Courvoisier headlines loaded 11-horse field in G3 Withers

February 2, 2022

Happy Medium to make stakes debut in G3 Toboggan

OZONE PARK, N.Y. – The Road to the Kentucky Derby will go through New York when a field of 11 sophomores assemble for Saturday’s 148th running of the Grade 3, $250,000 Withers at Aqueduct Racetrack.

The nine-furlong Withers is a qualifying event for the Grade 1, $3 million Kentucky Derby on May 7 at Churchill Downs, offering 10-4-2-1 points to the top-four finishers in the two-turn test.

Courvoisier will look to build on a 10-point triumph last out in the Jerome on New Year’s Day at Aqueduct. The regally-bred son of Tapit, out of 2014 Champion 2-Year-Old Filly Take Charge Brandi, secured outside stalking position in the one-turn mile Jerome and matched strides with pacesetter Hagler around the far turn before pulling away to a 1 1/4-length triumph over the sloppy and sealed main track.

Courvoisier, currently 12th on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard, boasts winning experience at the Withers distance having graduated at 14-1 odds on December 2 in his first start at the Big A.

Trainer Kelly Breen said the sizable Courvoisier, who is owned by Hill ‘n’ Dale Equine Holdings and James Spry, will appreciate a return to two turns.

“He’s always been a big boy. He was a big boy at birth and he’s filling in,” Breen said. “He’s a nice horse and I think that the longer the better for him. We have high hopes for him – let him show it on the track.”

Courvoisier will attempt to add his name to a list of a dozen horses that have captured both the Jerome and the Withers, including Hall of Famers Housebuster [1990], Hill Prince [1950] and Duke of Magenta [1878].

Ruben Silvera will pilot Courvoisier for the first time, breaking from post 5.

Looking to contest Courvoisier once more are Jerome second, third, fourth and sixth-place finishers Smarten Up, Cooke Creek, Unbridled Bomber and Mr Jefferson.

Trained by Alfredo Velazquez, the consistent Smarten Up was twice placed at maiden level before a nine-length romp on November 22 at Parx Racing. The son of American Freedom made his first venture away from Parx in the Jerome, launching a late turn-of-foot to finish second at 21-1 odds.

Smarten Up will be ridden by returning pilot Anthony Salgado from post 3.

Cheyenne Stable’s Cooke Creek, a son of Uncle Mo trained by Jeremiah O’Dwyer, was in pursuit from the four path in upper stretch in the Jerome, but was passed up by Smarten Up’s late kick, finishing two lengths behind Courvoisier.

Cooke Creek graduated at first asking in September sprinting 5 1/2-furlongs at Delaware Park. He is the only horse in the field with a stakes win at two turns, having captured the one-mile Rocky Run on October 16 at Delaware Park, three weeks before finishing second in the Grade 3 Nashua traveling a one-turn mile at Belmont Park.

“I was very proud of his run last time in the Jerome on a track I didn’t think he’d like,” O’Dwyer said. “Pedigree-wise and the way he’s built with his style of running, two turns is exactly what he wants. He won going five and a half the first time, but I think that was just his class showing through. When he ran in the Jerome, it was either that or going a one-turn mile at Laurel.

“He’s just progressed from race to race and is getting bigger and stronger,” O’Dwyer added. “The owners are good people and have given me some nice horses. It’s nice to see him do something nice for them on the track.”

Cooke Creek will break from post 11 under Manny Franco, a two-time Withers winner.

Unbridled Bomber, owned in partnership by Edward Potash, Brad Yankanich and trainer Jimmy Ryerson, finished fourth at second asking when traveling nine furlongs around two turns in August at Saratoga. He graduated two starts later traveling a one-turn mile on November 7 at Belmont.

Ryerson said he is looking forward to getting the dark bay Upstart colt back to two turns.

“We’ve always wanted to try him longer. When I ran him a mile and an eighth, he actually looked like he was going to do well and he got to lugging in that day,” Ryerson said. “He straightened that out and his last two have been good. He’s definitely [going] in the right direction. He’s a nice, big horse. He’s attractive and has ability and we’re excited about giving him a chance here. We’ll see what happens.”

