Vorticity, Lawrence eye Withers breakthrough

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When Chuck Lawrence goes to work at Fair Hill Training Center, he knows the score even if he’s the only one keeping it.

“Graham Motion is one of my best friends and you can stand here in the morning with Shug McGaughey, Graham, Michael Matz – you might have won a state-bred race but they won the Breeders’ Cup and the Kentucky Derby,” the trainer said Thursday. “Keeping good company makes you want to do that as well. It does step up your game. It’s like me when I was riding in point-to-points and things in Virginia and then going to work for Burley Cocks. You’ve got to put yourself in positions to get opportunities.”

From 1985-95, Lawrence won 122 races and two National Steeplechase Association jockeys’ championships, due in large part to an association with Hall of Famer Cocks.

Now a trainer, Lawrence exceeded $1 million in seasonal purse earnings for the first time in 2015 and looks to continue the success this year. Saturday’s Grade 3 Withers Stakes at Aqueduct could help the cause as Lawrence entered Vorticity for owner Matt Schera. The son of Distorted Humor and multiple graded stakes winner Tar Heel Mom won twice in three starts last year and opened 2016 with a second in the Grade 3 Jerome at Aqueduct.

Vorticity is 8-1 on the morning line in a field of seven headed by Jerome winner Flexibility (7-5) and Delta Downs Jackpot runner-up Sunny Ridge (5-2). The Withers is the fourth race on the card, with a post time of 1:50 p.m.

It’s a relatively rare – though getting far more frequent – foray on to the national stage for Lawrence. Last year, the trainer won three races at Saratoga and had a Breeders’ Cup starter. Turf horse Cage Fighter placed in three graded stakes (missing in the Grade 3 Knickerbocker by a nose at 34-1). Another tough turf runner, Perfect Title, made a Grade 1 start and placed in a Grade 3. Others of note have included stakes winner My Afleet, the Grade 2-placed Coax Liberty and the Grade 3-placed Great Dancer.

Lawrence credits the association with Schera, who became an owner in 2013 and now has 70 horses spread among several trainers. Lawrence has about 20 for Schera, whose runners won 51 races and earned more than $3 million in 2015. Schera is active at the sales and focuses on quality.

“I’m very grateful to Matt to put that type of horse in my barn,” Lawrence said. “It’s nice to get an opportunity.”

Now it’s Vorticity’s turn. It’s way early on the Kentucky Derby trail, but he earned a spot in the January discussion anyway. Schera spent $220,000 to buy the dark bay colt at Fasig-Tipton Midlantic’s 2-year-old sale last year, then let Lawrence take the patient approach.

“We kind of learned from past years that if you’re really pressing a horse to be ready for Saratoga not too many of them are still around come fall,” Lawrence said. “So we pick out the horses that look like they’re early and sprinters and try to do that with them. The horses we think want a little more time we give them that.”

Vorticity earned his time with an easy attitude and an even better mindset toward training.

“Of any horse in the barn, if somebody came in, an amateur rider or something, he’d be the horse you’d put him on,” said Lawrence. “Anybody could ride him.”

Well, not anybody but pretty much anybody who knew what they were doing. Thus far, Lawrence has not ended his retirement from the saddle – though it’s tempting.

“On a Sunday, if the race was Monday I might get on him and hack him if he needed to just jog around or something, I might,” the ex-jockey said. “I’ve been put in the claiming ranks though, I’m on Old Friends Farm. He’s that kind of horse though, the kind I’d love to ride.”

Bred by Upson Downs Farm and WinStar Farm in Kentucky, Vorticity made his first start at Laurel Park in October, and finished third. In November at Aqueduct, he blitzed eight others to break his maiden at 7 furlongs. Back at Laurel in December, he won the Marylander Stakes. In his 3-year-old debut Jan. 2, Vorticity wound up in a three-way battle up front through splits of :23.48, :47.31 and 1:12.97. Rating in fourth early, Flexibility roared past approaching the stretch and won by 4 1/4 lengths with Vorticity a tired (but clear) second.

Lawrence would like to see a different scenario in the rematch Saturday.

“I’d like to see him make a run instead of making all the running for everybody else,” said the trainer. “He put a hell of a half in and kept digging in and I think if we can sit just off of it and let somebody else do the work and get him to make his run he’ll be better off.”

Jose Ortiz takes the return riding assignment from post five, and Lawrence does not see a problem getting the horse to rate.

“He’ll do anything you ask him to do,” he said. “He’s not strong. He’s very simple to ride. He’s very talented, so they can put him on the lead if they want to. At Laurel, (Victor Carrasco) took him back a little bit on the turn and he came outside of a horse and that’s a better way for him to run.

“I think I’m faster than the favorite. Hopefully I can get the jump on him.”

Withers field from Equibase.

NYRA website Withers preview.

Watch Vorticity win the Marylander at Laurel: