As the NFL celebrates its 100 anniversary, the league welcomes the Kansas City Chiefs back to the Super Bowl for the first time in 50 years. The Chiefs, 1.5-point favorites in Super Bowl 54, won Super Bowl 4 23-7 over the Minnesota Vikings as 12-point underdogs. Their opponents, the San Francisco 49ers have won five of six Super Bowl appearances but none since a 1995 victory in Super Bowl 29.
2018 Withers Stakes Picks
Withers Stakes Preview and Odds
In addition to the prize money, the Withers offers Derby qualifying points to the top-four finishers on a 10-4-2-1 scale. With 20 points in the bank already, a win for Firenze Fire (9-5 in the morning line odds) would put the Jason Servis-trained colt tantalizingly close to clinching a spot in the starting gate on the first Saturday of May. The final qualifier in 2017 had exactly 30 points, although Sonnateer only drew into the field because a few ahead of him either did not run or were injured prior to the race.
Firenze Fire picked up his points so far with wins in the (G1) Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park back in early October, and a win just three weeks ago in the Jerome Stakes at Aqueduct. That race was originally scheduled for January 1, but was postponed two weeks due to bad weather.
As a result, a couple of the top contenders in the race dropped out, but Firenze Fire was still hard pressed to get up in the final strides to take the win by a half-length as the heavy favorite in the one mile race. In between those two wins, he ran poorly to finish seventh in the 2017 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, falling back as they came down the stretch. He also showed little late response last summer when finishing fourth in the (G1) Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga. That kind of inconsistency makes it tough to like him for the win here.
Avery Island Looking For a Bounce Back
Breaking from the middle of the gate, Avery Island is the slight ML favorite for the Withers at odds of 8-5. After breaking his maiden in September in his second lifetime start, he scored a Grade 2 win in the Nashua Stakes at Aqueduct in early November. He comes into the Withers off a tough runner-up finish to the highly regarded Catholic Boy in the (G2) Remsen Stakes, also run on the Aqueduct dirt at the Withers distance of 1 1/8 miles. Unlike in his two wins where he was on the lead early, he had to come from off the pace in the Remsen and fell short. Expect him to be much closer to the front of the pack on Saturday.
One of three in the race for trainer Todd Pletcher, Bal Harbour (6-1) is the most experienced runner in the field with seven starts already in his young career. He has won three of those, with a pair of runner-up finishes, including two recent wins at the minor stakes level. He's struggled in graded-stakes company, finishing off the board in two graded-stakes tries, but appears to be good enough to get minor prize in this group.
Like Bal Harbour, Marconi (3-1) is another Todd Pletcher trainee that will likely be coming late from back in the pack. Unlike Bal Harbour, he's a very lightly raced colt, with only two starts to his name, the last of those a maiden win by 5 1/2 lengths. Expect that he'll also be doing his best running late, and hoping the top two get used up trying to to battle it out up front.
The Withers Stakes goes Saturday, February 3 from Aqueduct Race Track in New York. It's race #8 on the nine-race Saturday card at Aqueduct, with an expected post time of 4:35 PM Eastern.
Entries w/ML Odds
- Firenze Fire (9-5)
- Marconi (3-1)
- Bal Harbour (6-1)
- Avery Island (8-5)
- Coltandmississippi (12-1)
- California Night (15-1)
Withers Stakes Picks
- #4 - Avery Island
- #1 - Firenze Fire
- #3 - Bal Harbour
- #2 - Marconi
With three qualifying Stakes on tap this weekend, the race to get a starting spot in the 2018 Kentucky Derby is starting to really heat up. You can make a future bet in the Derby at Bovada's racebook as well as handicapping all the Derby prep races from now to May.
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