• Wilkes: slow start in Whitney compromised Fort Larned, who could return in Woodward
• McGaughey comments on Orb's Saturday breeze at Fair Hill, experience attending Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony with Bill Parcells
• G2 Adirondack contender Fiftyshadesofgold sparkles in four-furlong bullet breeze
• Stall looking to upset Wise Dan with Lea; West Virginia Derby winner Departing to return to Saratoga this afternoon; Foxwoods King's Bishop possible next start for Central Banker
• McLaughlin regrouping with Whitney sixth-place finisher Alpha
• Qushchi, Kissable top field for Monday's Waya
• West Hills Giant returns in Wednesday's NYSS Cab Calloway
"He looked good this morning and seemed to take the race really well," said Pletcher. "The Woodward is certainly a possibility, and if we decide we need more time, the [Grade 1] Jockey Club Gold Cup [September 28, Belmont Park] is a back-up plan."
The win was important for a number of reasons, said Pletcher, not just to validate Cross Traffic's efforts in the Grade 3 Westchester and the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap, but also for his future at stud. The 4-year-old colt is by Unbridled's Song, who died last week, and out of the stakes-winning mare Stop Traffic, a daughter of Cure the Blues who won the Grade 1 Ballerina at the Spa in 1998.
"I think when you take a tough beat like he did in the Met, one side of you thinks, 'Well, we'll get one of these,'" said Pletcher. "The other side is, when you blow an opportunity, sometimes you never get it again. I was happy for the horse; he ran two winning races at Belmont and lost by five inches. So, it was nice to get a Grade 1 win for him. He's got a real stallion's pedigree, and that's what you have to do, win races like that to take it to the next level."
In the Whitney, Cross Traffic led through an opening quarter-mile in 24.17 seconds, ran the second quarter in 23.11 and the third quarter in 22.96, with the race unfolding just as Pletcher and Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez had hoped.
"That's pretty impressive," said Pletcher. "You don't see that many sub-23's internally, especially in a dirt race.
"He put himself into the race right away," he added. "Every time they turned up the pressure, he was able to turn it up another notch. It was a perfect trip, but it was a self-produced perfect trip."
With the Whitney part of the Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" series, Cross Traffic now has an all-fees-paid entry into the Breeders' Cup Classic at 1 ¼ miles, a distance Pletcher thinks is within the colt's scope.
"What I liked about the race yesterday, it looked like those horses were gaining on him, but then you look at the gallop-out, and he's cleared them again," he said. "It's all a function of pace and he showed yesterday he's ratable, even though he was on the front end. The first quarter showed he has speed, but he's not headstrong."
On Sunday morning, Pletcher sent out dual Grade 1 winner Princess of Sylmar for a half-mile breeze in 49.60 seconds over the main track. The winner of the Coaching Club American Oaks and the Kentucky Oaks could make her next start in the Grade 1 Alabama on August 17.
"Princess of Sylmar worked dynamite this morning," he said. "I'm really, really happy with her. We're hoping she maintains form for a couple more weeks."
* * *
To trainer Ian Wilkes, the defeat of favorite Fort Larned in the Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney Invitational Handicap began at the start, when he broke a step slow and winner Cross Traffic got away quickly and set a comfortable opening quarter-mile in 24.17 seconds.
Jockey Brian Hernandez alertly moved Fort Larned into an outside stalking position around the first turn, but, in Wilkes' mind, the damage was done. He believes it cost Fort Larned, who finished fifth in his attempt to win his second straight Whitney.
"We didn't get away good yesterday; we broke a little slow," Wilkes said. "That wasn't from any tactics or anything. The horse just broke a little slow, and if we break better, it changes the complexion of the race. [Cross Traffic's jockey, Hall of Famer] Johnny [Velazquez] rode a great race. He got away with a 24 first quarter. Let's pay all tribute to what Johnny, [trainer] Todd [Pletcher] and Cross Traffic did. We will have to regroup."
Wilkes said if Fort Larned trains well, he will point him toward the Grade 1 Woodward at 1 1/8 miles on August 31.
"This Grade 1 handicap division is a tough division," Wilkes said. "We could run this race again in three or four weeks and have a different winner. It's a testament to how strong a division it is. It's not easy; if you make mistakes, you're going to get beat."
