2014 Whitney Handicap Day Preview

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/archive/0/0a/20130622190228!Saratoga_Race_Course_logo_pic.PNGThere is no stakes on the docket this weekend at Arlington (but you can catch three-time Arlington Sprint winner Saint Leon in Saturday's fourth, an upper-crust allowance). With no stakes at Arlington, the Picks and Ponderings pair are taking a figurative road trip to Saratoga Race Course.  Made famous as a filming location in "Seabiscuit" and as a hang out of the self-absorbed subject of chart-topping song "You're So Vain", Saratoga's six-day weeks, intersectional human and equine colonies, and quality atmosphere make it a summertime horse racing high point.

This year, it's a new approach as the Picks & Ponderings team will break down the stakes quintet on Saturday August 2.  The five stakes to be presented are a pair of restricted stakes on the grass, the Lure for open company and its female complement the De La Rose.  Three Grade One stakes are also on the program, the Alfred G. Vanderbilt for older sprinters, the Test for three-year-old fillies going seven panels, and the Whitney - the richest race of the meet - for the older males on the dirt in the handicap subset.

As part of the NBC Sports television package of Breeders' Cup "win and you're in" qualifiers, there will be live coverage of the G1 Test and G1 Whitney.  The program airs from 5:00 pm to 6:00 pm ET on NBC.

Morning line odds for all stakes except the Whitney were not available at original publish time.  Selections in turf races are "turf only".

Entry was updated 1:30pm CDT on July 31 in order to add morning line odds for all races other than the Whitney.  Entry was updated 10:30am CDT on August 1 in order to update Test Stakes long-shot pick after the announcement that Princess Violet would scratch.  Entry was updated again 9:15am CDT on August 2 in light of the scratch of Bakken in the Vanderbilt.

Saratoga Race Course -- Race 7 -- De La Rose Stakes -- One Mile on the Inner Turf -- post time 4:10 pm ET

Fasig-Tipton sponsors this race that honors the 1981 Eclipse winner in the Older Turf Female category.  It's restricted to those who have not won a graded stakes in 2014. At publish time the rail will be set nine feet out from the zero position.

After chasing around the likes of Coffee Clique and Somali Lemonade last in graded stakes company, READY SIGNAL takes a drop in class to this restricted stakes.  She is a stakes winner this year, having won two non-graded stakes at Gulfstream, and both in closing efforts over a course that for the most part of the meet was like a pool table: hard, fast, and speed-friendly.  Perhaps she's a cut below what was in the box with her in the Just A Game, but that's okay in this race.  She catches some graded stakes winners from 2013 who either have gone off-form (SILSITA) or have layoff issues (DAYATTHESPA).  Think it comes together, and she'll actually want to take off the pace which could be a boon in a field full of it.  Another plus point is she has a win over the course.  If G1 winner DAYATTHESPA runs something similar to her G1 First Lady last fall, she'll be tough to handle.  But that sentence started with "if", and I'm going to swing against this Chad Brown trainee.  Even though she is eight of fourteen lifetime and three-for-three over the course, she hasn't won a graded stakes since the QEII at Keeneland at three.  Her record against older isn't as impressive: five starts, two wins in restricted stakes, two seconds in graded stakes.  Maybe the time away helped her out as she makes her first start since the G1 Matriarch, and she does fire fresh. But the front end will be crowded and she won't get a free lunch.  Although stuck on the far outside, FILIMBI deserves a look based on the humans involved.   This is a European expat owned by Juddmonte and trained by Bill Mott.  Cleared the three-other-than allowance last time and in nine career starts has never been out of the money, and takes a logical step to stakes competition.  Two back she was in the same zip code as eventual G1 Somali Lemonade.  In France, this one won a pair of minor stakes and both were at today's distance.  The outside post is not a plus point on the inner turf, hence the slight lean against.  Well worth considering should the course go yielding or soft if  there's a pop-up thunderstorm in the area.

