2016 Whitney Day Stakes Preview

This weekend’s Saturday card at the Spa features five stakes, including a pair of Grade I stakes.  The Whitney, showcasing the handicap division, drew a small but select field including sensational Met Mile winner Frosted and five other foes vying to dethrone him as the king of the east-coast handicap division mountain.  The other top-level contest, the Test, features sophomore filly sprinters.  Mother Goose (GI) winner Off the Tracks cuts back to a sprint, and seven others line up against her to pursue their first Grade I victory.

A trio of turf stakes rounds out the card.  Long-winded turf mares go a mile and a half in the Waya (GIII), whose field of ten includes 2016 Modesty Handicap (GIII) second-place finisher Al’s Gal.  The nine-horse field in the Lure features another who has put in a sparkling performance at Arlington: Shining Copper, third in last year’s Arlington Million (GI).  The card concludes with the De la Rose Stakes, which drew a contentious field of twelve turf mile fillies.

At publish time, the Lure was scheduled to run on the Mellon turf, with the rail at 18 feet.  The Waya and the De la Rose were scheduled for the inner turf, with the rail at zero feet.

As with all racing at Saratoga, Belmont, and Aqueduct, audio of these races is streamed on the NYRA website, and HD video is available to anyone with a free NYRA account.  Fox Sports 2 will air a portion of the Saratoga card, including all four graded races; their broadcast will run from 4:00-6:30pm EDT.  Horse Racing Radio Network will also provide audio coverage of all four graded stakes on Saturday’s card at the Spa.  Their broadcast runs from 5:30-6:30pm EDT, and is available both on their website and on Sirius 93.

Authors of each preview are denoted with initials at the end, PM for Paul Mazur and NN for Nicolle Neulist.  Morning lines for all races except the Whitney were not available at original publish time.  All races are scheduled for Saturday August 6.

Updated August 4 to include morning lines.  Updated August 6 to account for scratches.

Race 7: Fasig-Tipton Lure S., four-year-olds and up, non-winners of a graded stakes in 2016, one and one sixteenth miles on the Mellon turf, post time 4:25pm CST

By Northern Dancer out of Alydar mare Endear, Lure first set foot on the racetrack in 1991 and was part of one of the more thrilling renewals of the Gotham in 1992 where he and Devil His Due both hooked up on the turn and engaged in a ding-dong battle that saw a dead heat at race’s conclusion.  Lure later found his calling on the grass and as a three-year-old took the Breeders’ Cup Mile in 1992 at Gulfstream.  His 1993 campaign ended the same was as his 1992: a BC Mile win.  Along the way, he took down races like the Turf Classic, the Dixie, the Daryl’s Joy (now the Fourstardave), and the Kelso (when on turf). In 1994 he put a G1 win in the Ceasars International at Atlantic City (now the United Nations at Monmouth) and Bernard Baruch at the Spa in his satchel.  Trained through his career by Shug McGaughey and owned by Claiborne Farm, he was inducted into Racing’s Hall of Fame in 2013.

Lure, namesake of this race, wins his second straight Breeders’ Cup Mile in 1993.

This race could project a two-speed number, given the one-way speed of SHINING COOPER and the up-close tactics SOLEMN TRIBUTE.  Maybe FULL MAST gets the trip he needs.  He didn’t get it last time north of the border in the G2-CDN King Edward going a one-turn mile at Woodbine.  FULL MAST goes two turns in this spot, and a two turn mile should hit FULL MAST – by Mizzen Mast out of a Danzig mare – between the bridle.  Quality humans are behing this production, rider Joel Rosario, trainer Bill Mott.  Third off the layoff is also in play.  He sat off the quick splits last time  and those honest splits should materialize once again.  SHINING COPPER may be one-way speed and that backfired badly when taken off the pace last time out in the G1 Makers’ 46.  Off the lay, he should be keen and on the front end.  SOLEMN TRIBUTE is a speed type too, but he doesn’t need the lead the way the rail-drawn horse does.  SOLEMN TRIBUTE ran evenly last time with a pressing trip in Canada.  Perhaps there’s only an inherit gear, but he’s likely either going to make SHINING COPPER contest the pace or get first run on the leaders.  Should the Saratoga turf play kindly to speed, this is a runner worth considering.  On a fair course, he makes sense with an inside-outside pressing trip flanking the one-way speed.  ECTOT makes his first appeareance in North America in this race and his first appearance on a race track since last fall.  There’s maintenance works to suggest he’s not coming in to this race completely unprepared.  A Group One winner at two and a group Two winner at three, he chased the best of the best in earlier years: Adelaide, Karakontie, Flintshire.  It’s possible he’s gone wrong or is a shell of that form, but he’s not being placed into a graded stakes against Flintshire – but a restricted stakes. First lasix for this runner, too.

