Friday, August 02, 2013
The Whitney Stands Alone
Because a year in horse racing is longer than the unemployment line, it’s hard, at least for me, to take it seriously for 12 months a year. It’s the only sport in the land with no let up. I’d say from March to June is one period worth the energy. Then August through October. It feels relevant for seven months of the year. It is what it is.
The older division of horses, without a name like Zenyatta or [Fill In Derby Winner Who Actually Stayed In Trainer Past His Three-Year-Old Year], doesn’t have much electricity—until now.
The wildly popular Grade 1 $750,000 Whitney Invitational has arrived and I’d argue it’s the biggest race of the meet, bigger than the Travers. Saratoga loves the Whitney, Marylou Whitney loves the Whitney. Shoot, I love the Whitney. I bet the Queen of England loves the Whitney.
In many ways, the older division of horses doesn’t become fully engaged until the Whitney, until the First Saturday in August. Prior to the Whitney, what are the big races for older horses? The Donn (February), the Big Cap (March), the Stephen Foster (June), the Dubai World Cup (March), and the Met Mile (May).
There are plenty of others, but they don’t move the meter. Even those five above do nothing to move the meter. With the exception of the Dubai World Cup, they tend to be lousy betting races. There’s always plenty of empty posts in the gate. These races for older horses tend to be icing on poorly baked cake. But when the Whitney arrives, it’s like playoff time. Up until August it feels like the NHL and NBA regular seasons. Long, too long, with bouts of fire works. It’s at this point that owners, jockeys, and trainers can sniff the Breeders’ Cup.
Going back over the past 10 Whitneys, here’s the winners:
2003: Medaglia d’Oro
2004: Roses in May
2007: Lawyer Ron
2012: Fort Larned
At first my approach to this column was to say how insignificant the Whitney is in the greater picture given how wildly popular it is. Then I started watching replays and saw that 33 percent of this list went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic (Invasor, Blame, Fort Larned). But only one was named Horse of the Year, that being Invasor.
So, perhaps it is true that, in the greater picture, it isn’t terribly significant, but like the Travers, it stands alone. When you win the Whitney, you’ve won the Whitney. Just like when you win the Travers, you’ve won the Travers. Look back at the history of that race and tell me its significance. Alpha and Golden Ticket won a year ago. And where are they?
Well, Alpha (Post 6, 10-1), for one, runs in this year’s renewal of the Whitney, which is truly a stunning and charismatic field of older males.
“He loves it here [at Saratoga ]. He’s training great, but we found a tough field to run against. We hope the track is in our favor. He really looks great. He didn’t run great [in Dubai ], but he didn’t run great in his last two for us. They did a good job, he looks fabulous, he couldn’t be doing any better – it’s just a tough race.”
There’s two parts to this race worth paying attention to: the start and the finish. Posts 2, 3, and 4 harbor the speed horses in the race. Post 2 is Mucho Macho Man, Post 3 is defending champion Fort Larned, and Post 4 goes to Met Mile runner up Cross Traffic. How that part of the race shakes out will determine how the finish will set up.
Ron the Greek, who is my winner of this race (which means you should bet against him. My endorsement of a horse is the Kiss of [Gambling] Death. It’s really quite amazing.), will be doing his running late, along with Fast Falcon.
Though the speed up front is classy speed, it’s still three-pronged. And though, when it’s all said and done after the Breeders’ Cup, Fort Larned will likely be the Horse of the Year and the one holding all the purple flowers, this spot and this post draw may be the prime spot to bet against him.
“It’s just important to get out of the gates and have a good, clean break,” said Ian Wilkes, Fort Larned’s trainer. “That’s probably the key to it all.”
The winner of the Whitney is the winner of the Whitney, not to be diminished, not to be lauded, just a great movie with no pretense of sequel.
Finishing Order brought to you by the Carryover
1. Ron the Greek
2. Mucho Macho Man
3. Fort Larned