Selections:

#6 READY SIGNAL (12/1)

#8 DAYATTHESPA (2/1)

#9 FILIMBI (4/1)

Longshot: #3 JOY (6/1) won a stakes race last time, but since it's ungraded she qualifies for this field.  Because that was an open stakes, you could say she is making a drop in class or at worst, a lateral class move.  JOY hails from the Graham Motion barn, quietly having a solid Saratoga meet without the Team Valor pipeline to feed him runners.  Goes third off the layoff and was third in a restricted stakes last summer here.  Perhaps the wide trip doomed her two back in Maryland, making her form look better.  Pacewise, she will be closing (unlike many in this field) and will get adequate pace targets.  --PM

Saratoga Race Course -- Race 8 -- G1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Stakes -- Six Furlongs on the Dirt -- post time 4:42 pm ET

PALACE cuts back to his preferred six-furlong distance after trying seven in the Belmont Sprint Championship (GIII) last out.  He tends to run from a few lengths off the pace.  This will put him in an excellent position if there is a fight for the front, but he should not be too far off to make a late run even if no one pushes likely pacesetter HAPPY MY WAY extremely hard.  This five-year-old is third off the lay, working well at Saratoga, and has never missed the board in three starts over the dirt at the Spa.  He should be well set to run back to or build upon his True North (GII) performance two starts back.  HAPPY MY WAY has been in career form this year.  He comes in here on a three-win streak, including a win in the Maryland Sprint Stakes (GIII) last out.  If he is able to run back to those performances, he is a threat to wire this field.  He is even more of a threat in light of the scratch of BAKKEN, originally the second selection.  At this point, only the less-likely FALLING SKY is likely to try him on the front end, and the pace could have everyone else trying to catch this speedster late.  The biggest question still surrounding HAPPY MY WAY is the track.  He has never raced on the Saratoga track, and his works have been slow.  With tthe key scratch of BAKKEN, FALLING SKY is the only one left in the field who might challenge HAPPY MY WAY on the front end.  Even if he doesn't get the jump, he showed last out that he can run well from off the pace as well.  This is a cut back in distance from most of his recent races, and he is probably best at seven furlongs, but his strong works at Saratoga combined with the likely pace scenario will give FALLING SKY a chance to surprise at six furlongs today.

Selections:

#1 PALACE (7/2)

#8 BAKKEN (5/2)

#5 HAPPY MY WAY (3/1)

#2 FALLING SKY (5/1)

Longshot:  #7 VYJACK (15/1) cuts sharply in distance here: back to six furlongs from an attempt at 1 1/4 miles in the Suburban Handicap last out.  He was eased in that race.  However, he has come back to the worktab, and fired two bullets over the Saratoga main track since that last time out.  He tried a sprint distance for the first time since his juvenile year in an April allowance at Aqueduct.  Pacewise, he has run well from the front, just off the pace, or farther off, as necessary.  This versatility will give jockey Irad Ortiz options based on how hard anyone decides to push (or not push) HAPPY MY WAY early.   -- NN

Saratoga Race Course -- Race 9 -- G1 Test Stakes -- Seven Furlongs on the Dirt -- post time 5:14 pm ET, to be televised live on NBC.

There is likely to be a lot of early speed in this race, and SWEET REASON stands to be in the best position to take full advantage.  She is speedy, and can win from either a little off the pace or distantly off the pace.  Last out, SWEET REASON won the Acorn (GI) at a flat mile, and has done her best work at that distance or less.  Seven furlongs will be right up her alley.  She ran twice at Saratoga last year, winning both times: coming from the clouds to score in her maiden win, and coming from just a few lengths back early to take the Spinaway (GI).  Both of these were on sloppy tracks.  Even though she has proven that she does not need the slop to do well, those showers in the forecast only make her already-strong chances look even better.  SOUTHERN HONEY will be closer to the pace, but proved her last time out that she can rate from a few lengths off the pace.  That will prove useful here; even though her early speed is good, she is probably not going to outgun horses like SWEET WHISKEY or FIFTYSHADESOFGOLD for the lead.  Her last start was a win in the Winning Colors Stakes: a Grade II race in which she beat older horses.  This is a furlong longer than the Winning Colors, but she posted a strong allowance win at this distance too starts back, tuning her up for that stakes win.   In light of the scratch of PRINCESS VIOLET, SWEET WHISKEY could likely end up the speed of the speed.  Even if FIFTYSHADESOFGOLD beats her to the front end, she has shown on several occasions that she can run a very nice stalking trip.  She missed by a half length in the Acorn (GI) last out, just being caught by SWEET REASON inside the sixteenth pole.  She has not run since that race, but trainer Todd Pletcher never fails to send his trainees back in fit and ready for big races.  She has been a regular on the worktab since late June, and fired a four-furlong bullet over the Saratoga main on July 27.  She has won over the Saratoga track before, breaking her maiden there last year in a wire-to-wire win.  The only worry would be if the showers in the forecast for Saturday are any heavier than expected: SWEET WHISKEY faltered in the Saratoga mud last year in the Spinaway (GI).

