The handicap division has no bigger showcase during the Saratoga meet than the Whitney. The race takes its name from the Whitney family, scions of the New York racing circuit. William Collins Whitney co-founded the Jockey Club, and campaigned prominent racehorses such as the 1901 Epsom Derby winner Volodyovski and 1904 Champion two-year-old filly Artful. His son Harry Payne Whitney continued the legacy, owning a long list of luminaries, including 1915 Kentucky Derby winner and Horse of the Year Regret. His son, Cornelius V. Whitney, not only campaigned racehorses as well, but also founded the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. The Whitney name carries on in racing today through Marylou Whitney, Cornelius’s widow.
The race run in the Whitneys’ name was inaugurated in 1928, and will be run for the 91st time this year. It has been run at its current nine-furlong distance since 1955. Its list of winners reads as a who's who of top handicap horses over the last century of American racing history: Equipoise (1932), Tom Fool (1953), Kelso (1961, 1963, 1965), Dr. Fager (1968), Alydar (1978), Personal Ensign (1988). One missing from the winners' list is Secretariat -- as the Triple Crown winner was famously defeated by Allen Jerkens's four-year-old charge Onion in 1973.
Once again, the race is a Win And You’re In for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. To date, five horses who have won the Whitney have taken the Breeders’ Cup Classic later that year: Gun Runner (2017), Fort Larned (2012), Blame (2010), Invasor (2006), and Awesome Again (1998).
Gun Runner, wearing four shoes on his feet and (eventually) one in his tail, romps in the 2017 Whitney Stakes.
The Whitney, in addition to the Test Stakes (G1), will broadcast on NBC Sports Network from 5:00-6:00pm EDT. Horse Racing Radio Network will also present an audio broadcast of the Whitney and the Test, which will run from 5:00-6:00pm EDT on Sirius 83 and on the HRRN website.
Selections for the other stakes races on Saturday's card at Saratoga appear in a grid below the Whitney preview. Selections for the Waya, Lure, and De La Rose are for turf only.
Saratoga Race Course: Saturday, August 4
Race 9: Whitney S. (G1), three-year-olds and up, one and one eighth miles on the dirt, post time 5:46pm EDT
DIVERSIFY will be a short price after his romp in the Suburban. But, he has a problem here, and his name is DALMORE. So far DIVERSIFY has yet to prove he can win a top-level race without a comfortable early lead -- a huge question, and an unappetizing uncertainty to take at a short price. DALMORE won't let him have it easy. Even though he'll be a deserving longshot, probably little more than a pace factor, DALMORE does have enough early pace to harass DIVERSIFY on the front end. That spells bad news for the favourite, and good news for those who like to bet against the favourite.
The other likely short price is MIND YOUR BISCUITS. The pace should be no problem, as MIND YOUR BISCUITS is an off-pace sort. The rain in the forecast shouldn't be a problem either, as he has been in the money in all three off-track tries. The distance, however, is the question. MIND YOUR BISCUITS is the best dirt sprinter in the world, and he lost nothing in defeat in the Met Mile (he missed by a nose to Bee Jersey, an in-form horse who got the run of things up front). But, he is untested at a mile and an eighth. His dam Jazzmane (Toccet) has produced winners at sprint and mile-category distances in the United States, as well as two winning sprinters (including a full sister to MIND YOUR BISCUITS) in Korea. Looking further back in the pedigree suggests there would be some stamina lurking; his second dam produced a Woodbine Oaks winner (Kimchi) and a horse who finished a close second in the Queen's Plate (King of Jazz). So, if that passed on to MIND YOUR BISCUITS, he may stay the trip. He is a defensive use.
There are also questions surrounding BACKYARD HEAVEN. He looked a rising star after streaking to victory in the Alysheba (G2) on the Kentucky Oaks undercard, but then he had nothing as the favourite in the Stephen Foster (G1) the next month. Still, there are several reasons things could have gone wrong there: he was coming off a huge race, it was his first try at the distance in only his fifth career start, he moved early, and the night was dangerously hot and humid. Foster flop aside, BACKYARD HEAVEN is still lightly-enough raced to have upside, he comes from the hottest shedrow at Saratoga (that of Chad Brown), and he has shown he can run well off a freshening. He also has a running style that won't be compromised, as he can track in range and make a run. Especially with DIVERSIFY and MIND YOUR BISCUITS likely to take so much money, BACKYARD HEAVEN will be a far better price than the odds-on he was in the Foster, likely good enough to use him despite any lingering concerns from the Foster.
Enough with the questions now, though. Who do we like?
This space is bullish on GOOD SAMARITAN. The stretch out to a mile and an eighth should suit him beautifully. He was last seen finishing a belated seventh in the Met Mile. He has been freshened since then, and tends to run well off freshenings. GOOD SAMARITAN also runs well at a mile and an eighth; in three tries, he has two wins and a second-place finish. One of those nine-furlong victories came at the Spa, even, a romp in last year's Jim Dandy (G2). With DIVERSIFY and DALMORE likely to set an honest pace, the race should set up well for GOOD SAMARITAN. And, if it rains? Though he has not raced on an off track yet, his breeding suggests he'll take to it beautifully. Trainer Bill Mott has started the Saratoga meet hot, and he has a great chance to keep it rolling with GOOD SAMARITAN in the Whitney.
#7 GOOD SAMARITAN (12/1)
#4 MIND YOUR BISCUITS (2/1)
#2 BACKYARD HEAVEN (9/2)
Longshot: #5 DISCREET LOVER (30/1) has made a career of running in big races, going off a longshot, and outrunning his odds just about every time. The mile and an eighth suits him; he won the Excelsior at Aqueduct at that distance earlier this year, and has been in the money in six of thirteen tries over the distance. DISCREET LOVER is also tactically versatile. In recent times he has been closing, but he can track closer to the pace and run well, too. In short? Though winning may be too much to ask for DISCREET LOVER, it would be no surprise to see him do what he always does: run on for third or fourth as the longest price on the board.
Below are all of Nicolle Neulist's picks for Saturday's stakes races at Saratoga. This will be updated as they finish handicapping the card. If you have questions about the logic behind any of these picks, please leave a comment or tweet at @picksponderings!
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