OZONE PARK, N.Y. – Alpha took a big step along the road to the Kentucky Derby on Saturday afternoon at Aqueduct Racetrack, drawing clear to an emphatic 3 ¼-length victory as the 1-5 favorite in the Grade 3, $200,000 Withers for 3-year-olds.

Leaving from the outside in the field of six, the Bernardini colt was floated wide on the first turn but then settled in about two lengths behind pacesetter How Do I Win as he led through an opening quarter-mile in 23.71 and a half in 48.04. Moving up three-wide on the far turn, Alpha took command at the top of the stretch when asked and was never threatened as he cruised under the wire for his second straight stakes win of 2012.

His winning time for the 1 1/16 miles was 1:44.23.

“You always want to save ground, and after I went wide through the first turn my main goal was to try and get him to relax,” said winning jockey Ramon Dominguez, who teamed with Alpha to win the Big A’s Count Fleet on January 7. “I was a little more familiar with the horse [today] and I kind of knew what to expect, but I thought he moved forward from his last race. Although that race was good to begin with, I was very happy with his race today. I thought he improved. He finished up nice, and the last eighth he was really doing it on his own and galloped out good. Just the way you want to see.”

The Withers victory was worth $120,000 and boosted Alpha’s all-important career graded stakes earnings to $180,000, including $60,000 from his runner-up finish to Union Rags in the Grade 1 Champagne last fall at Belmont Park. The win also opened up a number of options for the Godolphin Stable color-bearer, including Aqueduct’s Grade 3, $400,000 Gotham on March 3 and the Grade 1, $1 million Resorts World New York City Casino Wood Memorial on April 7.

“The plans will be to talk to Simon Crisford from Godolphin to see which way to go,” said winning trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. “He’s here in New York right now, but he could relocate, or he could run back in the Gotham in a month. We’ll just have to talk about it. At least we got $120,000 in graded earnings [today] going forward to the first Saturday in May. That’s important.”

Alpha returned $2.70 for a $2 win bet as he extended his record to 3-1-0 from five starts. In his only off-the-board performance, he was 11th in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile after acting up in the gate, something which McLaughlin’s team has been working on for weeks.

“He was great in the gate,” said McLaughlin. “We’ve been schooling him a lot. It worked out today. Obviously it’s nice to be outside, but at some point he’s going to have to be inside, so we’ll see how our schooling is working.

“I think he improved some [from the Count Fleet] because of how wide he was both trips, and he was better in the gate,” he added. “He gets a better grade for this race – if it was a ‘B’ last time, he gets an ‘A’ this time.”

Speightscity, the longest shot on the board at 44-1, got up for second, 1 ¾ lengths ahead of Tiger Walk. Completing the order of finish were How Do I Win, King Kid, and Hakama. Swag Daddy was scratched.