Selections:

#7 SWEET REASON (3/1)

#5 SOUTHERN HONEY (4/1)

#3 SWEET WHISKEY (6/1)

Longshot: #1 PRINCESS VIOLET (20/1), who breaks from the rail, has a strong chance at being the speed of the speed in this race.  Even if another speedster (most likely SWEET WHISKEY) outbreaks her, she showed in her maiden win that she can fight on from just off the front.  Last out she finished a distant second behind Untapable in the Mother Goose (GI) at a mile and a sixteenth.  She cuts back here to a sprint distance that suits her breeding better. If she runs back to the form she had in her allowance win back in May, she could be a big threat on the front end.

#8 LITTLE ALEXIS (30/1) is shipping up after two wins at Gulfstream, a maiden win from a stalking place and then a win from farther off the pace in the Cash Run Stakes on July 5.  In that maiden win, she finished almost two lengths ahead of My Miss Sophia.  Even with the scratch of PRINCESS VIOLET, there is still enough early speed in the race to make an off-the-pace type attractive.  She is taking a big step up in class here and still has to prove that she can take her form on the road, but the Florida shippers have been doing well enough at Saratoga so far this meet that she is worth taking a chance on at a big price.  -- NN

Saratoga Race Course -- Race 10 -- G1 Whitney Handicap -- One and one-eighth miles on the Dirt -- post time 5:46 pm ET, to be televised live on NBC.

The winner of this race gets a berth in the Breeders' Cup Classic.  WILL TAKE CHARGE may only have one win on the year in the G2 Oaklawn Handicap, but he hasn't really caught a fair track all year.  Gulfstream at nine furlongs was a carousel favoring speed, and this grinder was up against it.  Ditto in the Santa Anita Handicap.  Perhaps he had a bad day in the Alysheba or the distance was too short.  And going six wide in the Foster is never good.  I don't think the 4/1 quoted odds hold here (thinking 5/2), but WILL TAKE CHARGE finally gets something in his favor: pace to run at on the front end courtesy of MORENO and ITSMYLUCKYDAY, the inside post on a track where you could lose ground going to the first turn, and a little bit of time off after an energizer-bunny like campaign.  WILL TAKE CHARGE also blossomed last year at Saratoga, and perhaps he just might like it there.  PALACE MALICE is a viable win candidate and this author won't talk you off using him if you like him more than WILL TAKE CHARGE.  It's hard to argue with his resume: a perfect four-for-four on the year, all in graded stakes.  He ran in a sparkling time at Gulfstream, found nine panels no problem in the New Orleans Handicap, defeated three cardboard cutouts in the Westchester, and put himself into Horse of the Year discussion in winning the Met Mile.  And he won't be phased by Saratoga, as he won the G2 Jim Dandy last year.  He's had a tiny break since the Met Mile, been in fine fettle, and is a deserving morning line favorite.  Let's round out with of our old favorites, DEPARTING, a G2 winner that locals will recognize from his 2013 Illinois Derby triumph.  When last seen he was third in the G1 Stephen Foster, but he does have a four letter word in his comment line that give pause: hung.  However, the pace projects to be quicker this afternoon than in the Foster, and DEPARTING - who needs pace - gets some.  Still, he likes nine furlongs just fine and, like WILL TAKE CHARGE, has been on hiatus since the Foster.

