He broke slowly, and that was only the start of Revolutionary's problems. The 3-4 favorite in the Withers Stakes was last of eight after a half-mile and stuck back in seventh approaching the far turn. Michael McCarthy, Todd Pletcher's assistant trainer, was bummed out.
"With three-sixteenths of a mile to go,'' McCarthy said, "it didn't look like he was going to get anything.''
Then the slender 3-year-old colt began to accelerate for Javier Castellano, who had plenty of horse but maybe not enough time to catch up. The jockey finally found an opening in midstretch and Revolutionary shot through without hesitation. He knifed between pacesetter Siete de Oros and eventual runner-up Escapefromreality 70 yards from the wire to take the Grade III, $200,000 Withers by a neck Saturday at chilly Aqueduct.
McCarthy marveled at all of the trouble Revolutionary managed to overcome. "Two or three times on the backstretch, he was struggling and a little intimidated,'' he said. "Basically, from the three-eighths pole to the three-sixteenths pole, he had no place to go.''
But once he had room, Revolutionary pulled off a coup.
"He didn't break that sharp, but I didn't panic,'' Castellano, who rode four winners, including Cluster of Stars (Correction Stakes) and Princess of Sylmar (Busher Stakes). "I could have gone around horses at the three-eighths pole, but I just wanted to teach him something. I knew he could get it done.''
Revolutionary ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:44.32 and paid $3.50. It was the third time he's had gate trouble, and the first time he got away with it. "He has a tendency to not get away cleanly,'' McCarthy said. "He got himself a little farther back than we would have liked. Things went from bad to worse from there, but Javier had faith in him.''
They began running the Withers in New York in 1874, and many all-time greats won it, including Man o'War (1920), Native Dancer (1953) and Dr. Fager (1967). It's unlikely Revolutionary ever will be mentioned again in the same paragraph as those immortals, but he does have a chance to do something they didn't: win the Kentucky Derby.
He justified the hopes of Pletcher and Elliott Walden, president, CEO and racing manager of WinStar Farm. Walden said that Revolutionary probably will be sent to Pletcher's winter base in Florida. He's likely to have one more Derby prep, and Walden said "all options are on the table'' for the time and place.
"Very impressed,'' Walden said. "Once he got through, it was nice to see him come running like that. This proved he's worthy to keep on the Derby trail. This race was worth three in terms of education.''