* * *
Trainer Shug McGaughey on Sunday said Kentucky Derby winner Orb remains on target for the Grade 1, $1 million Travers on August 24. On Saturday, Orb breezed five furlongs in a minute flat on the dirt at the Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland.
"He breezed great at Fair Hill yesterday. Everything is a 'go,'" said McGaughey. "Everything was great a Fair Hill yesterday, and he came out of it good."
McGaughey, however, was not in Maryland on Saturday. Instead, he was one of Bill Parcells' guests at the Pro Football Hall of Fame's induction ceremony in Canton, Ohio. Parcells, who won a pair of Super Bowls as head coach of the New York Giants, is friends with both McGaughey, himself a member of the horse racing Hall of Fame, and trainer Gary Sciacca, who was also at the ceremony.
"It's one of the most exciting and impressive things I've ever gone to," said McGaughey. "To see all of those great players and coaches - not only those who were inducted yesterday - was an absolute thrill."
McGaughey proceeded to list the prominent players and coaches he saw in the crowd.
"John Lynch is sitting here, Larry Brooks is sitting there," said McGaughey. "[Vinny] Testaverde is behind is. Brad Culpepper was one seat over. His wife was sitting next to [my wife] Allison. Sean Payton was right down there. [Bill] Bellichick was wandering around with all of the other great players. Brad Johnson, who was the quarterback in Tampa Bay when they won the Super Bowl. It was an incredible, incredible night."
McGaughey was also impressed with Parcells' speech.
"His speech was every bit right on," said McGaughey. "I'm hoping somewhere along the line I can get a copy of it and put in my car so I can hear it again because it was very impressive. There were a lot of thoughts that had been passed on to him and passed on to other coaches and players. He was very, very thankful for his family. He was very thankful for football. I always knew he was a football guy, but you could tell when he was standing up there the passion he has for the NFL, and even college football. He talked about the sanctuary of the locker room."
What might have impressed McGaughey the most was the level of commitment and passion for football expressed by Parcells and fellow inductees Larry Allen, Cris Carter, Curley Culp, Jonathan Ogden, Dave Robinson, and Warren Sapp.
"I never saw he had a note," said McGaughey. "He just wanted to go up there and talk, and it all came together in a great way. These guys are speaking from their heart, and they're telling people about their lives, maybe even parts they for a long time didn't want people to know. It was hugely, hugely impressive."
* * *
Fiftyshadesofgold, who will make her graded stakes debut in the Grade 2 Adirondack on August 11, breezed four furlongs in 46.32 seconds on Sunday, the fastest of 66 moves at the distance.
A dominant winner of both a Lone Star Park maiden race and the Debutante Stakes at Churchill Downs, Fiftyshadesofgold impressed trainer Bret Calhoun with the workout, her final prior to the 6 ½-furlong Adirondack for 2-year-old fillies.
"She worked great," said Calhoun. "It was a little quicker than I would have liked, but it was visually impressive. She did it easily and she never took a deep breath afterward."
After breaking her maiden on May 24, Fiftyshadesofgold battled for the early lead in the Debutante on June 22, took over in upper stretch, and drew off to win by eight.
"She's very fast," said Calhoun. "What excites me the most is how she might be able to carry her speed. She has a high cruising speed and has a good mind. I was surprised she was that close to a hot pace in the Debutante, but she was able to put them away. I think everybody dreams of having a horse like that."
* * *
He already upset one of the most popular and successful horses in recent memory when Blame beat Zenyatta, and next weekend trainer Al Stall will take on another one in reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan.
Stall will send out Lea to challenge the multiple Eclipse Award winner in the Grade 2, $500,000 Fourstardave Handicap on August 10. Lea closed to finish second to Wise Dan, beaten two lengths, in the Grade 2 Firecracker Handicap on June 29 at Churchill Downs.
"We did it last time," Stall said of facing Wise Dan. "If we were dumb enough to do it last time, we're dumb enough to do it again. We just have a schedule we're trying to stick with."
Blame won the inaugural running of the Curlin Stakes at Saratoga in 2009 and went on to earn three Grade 1 victories, none more dramatic than his head triumph in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic over Zenyatta, the only loss of her 20-race career.
"Obviously, we knew who Zenyatta was, but you just worry about your horse," Stall said. "You can't be distracted by what they're doing every five minutes. You just kind of do your thing and what happens on the track happens. The horse comes first. You make sure everything's good and just kind of enjoy it."
