Alpha Keeps Up Gate Work for Withers
By Dick Downey
According to NYRA stakes coordinator Andrew Byrnes, Count Fleet winner Alpha will face several opponents in the Grade III Withers on Feb. 4, but Alpha is due to get top billing in the race.
Hakama, King Kid (Worth Watching), Phil Dancer, Speightscity, Swag Daddy (Worth Watching) and Tiger Walk are considered probable. How Do I Win and Longview Drive (Worth Watching) are reportedly possible.
Alpha (Worth Watching) has been schooling in the gate regularly since winning the Count Fleet due to a problem he had at post time, and that will continue for the Kiaran McLaughlin trainee.
“We’re not going to breeze from the gate, but maybe we’ll stand in there, breeze Sunday or Monday and then one more time probably in the gate before the race,” assistant trainer Artie Magnuson said. “He was great the other day, but you’ve got to keep doing it. You can’t just go once.”
This year, the Withers was moved up on the calendar and replaced the ungraded Whirlaway in the early February calendar at Aqueduct, so there's $150,000 of graded earnings at stake that weren't there last year. And the next steppingstone to the Grade I Wood Memorial, the Grade III Gotham, had its purse increased to $400,000 this year.
“It’s fantastic this year what they’ve done with the Count Fleet, Withers, Gotham, and Wood,” Magnuson said. “It’s a great progam, best in the country, seriously. It’s a steady march, great purses, and there’s grading in there. It’s ideal.”
Alpha easily won at first asking going seven furlongs at Saratoga. He ran second to Union Rags in the Grade I Champagne before throwing a clunker in the Grade I Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
Sent to Florida, he was returned to New York after one work at Palm Meadows in December.