Early Voting Dominates in Withers Stakes

Early voting played a key role in the last presidential election. It may be a factor in the next Grade 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve as well.

Only in this latest case, rather than pieces of paper, it’s all about a flesh and blood equine who stamped himself as a prime candidate for horse racing’s most coveted prize.

Early Voting, a 3-year-old son of Gun Runner owned by Klaravich Stables, sprinted into the Kentucky Derby picture Feb. 5 by taking the early lead and rolling to a 4 1/2-length victory in the $250,000 Grade 3 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack.

Coming off a Dec. 18 debut win at Aqueduct for trainer Chad Brown, Early Voting picked up 10 qualifying points for the Run for the Roses, and enhanced his status by winning at a 1 1/8-mile distance that many 3-year-olds do not tackle until their final prep for the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby.

“He’s a horse that’s going to progress with each race,” said assistant Dan Stubbs, who saddled Early Voting with trainer Chad Brown in Florida. “Each race is going to propel him, and we’ve seen that in the morning with him. He was very impressive in his works. Especially in his last two works leading up to this. He’s an exciting horse and I was really ready to see him run today. I think he’ll move forward nicely in his 3-year-old year.”

The Kentucky-bred produce of the Tiznow mare Amour d’Ete has already taken some impressive steps in his brief two-race career, making an impressive jump into graded stakes company Saturday.

“He’s bred for two turns and he has tremendous stamina,” Brown said. “He’s a solid horse with a lot of condition on him. I think he’s the kind of horse who can endure the tough races ahead. He’s a hearty horse with a lot of flesh to work with.”

Early Voting could get a chance for an encore April 9 with Aqueduct’s 1 1/8-mile Grade 2 Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by Resorts World Casino an appealing target for his next start and final Run for the Roses prep.

“I’m going to talk with the owner, Seth Klarman, and come up with a plan,” Brown said. “The Wood is one possibility. I have no plans to move the horse from New York right now. I can’t see a scenario that I move the horse. We made it this far and he seems to be thriving in New York. To move to a totally different climate where it is warmer, like Florida, and more humid, I can’t see us doing that. I’m just not sure of which race we’ll run in next.”

Another option in New York would be the March 5 $300,000 Grade 3 Gotham Stakes at a one-turn mile, which offers 50-20-10-5 Kentucky Derby points. It is a prep sometimes skipped by horsemen who prefer to keep their Derby prospects around two turns.

The Wood, besides a $750,000 purse, carries a significantly larger point structure of 100-40-20-10 to the top-four finishers.

Bred by Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky, Early Voting was bought by Triphammer Farm for $200,000 from the Hill ‘n’ Dale Sales Agency consignment at the 2020 Keeneland September Yearling Sale. He is the third of five foals and the lone stakes winner for his dam, who also has a 2-year-old full sister to Early Voting and a yearling Constitution filly.

The 4:30 p.m. post time for the Withers did not leave jockey Jose Ortiz much time to leave the track and hop a flight back to Florida, and he rode Early Voting as if he was in a hurry.

Ortiz and Early Voting broke from the gate quickly and enjoyed a two-length lead after a half-mile in :48.04 over the muddy track. From there, the 6-5 favorite ($4.60 to win) continued to cruise along on the front end, increasing the lead to 3 1/2 lengths after six furlongs in 1:14.29.

On a day that was unkind to stretch runners at Aqueduct, he darted away to a safe 6 1/2-length lead at the eighth pole and covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:55.90 over a demanding surface. He drifted out under left-handed urging down the stretch.

“He’s still inexperienced, and might have been looking for company in the stretch,” Brown said. “He’ll get better with more seasoning.”

Cypress Creek Equine’s Un Ojo, a New York State-bred son of Laoban trained by Tony Dutrow, rallied from last in the field of 11 at 28-1 odds to take second and scoop up four Kentucky Derby points.

Grandview Equine and Don Alberto Stable’s Gilded Age (Medaglia d’Oro) was a head back in third and 1 3/4 lengths ahead of Grantham (Declaration of War), who was fourth.

Gilded Age netted 2 points, and Grantham 1.