Jorge Vargas, Jr. will have the call from post 6.

R. L. Johnson’s Mr Jefferson will make his third straight appearance at the Big A for trainer Michael Trombetta. The Maryland-bred Constitution chestnut finished a distant fourth in the nine-furlong Grade 2 Remsen on December 4 ahead of his sixth-place finish in the Jerome.

A two-time winner, Mr Jefferson broke his maiden going six furlongs at Colonial Downs in August two starts before defeating winners in November at Laurel Park.

Eric Cancel has the call from post 10.

Among the fresh faces is Klaravich Stables’ Early Voting, who will see added ground following a triumphant career debut going a one-turn mile on December 18 at Aqueduct. Early Voting was forwardly placed from the outside down the backstretch and opened up in the stretch before fending off a late rally by Matt Doyle to win by 1 1/2 lengths as the heavy favorite.

“He had some quality going into the maiden,” said Brown’s Belmont-based assistant Dan Stupp. “Win or lose, we thought the maiden race would move him up both physically and mentally, which I think it did. We saw glimpses of talent from him in the mornings. Fitness wise, he could have used a race to move him forward.”

A son of 2021 leading freshman sire Gun Runner, Early Voting will attempt to give trainer Chad Brown his second straight Withers win, a feat that has not been accomplished since the late Hall of Famer Allen Jerkens saddled Spite the Devil [2003] and Medallist [2004]. Brown captured last year’s Withers with Risk Taking, who also is owned by Klaravich Stables.

“It really seems like he’s progressed well off his first race. His works have been excellent and I’m excited to see him run back,” Stupp said. “He’s bred to run all day and we thought the longer the better since we’ve had him. He’s coming off just a maiden win so it’s a big ask first time against winners off one race, but he’s given us every indication that he’ll show up with a good effort.”

Purchased for $200,000 at the 2020 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, Early Voting is out of the unraced Tiznow mare Amour d’Ete – a half-sister to 2004 Champion Sprinter and influential stallion Speightstown.

Jose Ortiz will ride Early Voting from post 9.

Constitutionlawyer will make his stakes debut following a nine-furlong maiden win on January 2 at Aqueduct. The Ray Handal-trained Constitution colt displayed frontrunning tactics for the first time in his maiden victory, which took place over a muddy and sealed track. Constitutionlawyer built on his advantage through every point of call to win by 3 1/2 lengths and registered a field-best 85 Beyer Speed Figure.

Jose Lezcano will ride Constitutionlawyer from post 1.

Hall of Famer Bill Mott will send out Grandview Equine and Don Alberto Stable’s Gilded Age, who returns off a three-month respite following a two-turn maiden score on November 19 at Churchill Downs. Prior to distant efforts behind subsequent graded stakes winners Major General and Rattle N Roll, Gilded Age made a last-to-first move to graduate at fourth asking by 2 3/4 lengths.

Gilded Age, who attempts to give his influential sire Medaglia d’Oro a second straight Withers winner, will break from post 4 under Kendrick Carmouche.

Completing the field are Turfway Park maiden winner Grantham [post 2, Victor Carrasco], two-time Parx winner Noneedtoworry [post 7, Silvestre Gonzalez], and Un Ojo [post 8, Trevor McCarthy] – a narrow second in the NYSSS Great White Way.

The Withers honors David Dunham Withers, one of the most successful thoroughbred breeders of the 19th century. Withers was one of the founders of Monmouth Park in New Jersey, and was also a member of both the New York Jockey Club and the Coney Island Jockey Club. Throughout its rich history, the Withers has been won by 29 horses that have also won an American classic, including Triple Crown winners Sir Barton [1919] and Count Fleet [1943].