Selections:

#7 FULL MAST (5/2)

#4 SOLEMN TRIBUTE (10/1)

#6 ECTOT (5/1)

Longshot: Chad Brown and NYRA turf stakes go together like Homer Simpson and eating donuts, so it’s no shock he put three in the entry box for this restricted stake.  After scratches, two remain. We’ll take #8 OFFERING PLAN (8/1), who gets the riding services of Javier Castellano and cleared an N2X allowance two back at Belmont.  Stepped up to the G3 Poker last out, he ran evenly in that event.  Unseen since, he has a win over the Mellon at two and over the inner at three at Saratoga.  As a swing-wide closing type, he’ll need his share of racing luck but drawing in post eight and having targets should at least ease the burden.   –PM

Race 8: Test S. (GI), three-year-old fillies, seven furlongs on the dirt, post time 5:02pm EDT

First run in 1922 at ten panels, the Test Stakes was shelved for three years then came back at the seven furlong distance it remains today.  At times run in split divisions (common in the 1960s and 1970s), the race has a half million dollars in purse funds.  Its early August timing, seven furlong distance and the bragging rights of a Saratoga G1 make this race a crossroads event.  Sprinters and routers have aced the Test throughout history.  From the sprint category comes Ta Wee (1969) and two Breeders’ Cup sprint winners: Very Subtle (1987) and Safely Kept (1989) – all three who took down divisional honors while beating males.  From the route category are  Hall of Famers like Gamely (1967), Desert Vixen (1973), Lady’s Secret (1985), and Go For Wand (1990).

Lady’s Secret takes down the 1985 Test Stakes – a year before her Horse of the Year campaign at four.

This space has been waiting for the Test and OFF THE TRACKS for a while, and thinking that OFF THE TRACKS fits this race like hand to glove.  Even though she’s a #curlinbabies, her maternal side suggests one turn is her thing, and she showed she can handle elongated sprints fine when blitzing to the lead and then going from gate to the wire last out in the G1 Mother Goose at a one-turn eight and a half panels.  Seven furlongs should hit this runner between the eyes as Jose Ortiz takes the call for Todd Pletcher.  While she can go to the lead if everyone flinches, she doesn’t need it as she proved in the G1 Acorn two back at a one-turn mile.  Third off the layoff is in play as well.  While it’s possible she bounces like a ping-pong ball off the Mother Goose, this observer – the one that doesn’t meticulously note #Curlinbabies running in nickel claimers – likes OFF THE TRACKS as she’s got the tactical style for seven, likes one turn, and doesn’t need the lead.  OFF THE TRACKS also won a frosh filly graded stakes last year at Saratoga, giving her another plus point through course affinity.  Seven furlongs is a tricky distance, but sometimes nine-furlong form is a good clue to finding those that like seven.  The nine of the G2 Gazelle was fine three back for LEWIS BAY but she started to get weary in the Kentucky Oaks’s nine furlongs.  A 4: 3-0-1 record at nine should transfer to the elongated nature of seven panels.  LEWIS BAY had a yucky break last out in the G1 Mother Goose and still reported home second.  She’ll go second off the layoff and if she can run back to her early-season form she makes sense.  Worth noting she graduated at seven-eighths last fall.  KINSLEY KISSES turns back to a sprint in the G1 Test.  After a third in the G3 Delaware Oaks and a third in the G2 Black-Eyed Susan two back, she returns to seven-eighths.  That’s notable as she won first out going seven panels, won her second career start going seven panels, and hit the board a third time going seven panels.  LIGHTSTREAM has a nice seven panel record too, but her speed figures are going the wrong way.  KINSLEY KISSES is more recommended.  Also,  she’ll be a square price based on the being the “B” Pletcher trainee, the primary one being OFF THE TRACKS.

