The Road to the Derby Heats Up at Aqueduct
Over the next three-plus months, horse players around the US will be focusing on races that lead up to the Kentucky Derby to be run on the first Saturday in May. For New York racing fans, three traditional prep races have been scheduled to help sort out the contenders and pretenders that will serve as the East coast’s best chances for another Derby winner.
The East Coast Derby Preps
While horse racing connections all over the country are busy trying to decide the best path to the Kentucky Derby for their prospects, Aqueduct Racetrack will be running its three preps in hopes of finding a worthy representative or two. These important races include The Withers (Grade III) at a distance of 1 1/16 miles for a purse of $250,000 (Jan 30), The Gotham (Grade III) at a distance of 1 1/16 miles for a purse of $400,000 (March 5) and The Wood Memorial (Grade I) at a distance of 1 1/8 miles for a purse of $1,000,000 (April 9). After being moved from the fall meet to the current winter meet, The Jerome (Grade III), which was run on January 2nd, figures to become another important step on the “Road to the Derby.”
Over the years, each of these races have been an important part of the racing landscape for 3-year old colts and geldings with aspirations of running in the Kentucky Derby and/or the other Triple Crown races. As such, these races have been won by some of the greatest thoroughbreds in horse racing history. Here’s a quick look at the rich tradition of each race.
The Withers – Inaugurated in 1874, this race has often been considered the first step towards the Derby for East Coast prospects. While the race has served as a stepping stone for many Triple Crown race winners, only four past winners have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby, Aristides (1874), Sir Barton (1919), Zev (1923) and Count Fleet (1943). It’s worth noting that Sir Barton and Count Fleet were also Triple Crown winners. Other greats to have annexed this race include Man O’ War, Dr. Fager, Native Dancer and Ack Ack.
The Gotham – Inaugurated in 1953, The Gotham has served as the primary prep for the Wood Memorial. Interestingly, the only Kentucky Derby winner to have run in this race was the great Secretariat, a Triple Crown winner and one of the top five thoroughbreds of all-time. Other notable winners were Native Dancer, Dr. Fager, Easy Goer and Lure.
The Wood Memorial – While serving as the East Coast’s top prep for the Derby, it’s been 34 years since this race produced a Kentucky Derby winner. That was Pleasant Colony in 1981. Prior to that, the Wood produced many Derby winners, including Seattle Slew, Bold Forbes, Foolish Pleasure, Assault, Count Fleet and Gallant Fox. Inaugurated in 1925, other greats to win this race were Nashua, Native Dancer, Bold Ruler, Damascus and Fusaichi Pegasus.
This Year’s Contenders
While many of New York’s top 3-year-olds have headed South for the winter, a select few are determined to weather the cold and stay on the East Coast. The top contenders for these races include Jerome winner Flexibility, recent stakes winner King Krantz and last year’s Grade II Remson winner Mohaymen. Of the three, Mohaymen looks like the real deal given his pedigree and connections.
As the Derby draws closer, online sports books will be making its best free bet offers for new players and loyal clients who can enjoy using these free bets on upcoming prep races. Keeping in mind how quickly 2-year-olds can change form, handicappers should use these best free bet offers and look to other international events that offer free bets on prospects that offer great value and a chance to build a bankroll for Derby week.