The $250,000, Grade 3 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct boasts a long and winding history. First held in 1874, the race peaked in importance from the 1910s through the 1960s, when such legendary runners as Sir Barton (1919), Man o’ War (1920), Count Fleet (1943), Native Dancer (1953), and Dr. Fager (1967) claimed top honors.
For much of its history, the Withers was contested over one mile during the spring. In 2012, the Withers lengthened in distagince and shifted to its current early February timeslot, where it serves as a 1 1/8-mile qualifier on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.
A total of 17 Kentucky Derby qualification points are up for grabs in the 2022 Withers, including 10 awarded to the winner. This prize has attracted 11 starters to the mix, with #5 Courvoisier among the key names to know.
From a pedigree perspective, Courvoisier is bred to be a star. Both his sire (Tapit) and dam sire (Giant’s Causeway) have earned three titles as North America’s leading sire by progeny earnings. Just as impressively, Courvoisier’s dam – Take Charge Brandi – was voted champion 2-year-old filly of 2014 after winning the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies.
Courvoisier has put his classy pedigree to good use at Aqueduct this winter. On Dec. 2, he tracked a slow pace in a 1 1/8-mile maiden special weight before battling on to win by a neck. Then he joined the Road to the Kentucky Derby in the Jan. 1 Jerome Stakes, where he settled just behind a hot pace before kicking on to score by 1 1/4 lengths.
There’s a lot to like about Courvoisier, but from a Brisnet Speed rating perspective, he isn’t the fastest horse in the Withers field. That honor belongs to #1 Constitutionlawyer, who may be capable of springing an upset for hot trainer Raymond Handal, a 22% winner at Aqueduct this winter.
Constitutionlawyer didn’t excel when employing stretch-running tactics in his first two starts on the New York circuit. In fact, he was defeated by Courvoisier in the Dec. 2 maiden race at Aqueduct, finishing third by 3 1/2 lengths.
In an identical race on Jan. 2, Constitutionlawyer displayed dramatic improvement. Switching to pacesetting tactics, Constitutionlawyer carved out a solid pace over a muddy track before pulling away to win by 3 1/2 lengths with 92 Brisnet Speed rating – six points higher than Courvoisier’s career-best figure.
There’s admittedly a question of whether Constitutionlawyer can repeat the feat while facing tougher competition in the Withers. But there isn’t a ton of early speed in Saturday’s field, so if Constitutionlawyer breaks cleanly from the rail, there’s a chance he’ll get out in front and never look back. Racing on the inside has generally been beneficial at Aqueduct this winter, so the stage is set for Constitutionlawyer to receive a perfect trip.
Who are the other main players in the Withers? #4 Gilded Age has to be respected off a fast maiden win racing 1 1/16 miles at Churchill Downs, where he rallied from off the pace to dominate by 2 3/4 lengths. And we can’t overlook #9 Early Voting, who hails from the barn of four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown. Early Voting showed solid early speed when winning his debut racing one mile at Aqueduct by 1 1/2 lengths, and Brown won the 2021 Withers with Risk Taking.
Depending on how much budget you would like to spend betting the Withers, we have two wagering strategies to consider. Both involve betting Constitutionlawyer to win and keying him on top of exotic wagers like the exacta and/or trifecta.
Wagering Strategy on a $12 Budget
$8 to win on #1 Constitutionlawyer
What to say at the betting window: Aqueduct, 8th race, $8 to win on 1
$2 exacta: 1 with 5,9 ($4)
What to say at the betting window: Aqueduct, 8th race, $2 exacta 1 with 5,9
Wagering Strategy on a $30 Budget
$14 to win on #1 Constitutionlawyer
What to say at the betting window: Aqueduct, 8th race, $14 to win on 1
$4 exacta: 1 with 5,9 ($8)
What to say at the betting window: Aqueduct, 8th race, $4 exacta 1 with 5,9
$2 trifecta: 1 with 5,9 with 4,5,9 ($8)
What to say at the betting window: Aqueduct, 8th race, $2 trifecta 1 with 5,9 with 4,5,9
Good luck, and enjoy the race!