With Arlington taking a week off from stakes races in order to catch its collective breath before Million Week, it's time to take a (proverbial) road trip.
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. And, this year's Saratoga meet became a little less bright without Marylou Whitney, who passed away July 19 of this year at age 93.
The race run in the Whitneys’ name was inaugurated in 1928, and will be run for the 92nd 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 offers a $1,000,000 purse and also a Win And You’re In berth 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 219, XM 206, and on the HRRN website.
Saratoga Race Course - Saturday, August 3
Race 9: Whitney Stakes (G1), three-year-olds and up, one and one eighth miles on the dirt, post time 5:46pm EDT
In an event that honours one racing family's legacy, it feels only fitting that another racing family can write another chapter of their story this Saturday. It has a good chance to happen: Allen Jerkens won the Whitney with Onion. Though there won't be a horse for the ages like Secretariat to topple, in a competitive field of eight, Allen Jerkens's son Jimmy Jerkens has a strong chance to carry the day with up-and-coming PRESERVATIONIST.
PRESERVATIONIST has had to come along slowly, working his way through the conditions and taking layoffs when he needed. But, at six years old, he finally make his stakes debut in the Suburban (G2) on July 6. He won with utmost authority, beating horses with far more seasoning and experience. A mile and an eighth is new ground for him, but he cuts back from a mile and a quarter, and he hasn't lost any of his starts at a mile or more. He has also been consistent throughout his eight-start career, never missing the board in eight starts, and taking every step up in class in stride. With so many horses who come into the Whitney with so many questions, this seems the perfect place to side with the new face who is rounding into his best and passing every test, and that's PRESERVATIONIST.
My biggest question about THUNDER SNOW is that he hasn't won on dirt anywhere but Meydan. He has five wins on the dirt, and they have all come in Dubai. His trips to America as an older horse have been good: he has moved beyond the bucking bronco show in the 2017 Kentucky Derby with money finishes in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) and the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1) last year, as well as in the Met Mile (G1) this year. But, with that question out of the way? Those were all good starts, and THUNDER SNOW was beaten less than two lengths in each of those. It shows he's a good shipper. It shows he has some versatility as to distance, making him attractive despite the Whitney being his first mile and an eighth try. It shows he handles fast dirt well — he has never been off the board in eleven tries over fast dirt — and he stands to get such a footing again in the Whitney. And, THUNDER SNOW has been tactically versatile. He goes to the front when he needs, stalks when he needs, and can run a good race from basically anywhere. In a race where a stalking style looks like the right one, he should run a good one again.
Bob Baffert shippers mean business, and MCKINZIE is no exception. He comes in off a second-place run in the Met Mile, a race in which he was perhaps the best (behind a bona fide monster in Mitole!), but ran into all kinds of trouble down the lane. He has the class for this, of course. The question about MCKINZIE is whether he is going to stretch out effectively enough against these dyed-in-the-wool two-turn horses. Yes, he has some solid two-turn outings this year. He played possum and outclassed the field in the 1 1/16-mile Alysheba (G2) two back, though these are tougher foes. He was nosed out by Gift Box at a mile and a quarter in the Santa Anita Handicap (G1) two back, though the way VINO ROSSO dispatched with Gift Box next out in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1) suggests that perhaps the west coast handicap division just lacks a true 1 1/4-mile horse, leaving it ripe for the pickings by longer-winded types like VINO ROSSO. (Speaking of? This mile and an eighth may be short for VINO ROSSO, hence why this space leans toward horses other than him in this.) MCKINZIE has the class and the consistency, and perhaps his best two-turn effort was the one three back in which he went toe-to-toe over a mile and an eighths with Battle of Midway. Even so? There are others above who appeal just a bit more over this trip, though MCKINZIE's grit and consistency should get him a piece underneath.
#8 PRESERVATIONIST (3/1)
#4 THUNDER SNOW (3/1)
#6 MCKINZIE (7/5)
Longshot: #3 MONONGAHELA (12/1) has class to prove against these, with his biggest win to date coming last out in the Iselin (G3) at Monmouth, but is in the right form to take a shot. Not only is that last race proof that MONONGAHELA is in good form, but it also showed a different pace dimension; he had been rallying form the clouds in most of his recent races, but showed that he could run a good race from near the lead, something that may prove useful in this with several horses who can sit close, but no one who absolutely needs the lead. That change in tactic came with Jose Lezcano in the saddle; Lezcano returns for the Whitney, and has been winning at a 20% clip with limited opportunities at the Spa this year. MONONGAHELA also has credible mile and an eighth form: though he has yet to win at the distance, he has run second in three of four outings at the distance. If MONONGAHELA brings his best, he should at least be able to hold his own against these leading lights of the handicap division.
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