Selections:

#1 WILL TAKE CHARGE (4/1)

#5 PALACE MALICE (1/1)

#6 DEPARTING (6/1)

Longshot:  The speed of the speed here is #3 MORENO (10/1), who nearly took the G2 Suburban wire-to-wire last time out.  His trainer has said he'll be on the front at all costs, and he retains Junior Alvarado.  Alvarado rode him that way in the Suburban.  It's possible that the connections of ITSMYLUCKYDAY might pull back or chicken out, and MORENO could steal the race.  He will have quality closers like his old Travers buddy WILL TAKE CHARGE to fend off, but he has danced the dances this year: Charles Town Classic, Pimlico Special, Met Mile, Suburban.  Give him the lead, and he's gamely hung around to hit the superfecta.  Keep him away from it (see: the Met Mile), and he goes nowhere.  But at double digit odds, he could zap his way into a solid showing. --PM

Saratoga Race Course -- Race 11  --Lure Stakes -- One and one-sixteenth miles on the Inner turf -- post time 6:20 pm ET

This race is restricted to those who have not won a graded stakes in 2014. At publish time the rail will be set nine feet out from the zero position.

Try as we might, it's awfully hard to oppose BIG BLUE KITTEN, who returns in his first race since last year's Breeders' Cup Turf.  A double G1 winner around three turns last year, cutting back to 1 1/16 won't be an issue as he started his 2013 campaign at today's distance and beat an eventual G3 that afternoon last year.  But that was then, and in the now he's been on the shelf since the Breeders' Cup.  The steady recorded works since mid-June are no issue, getting Bravo back aboard is no issue, and there will be pace to attack.  It seems a square spot to start a campaign that puts him back in a grass race at the Breeders' Cup, and trainer Chad Brown does well with more time between starts (29% wins).  Should the 2014 version of BIG BLUE KITTEN less frisky than last year, VILLANDRY from the Charlie LoPresti barn rates high.  Fourth in the G2 Firecracker, he was in the same zipcode as next-out G3 winner Guys Reward.  The Churchill starts saw him wide on the course yet still making closing headway in the lane.  VILLANDRY cleared the three-other-than allowance condition three back at Churchill going five wide.  Perhaps he is a bit of a clunk-up type based on his penchant, but having Leparoux on this kind of horse isn't a demerit.  He's perhaps in the best form of his career, and (thanks to Wise Dan, among others), LoPresti has proven quite capable with grass horses.  SWIFT WARRIOR annexed two winter G3s last year and a $250K stakes as well.  Yet in G2s like the Dixie or against quality graded types like Za Approval, he's found one better.  This year appears similar in that he found one better in a dirt effort in Maryland.  Taken in total, he's a low-G3/upper listed stakes type and these conditions hit him between the bridle.  His dud in the G3 Fort Marcy can be expunged, and his only start over the course is a win.  Draws a favorable inside post for today's restricted stakes, and the infrequent jockey/trainer team have hit the board in their only union in the past two months.

Selections:

#4 BIG BLUE KITTEN (5/2)

#8 VILLANDRY (6/1)

#2 SWIFT WARRIOR (10/1)

Longshot: Just like in the De La Rose, our longshot comes from the Graham Motion barn.  #3 EDGE OF REALITY (20/1) goes first time turf in today's stakes that is named for the two-time Breeders' Cup Mile winner.  Winner of a state-bred stakes at Presque Isle last out, he went a two-turn mile on the Erie, PA tapeta to take that stakes.  A G3 winner at three, two of his worst starts have been at seven furlongs, which isn't the distance today.  And though he won on the synthetic, he will be trying grass for the first time.  Being by Lawyer Ron doesn't impress when considering grass breeding, but grandsire Langfuhr does.  Trainer Motion's exploits were expounded above in the De La Rose.  --PM

Stakes preview authors are denoted above by initials, PM for Paul Mazur and NN for Nicolle Neulist. 

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