steve Asmussen shipper Two Down Automatic.

Forest Danger has been awesome in three starts this year. The Forestry colt owned by Aaron and Marie Jones put on a show here Wood Memorial Day, smoking seven rivals en route to a 7 ½-length triumph in the Bay Shore (gr. III), going seven furlongs in 1:20 3/5. The final time was just two ticks slower than 5-year-old Pico Central ran the Carter Handicap (gr. I) two races later.

Forest Danger worked in company with Shaniko on Sunday, going five furlongs in 1:00 3/5 over Belmont's main track. Shaniko has also been entered in the Withers, but would only run if Forest Danger could not start.

Evelyn Pollard's Saratoga County has made all four of his 2004 starts in stakes races. After hitting the board in the Spectacular Bid (gr. III) and Hutcheson (gr. II) at Gulfstream, the colt won the Gotham. He faltered from the 14-post in Keeneland's Lexington in his last start weeks ago.

"That was a hectic experience," trainer George Weaver said of the Lexington, in which his trainee finished seventh. "He's still a little on the green side and that was his first start around two turns. He had 30,000 fans on his right and 13 horses to his left. He shied away from the horses inside him and I think he was a little confused about the two turns."

Weaver was originally considering waiting to run Saratoga County in the Riva Ridge on Belmont Stakes Day, but opted for this spot.

"There are limited opportunities to run against straight three-year-olds at a one-turn mile," Weaver said. "We're hoping he can duplicate his success in the Gotham."

Shipping in from the Midwest is Dapple Stable's Two Down Automatic. The Smoke Glacken gelding was beaten just three-quarters of a length by Smarty Jones in the Southwest at Oaklawn. Favored in the Northern Spur Breeders' Cup on the Arkansas Derby undercard, the Steve Asmussen trainee did not disappoint, winning easily by 5 ¾ lengths.

Best Turn winner Redskin Warrior will make his first start since finishing fifth in Gotham, beaten 8 ¾ lengths by Saratoga County.

$150,000 Withers (gr. III), 3-year-olds, 1 mile
1. Two Down Automatic, Steve Asmussen, Javier Castellano, 120
2. Saratoga County, George Weaver, Mike Luzzi, 123
3. Medallist, H. Allen Jerkens, Jorge Chavez, 116
4. (a) Shaniko, Todd Pletcher, Eibar Coa, 116
5. One Tough Dude, Mike Hushion, Aaron Gryder, 116
6. (a) Forest Danger, Todd Pletcher, Eibar Coa, 123
7. Redskin Warrior, Jennifer Pedersen, Victor Fernandez, 120

Caught in the Rain Sharper for Beaugay
Heiligbrodt Stable's Caught in the Rain, winner of both her starts over Aqueduct turf, returns to her favorite course in the Beaugay for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 mile.

Following a pair of off-the-board finishes in dirt stakes toward the end of 2003, Caught in the Rain was sent to Ocala, Florida.

"They turned her out for a bit and she didn't run too good in her first race back at Tampa," trainer Guadalupe Preciado said. "She probably needed that race. She got beat by the same horses she has beaten in the past."

In her last New York turf try, Caught in the Rain prevailed by a nose in the Athenia, narrowly edging out Lojo and Coney Kitty. The latter won the Hillsborough at Tampa over Caught in the Rain.

Lojo will be making her first start of the year in the Beaugay. The daughter of Rubiano had a very productive 2003 season going 3-3-1 from 9 starts with a victory in the England's Legend at Belmont.

"We turned her out for a couple months after the Athenia," trainer Tim Hills said. "She's been back in training for some time now. She's not a great big horse, so she's a little easier to get ready off a layoff."

Lojo has hit the board in her last six starts, making consistency one of her best characteristics.

Dedication, from the barn of Christophe Clement, may go off the Beaugay favorite. She was beaten only a neck by Heat Haze last year in the Matriarch (gr. IT) at Hollywood Park. After winning a listed stakes a Gulfstream, she was sent to California where she finished second in the Las Cienegas (gr. IIIT) going 6 ½ furlongs on the downhill turf course.

Last year's Beaugay winner, Delta Princess, will be back to defend her title. The A. P. Indy mare has only won once in eight starts since and that was an easy spot at Philadelphia Park.

Willmott Stables' Aud will be making her 2004 debut for trainer Tony Reinstedler. She won the Pucker Up (gr. IIIT) at Arlington last summer.

$100,000 Beaugay Handicap (gr. IIIT), fillies & mares 3 & up, 1 1/16 mile on turf
1. Bijou, Phil Hauswald, Aaron Gryder, 113
2. Dedication, Christophe Clement, Javier Castellano, 119
3. Brandala, Tim Walsh, Jose Espinoza, 113
4. Aud, Tony Reinstedler, Brian Peck, 117
5. Caught in the Rain, Guadalupe Preciado, Jorge Chavez, 114
6. Delta Princess, Bill Mott, Mike Luzzi, 114
7. Lojo, Timothy Hills, Shaun Bridgmohan, 114