A field of eight 3-year-olds who swerved off the Kentucky Derby (gr. I) trail at some point will battle it out Saturday in the $150,000 Withers Stakes (gr. III) at Aqueduct. The one-mile test drew a salty field that should prove highly competitive.
The likely favorite is Proud Accolade, a graded stakes winner at two and three. Last year the Padua Stables' runner took the Champagne Stakes (gr. I), besting likely Derby starters Afleet Alex and Sun King. After disappointing efforts in the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I) and the Hollywood Futurity (gr. I), Proud Accolade annexed the Hutcheson Stakes (gr. II) for trainer Todd Pletcher, but threw in a miserable sixth in the Rushaway in March at Turfway as the heavy favorite.
Co-highweight in the Withers is Phipps Stable homebred Survivalist, who captured the Gotham Stakes (gr. III) over the Withers layout and distance, then ran a credible second, although far behind Bellamy Road, in the Wood Memorial (gr. I). Shug McGaughey, who is red hot at the Big A, trains the son of Danzig.
Beatrice Oxenberg's B. B. Best has rolled a pair of thirds in his last two starts, the Fountain of Youth and the Florida Derby (gr. I). He was a multiple stakes winner in his native Florida last year, but the Edward Plesa Jr. trainee is seeking his first victory in 2005.
Scrappy T won the Count Fleet Stakes in January and was third in the Wood, when the saddle slipped under jockey Rafael Bejarano. Maryland-based trainer Robert Bailes is hoping a big performance in the Withers will lead to a slot in the Preakness for the gelding.
Char-Mari Stable's Park Avenue Ball has been a notch below the competition this season after winning the Futurity Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont last year. His second in the Hutcheson was his best effort in 2005, as he failed to finish in the top three in the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby for trainer James Ryerson.
The field for the Withers, in post position order with jockeys and weights:
1) Park Avenue Ball (Javier Castellano, 120)
2) Proud Accolade (John Velazquez, 123)
3) B. B. Best (Jorge Chavez, 120)
4) Survivalist (Richard Migliore, 123)
5) Anthony J. (Jose Velez Jr., 116)
6) Naughty New Yorker (Jean-Luc Samyn, 120)
7) War Plan (Jose Santos, 116)
8) Scrappy T (Norberto Arroyo Jr., 120)