Selections:

#7 OFF THE TRACKS (8/5)

#6 LEWIS BAY (9/2)

#8 KINSLEY KISSES (15/1)

Longshot: Can’t pull the trigger on ONE TRUE KISS (who looks overmatched) or PAOLA QUEEN (speed that might not see the front), who have longer morning line odds than KINSLEY KISSES. — PM

Race 9: Fasig-Tipton Waya S. (GIII), three-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, one and one half miles on the Inner turf, post time 5:40pm EDT

The Waya Stakes is named after 1979 Champion Older Mare Waya, a French-bred daughter of Faraway Son who won multiple graded and group-level stakes in both France and the United States.  In 1977, at age three, she won the Prix de Royaumont (GIII – FR) at Chantilly and the Prix de l’Opera (GII – FR) at Longchamp.  She shipped to the United States in the summer of the next year and won four stakes races, including the Man O’War (GI) against males at Belmont.  The next year she was a force on both turf and dirt.  She won the 1979 Top Flight Handicap (GI) in her first dirt start, and won the Beldame (GI) later that year.

The Waya Stakes began as a 1 3/8 mile turf race for fillies and mares in 1993.  It was not run in 1995, but returned at 1 5/8 miles in 1996.  On hiatus again until 2003, it returned at its current 1 1/2 mile distance, and has been run each year since.  It first earned a grade for its 2015 running, and maintains that Grade III rating now.  To date, the only two-time winner of the Waya was the aptly-named Saratoga Source (1993-1994), winner of the first two runnings.

In these turf routes at Saratoga, getting on the front end and being left to walk the dog can be dangerous.  Here, PHOTO CALL has a strong chance to steal the Waya, much like Goldy Espony was left to do in last year’s rendition..  She is the only one in the field who loves being on the early lead, and she gets a switch to a strong front-end jockey in Kendrick Carmouche.  PHOTO CALL also comes to this in the right part of her form cycle.  She is third off the lay, showed a step forward between her first and second races back, and her back form suggests she has even more to come back into today.  Trainer Todd Pletcher’s 25% win rate with runners third off the lay further bolsters the idea that she will hit her sweet spot here.

It’s hardly a Saratoga turf race without a Chad Brown horse, and Brown has a pair of mares here in GUAPAZA and BALL DANCING.  However, both have serious questions.  Can GUAPAZA get all the way here against this class at a relatively short price?  Can BALL DANCING take a step forward from her last out?  Is she still the mare she was?  Can she get a mile and a half?  For better or worse, these are not appealing gambles.  For better or worst, this space is taking a stand against both of Brown’s horses in the Waya.

But, one thing we do know is that 23% Saratoga rider Irad Ortiz does not take the call on either of Brown’s horses.  Instead, he gets the leg up on DESIREE CLARY, one of two who trainer Christophe Clement saddles here.  This German-bred filly makes her second US start.  But, her American debut on July 8 saw her winning a one and three eighths mile turf allowance at Belmont by a nose.  Even though she came from near the back of the pack in that effort, she only sat a few lengths off.  Should the likes of GUAPAZA or AL’S GAL push PHOTO CALL along, a step forward second off the lay could have DESIREE CLARY mowing everyone down late.