Happy Medium to make stakes debut in G3 Toboggan

Jay Em Ess Stable’s talented Happy Medium will make his stakes debut in Saturday’s re-scheduled 129th running of the Grade 3, $150,000 Toboggan, a seven-furlong sprint for older horses, to kick off graded stakes action in 2022 on the NYRA circuit at Aqueduct Racetrack.

The Toboggan was initially scheduled for last Saturday’s card which was cancelled due to the impact of a powerful winter storm in the New York City metropolitan area. Five of the original seven Toboggan contenders have returned with defectors including Chateau and Penguin Power, who finished sixth in last Saturday’s Fire Plug at Laurel Park.

Trained by Michelle Nevin, the three-time winning Happy Medium seeks his fourth straight trip to the winner’s circle having captured his trio of wins by a combined 21 1/4-lengths.

The 4-year-old son of Runhappy arrives off a triumph in a second-level allowance optional claimer on December 18 at the Big A, defeating next-out winner Wudda U Think Now and stakes-winner Chestertown. Happy Medium led at every point of call last out while extending his advantage throughout the 6 1/2-furlong journey, registering a career-best 104 Beyer Speed Figure for the seven-length romp.

After bursting onto the scene in September at Belmont Park with a maiden special weight victory over four next-out winners by 9 1/4-lengths, Happy Medium handled a sloppy and sealed track with style when defeating winners by five lengths in November at Aqueduct.

“He’s a very nice horse and we just have taken the logical steps to go along with him. We’ve gone from his maiden, a-other-than and two-other-than.” Nevin said. “This step is the next logical one, so we’re excited to see him run.”

Happy Medium’s maiden score came off a six-month respite. He finished third at 22-1 odds in his career debut in March 2021 at Aqueduct.

“He was a little immature from two into his 3-year-old year and we just wanted to give him some time to develop,” Nevin said.

Happy Medium, bred in Kentucky by Colts Neck Stables, is out of the Coronado’s Quest mare Well Spring, who also produced Mendip – a multiple group stakes winner in Dubai. Happy Medium’s second dam, Chaposa Springs, captured the 1995 Grade 1 Test and 1996 Grade 1 Ballerina at Saratoga Race Course.

Manny Franco, aboard Happy Medium for all three of his victories, will return to the irons from the outermost post 5. Happy Medium will carry 120 pounds.

Returning to the Big A by way of Parx Racing is Hopeful Treasure, who sprung an 18-1 upset in the six-furlong Grade 3 Fall Highweight last out on November 28. The 5-year-old bay son of Oxbow provided trainer Michael Catalano, Jr. with his first graded stakes victory, fending off a late challenge by graded stakes winner Green Light Go to win by a head.

Owned by Tony Como’s Just In Time Racing, Hopeful Treasure was bought for $6,000 by his original trainer Michael Pino, who conditioned the horse through three wins in his first eight career starts.

Transferred to Catalano, Jr., Hopeful Treasure picked up three more victories including a 1 3/4-length allowance score at Parx four weeks prior to the Fall Highweight.

“We thought about running in a stake at Parx at the end of the year and it just seemed like he wasn’t back to where he was mentally,” Catalano, Jr. said. “He started to hit his stride in early January and has been just doing better and better each day since then. He’s ready to run right now and hopefully he’ll show up at one of these places and run really well again.”

Trevor McCarthy, a two-time stakes-winning rider this meet, picks up the mount from post 4 aboard Hopeful Treasure, who was assigned a field high 124 pounds.

Rounding out the field are War Tocsin [post 1, Silvestre Gonzalez], Repo Rocks [post 2, Ruben Silvera] and Drafted [post 3, Jose Ortiz].

The Toboggan is slated as Race 3 while the Withers will go as Race 8 on Saturday’s nine-race card. First post is 12:50 p.m. Eastern.

America’s Day at the Races will present daily coverage and analysis of the winter meet at Aqueduct Racetrack on the networks of FOX Sports. For the complete broadcast schedule, visit https://www.nyra.com/aqueduct/racing/tv-schedule.

NYRA Press Release

Photo: Courvoisier (NYRA Photo)

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