Thursday, August 02, 2012


SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Nine of the top older horses in the country will convene Saturday afternoon at Saratoga Race Course for the 85th running of the Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney Invitational Handicap, a race which could have far-reaching implications in the division.

In the past 10 years, four Champion Older Males have boasted the Whitney on their resumes, most recently Blame in 2010. Lawyer Ron (2007), Horse of the Year Invasor (2006) and Left Bank (2002) also won the 1 1/8-mile race, and with no older dirt horse yet having seized control on the East Coast, Saturday’s edition could go a long way in sorting out the division.\\

Between them, Hall of Famer Bill Mott and Todd Pletcher will be saddling four starters, with Mott – who has never won the race – sending out 3-1 favorite Ron the Greek and 4-1 co-third choice Flat Out.

The most accomplished runner in the group with two Grade 1 victories this year, the 5-year-old Ron the Greek has been first or second in seven starts since joining Mott’s barn late in 2011. Victorious in the Sunny and Mild overnight stakes and the Queens County at Aqueduct Racetrack in his first two starts for Mott, Ron the Greek went on to annex the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap in March and in his most recent start, won the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs on June 16.

“He’s a huge, gorgeous horse, actually, but a horse you could tell probably wasn’t going to get good until later in his career,” said Mott, who trains the son of Full Mandate for Brous Stable. “I think it’s just a timing issue, as most things are in this business. He’s starting to come around at the right time and just landed in our hands at the right time.”

Flat Out, who last year won the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park, has made one start for Mott, coming off a five-month layoff to finish second to the Pletcher-trained Rule in the Grade 2 Monmouth Cup on July 7.

“I thought it was a perfect race for him,” said Mott of Flat Out, who carried the colors of Preston Stables. “He probably didn’t get to run full out the whole way. He was kind of stuffed early in the race and got out late. He was closing on the winner. It was a useful race. I think it was the type of race you’d like going into a major race like the Whitney. It was enough, but it wasn’t too much.”

Ron the Greek, who drew post position 6 under top weight of 120 pounds, will be ridden by Jose Lezcano, while Flat Out will have Rosie Napravnik aboard from post position 7.

Pletcher, who won the Whitney in 2007 with Lawyer Ron and in 2002 with Left Bank, is represented by Rule, 5-1 on the morning line from the rail, and Caixa Eletronica, who was tabbed at 15-1 from post position 3.

Bred and owned by WinStar Farm, Rule has hit the board in all three starts at the Spa, finishing second in a maiden race in 2009, winning the Birdstone Stakes last year, and finishing third in the 2011 Grade 1 Woodward, in which he earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 106.

Stablemate Caixa Eletronica, who carries the colors of Repole Stable, fared well at the Spa last year with two starter handicap victories, one at six furlongs carrying 127 pounds, and one at the Whitney distance toting 131. He won the Grade 2, $1 million Charles Town Classic this year and most recently was fifth to Pacific Ocean in the Grade 3 James Marvin on opening day.

“We’ll be able to save ground around the first turn,” said Pletcher. “There appears to be plenty of pace in there so hopefully we’ll be able to save ground and work our way into a good position.”

Joe Bravo will be aboard Rule, while Javier Castellano rides Caixa Eletronica.

Second choice at 7-2 on the morning line is Fort Larned, who has a 2-0-1 record in four graded stakes starts this year, including victories in the Grade 3 Skip Away in March at Gulfstream Park and the Grade 3 Cornhusker on June 30. Since trainer Ian Wilkes outfitted him with blinkers late in 2011, the 4-year-old E Dubai colt has been a consistent performer, with the exception of an eighth-place finish behind Ron the Greek in the Stephen Foster.

“I went into the Stephen Foster with a pretty horse; I didn’t have a racehorse,” said Wilkes of Ford Larned, who is owned by Janis Whitham. “So, he didn’t run much that day. The owner was willing to take a shot [two weeks later for the Cornhusker Handicap].”

With Brian Hernandez in the irons, Fort Larned will leave from post position 9.

Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey also is a two-time winner of the Whitney, having taken the 1988 edition with the 4-year-old filly Personal Ensign and the 1989 running with 3-year-old Easy Goer, both of whom were later inducted into the Hall of Fame themselves.

McGaughey will try for a Whitney hat trick with Stuart Janney, III’s Hymn Book, a fast-closing second to Mucho Macho Man last time out in the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park. Winner of the Grade 1 Donn Handicap earlier this year, the 6-year-old gelded son of Arch will be making his Saratoga debut on Saturday with 2012 Hall of Fame inductee John Velazquez aboard from post position 8.

“[The post position] doesn’t matter with him,” said McGaughey of Hymn Book, 4-1 on the morning line. “If he gets away good, he’ll get a position going around that turn. With Johnny riding him, you know you’re going to get the best. If the pace is fast, he’ll be laying back, and if the pace is slow, we’ll be laying up fairly close.”

Completing the field are Casner Racing’s Grade 3 winner Endorsement, 2-1-1 from five starts this year; Canadian import Hunters Bay, who has won three straight at Woodbine, including the Grade 3 Eclipse and the Grade 3 Dominion Day, and the speedy Trickmeister, most recently third in the Grade 2 Suburban.

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