SUFFUSED still must prove she belongs against the class of horses she faces here.  However, her last-out effort in the Belmont Coronation Stakes was impressive.  This race is significantly shorter, a mile and a half as compared to the mile and fifteen sixteenths of her last effort.  But, she has form as short as a mile and a quarter across the pond.  And, her connections are top-notch.  Trainer Bill Mott is strong off these mid-length layoffs, a good sign since she has not raced since June 9.  And, she keeps proven Spa pilot Jose Ortiz from that last-out win.  SUFFUSED will need to drift up a bit from her morning line to be particularly attractive here, but if she can run back to her last race here, she will be in contention.

Selections:

#1 PHOTO CALL (8/1)

#10 DESIREE CLARY (8/1)

#3 SUFFUSED (7/2)

Longshot: The longshot writer is mourning the scratch of AL’S GAL (who has pre-entered for the Beverly D.), then hoping the 8/1 on PHOTO CALL holds up. — NN

Race 10: Whitney S. (GI), three-year-olds and up, one and one eighth miles on the dirt, post time 6:18pm EDT

The handicap division has no bigger day 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.  Her three-year-old colt Bird Song, an Unbridled’s Song son of her Kentucky Oaks winner Bird Town, won an allowance at the Spa on July 24.

The race run in the Whitneys’ name was inaugurated in 1933.  This year, the race is a Win And You’re In race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.  To date, four horses who have won the Whitney have taken the Breeders’ Cup Classic later that year: Fort Larned (2012), Blame (2010), Invasor (2006), and Awesome Again (1998).


Heavily favoured Secretariat did not win this race. H. Allen Jerkens trainee Onion got the lead, dug in, and defeated him in the 1973 Whitney. His son, Jimmy Jerkens, saddles Effinex in this year’s edition.

This space has written about plenty of six-horse races that cry out for the use of the ALL button.  Typically, they are $5,000 beaten claiming races at Hawthorne.  This time, it’s a $1,250,000 Grade I at the Spa.

Sure, FROSTED could win this.  If he can repeat his Met Mile going a mile and a sixteenth at Saratoga, Everyone else is fighting for second barring a monster effort.  But, repeating such a huge effort is a big “IF”, and it is hardly an appetizing IF to take at odds-on against a short field of quality horses.  To say FROSTED is a complete toss would be absurd, of course.  He has never finished out of the exacta in four tries at nine panels, and has two seconds and a third in his three tries at the Spa.  You could hit the ALL button, and have it chalk out with FROSTED.  But, for more affirmative betting, there are much better options.

Last out, COMFORT won a race named after State Dinner.  State Dinner won the Whitney in 1980, and COMFORT has a good chance to follow in his footsteps.  He is coming into this race in the right form to try this level of company.  The four-year-old colt makes his third start of the year for trainer Todd Pletcher, who wins a quarter of the time in that circumstance.  He took a reasonable step forward form his first start back to his second, and may find more in the tank third off.  On pace, COMFORT can sit relatively close, and has shown a good stretch kick.  Nine furlongs will be his longest trip yet, but as he is out of an A. P. Indy mare and already well proven at eight and a half, he merits a shot.  Finally, he keeps rider John Velazquez in the irons from his last two outings.  COMFORT is an improving horse for well-proven Saratoga connections, and he could wake up for odds in a wide open race.

NOBLE BIRD may not be the most consistent horse on the block.  His best would win this; his worst would have him lagging in a few dozen lengths back.  Sometimes he comes focused on the task.  Others, he runs around rank.  A price is necessary on NOBLE BIRD because you never know which one will show up.  But, if NOBLE BIRD keeps his head together, he could have a tactical advantage over the rest of this field.  No one here needs to come rolling from the clouds, but NOBLE BIRD is the only one who has shown a real affinity for the front.  Julien Leparoux has navigated this horse on the front end before.  He fired a clunker in the Whitney last year, but has good enough form in his other two starts at a mile and an eighth (including a win in the 2015 Grade I Foster) to suggest the distance suits.    If the good NOBLE BIRD shows up, he could take this race gate to wire.

Among the rest, it’s EFFINEX who gets the nod.  EL KABEIR will be the longest price on the board, and ran a fine nine furlongs in the Wood last year — but it would be a huge step forward for him to win here.  UPSTART has two-year-old form at the Spa, and does get the red-hot Irad Ortiz aboard.  But, he has been more an undersides type at nine furlongs.  EFFINEX has three wins in seven tries at a mile and an eighth.  He has tactical versatility, the ability to press the pace or rally from midpack.  Rider Mike Smith comes to take the call, and Smith has ridden EFFINEX both ways.  Furthermore, trainer Jimmy Jerkens has had a strong start to the Saratoga meet, and wins at 27% (with a cracking +$2.95 ROI) with runners third off a lay.  Like NOBLE BIRD, EFFINEX is not the most consistent horse on the planet.  But should he bring his best, he can win this, and at a slightly inflated price thanks to FROSTED.

Selections:

#2 COMFORT (8/1)

#5 NOBLE BIRD (10/1)

#6 EFFINEX (7/2)

Longshot: The longshot writer is resting up for Arlington Million week. — NN

Race 11: Fasig-Tipton De la Rose S., four-year-olds and up, fillies and mares, non-winners of a graded stakes in 2016, one mile on the Inner turf, post time 6:54pm EDT

Like the Lure, the De La Rose carries a purse of $100,000 and a clause in its conditions that only non-winners of a graded sweepstakes in the current calendar year can pass through the entry box.  And like the Lure, it honors a turf star of yesteryear. By Nijinsky II out of Round Table mare Rosetta Stone, De La Rose won the Diana Handicap in her sophomore season of 1981 and scored wins in the Long Branch (when on turf) and the Saranac – both against males – while a three-year-old.  Additionally at three, her fall also included wins in the E. P. Taylor Stakes at Woodbine and the G1 Hollywood Derby against males.  Such a campaign gave her Eclipse hardware for Female Grass Horse in 1981.  The Woody Stephens trainee was honored with a stakes in her name in 2004. Fast Cookie (2004, contested in divisions) – the dam of  Frosted (he’s in the Whitney) – is among the heroines of the De La Rose.

Chasing around the likes of Usherette and Very Special in overseas races means you’re knocking heads with the better distance female grass types overseas.  EXCILLY wasn’t that far behind in some prior starts, and she gets first lasix here in the De la Rose.  A Julien Leparoux/Thomas Descombe production, she did better on the more firm course of Meydan as opposed to the softer course of Royal Ascot or her last start in Germany.  By that reason we may have a runner crying out for good or firm ground.  EXCILLY also has the class lines, was second in a Group 2 at Meydan during the Carnival, and didn’t do that badly overseas with nine money finishes in fourteen spots, though the last two can be excused to softer ground that might not be her thing.  As she’s trained by Not Chad Brown and Leparoux is in a bit of a Saratoga funk – the price should be fair on this four-year-old import.  The talking horse of this race is trained by Chad Brown, and that’s ZINDAYA.  She won the Intercontinental Stakes last time out going seven panels and two starts back tangled with Lady Shipman – a recent G3 winner up in Canada.  While ZINDAYA makes sense if she runs back to her effort during Belmont Stakes week, there are two caution flags to consider: double digit posts on the Inner Turf are never easy to work out trips from (even in the zero rail), and her races at a mile haven’t been as good as races at more elongated sprints.  She’s only been two turns once before, a third nearly two years ago at three.  ZINDAYA is a contender, but she’s one to use defensively given her argument isn’t iron clad. ROCA ROJO does what ZINDAYA is doing: going from seven furlongs to a two-turn mile.  ROCA ROJO won at seven panels last time.  Like ROCA ROJO, she’s trained by Chad Brown.  But she doesn’t have the class lines of ZINDAYA of tangling with Lady Shipman or Lexie Lou – but she stretches out too.  She’s got a perfect three-for-three record and John Velazquez to ride.  She’s got a much more favorable post than ZINDAYA, too.

#7 EXCILLY (12/1)

#10 ZINDAYA (3/1)

#1 ROCA ROJO (4/1)

Longshot: The Longshot Writer was going to use EXCILLY, but the main selector was on that from day one.  — PM

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