On Saturday, Stall enjoyed an impressive performance by his Departing, who rolled to an 8 ¾-length victory in the Grade 2 West Virginia Derby. The 3-year-old War Front colt was scheduled to arrive back in Saratoga early Sunday afternoon.
Departing has been stabled with Stall in Saratoga since mid-July and had three solid works over the track preparing for his first start since finishing sixth in the May 17 Preakness.
"He's sure come our way lately," Stall said. "He had trained really well going into it, and he fired."
Stall has recent maiden winner Twang nominated to the Grade 2, $200,000 Saratoga Special on August 11, and plans to nominate Central Banker to the Grade 1, $500,000 Foxwoods King's Bishop on August 24.
Central Banker returned from an eight-month layoff to win the $100,000 Smirnoff Sorbet Quick Call, a 5 ½-furlong turf sprint, by 3 ¾ lengths on July 25. The King's Bishop is contested at seven furlongs on dirt.
"He came out of the race fine, and he'll work midweek," Stall said of Central Banker. "We'll just play it by ear, but he's in good shape. We just wanted to get him back in the game. He had trained great, but you just never know. He'd been off so long. Maybe coming from turf and going over to dirt might eliminate the bounce, so to speak. Stretching him from 5 ½ to seven furlongs might work out for him also."
* * *
Godolphin Racing's Alpha emerged from his sixth-place finish in Saturday's Whitney in good order but left trainer Kiaran McLaughlin uncertain where the 4-year-old Bernardini colt would start next.
"He came out of the race great; it was just too tough a field," McLaughlin said. "We're not sure what we're going to do from here, but he's fine. He's in good shape."
The Whitney marked the first career loss at Saratoga for Alpha, who broke his maiden here in 2011 and swept the Grade 2 Jim Dandy and Grade 1 Travers last summer, winning the latter in a dead heat with Golden Ticket.
Under Joel Rosario, Alpha raced near the back of the eight-horse field and was strung out three wide on both turns in the Whitney, never threatening at any point. He finished seven lengths behind the front-running winner, Cross Traffic, who led through fractions of 24.17 and 47.28 seconds.
"We were expecting a much faster first quarter and half," McLaughlin said. "We were well back, and it's hard to make up ground on these types of horses going 24 and 47. But, we knew we were in tough to start with."
Alpha has failed to hit the board in six starts since the Travers, including a pair of stakes in Dubai to start this year. His best finish came in his pre-Whitney start, running fourth in the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap on July 6 at Belmont Park.
"We just have to regroup and figure out what we're going to do," McLaughlin said.
* * *
Qushchi and Kissable, third and fourth, respectively, in the Grade 3 Bewitch last time out, head a field of seven fillies and mares going 1 ½ miles on the turf in Monday's $100,000 Waya.
A 5-year-old British-bred daughter of Encosta de Lago trained by H. Graham Motion, Qushchi drew the rail under Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado and will carry 116 pounds. At 2-1 on the morning line, she will be seeking her first win this year after two seconds and two thirds in four starts.
Kissable, the defending Waya champion and the 5-2 second choice on the morning line, drew alongside in post position 2 with Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez named to ride by trainer Roger Attfield. The Bewitch was the 5-year-old Danehill Dancer mare's first start of 2013; in addition to her Waya victory last year, she also was third in the Grade 3 Glens Falls at the Spa.
Expected to attract support as well is last year's Grade 2 New York winner, Mystical Star, 4-1 on the morning line from post position 6 for trainer Christophe Clement. She is joined by stablemate Team, who drew the outside post 7 and is 4-1 on the morning line.
Rounding out the field are Angel Terrace (12-1), Anjaz (6-1), and Beijoca (8-1). Roman Invader was entered and will run only if the race comes off the turf.
* * *
Multiple stakes winner West Hills Giant, most recently third in the New York Derby at Finger Lakes, returns to the Spa Wednesday as the 7-5 morning-line favorite for the Cab Calloway division of the New York Stallion Series. The 3-year-old Frost Giant colt, winner of the NYSS Spectacular Bid on June 30 at Belmont Park and the 2012 New York Breeders' Futurity at Finger Lakes, will leave from post position 2 under Hall of Fame jockey Edgar Prado.
Seven others will line up for the one-mile race for 3-year-olds on the inner turf, including Old Pal of Mine (3-1), who ships in from Louisiana Downs off a third in an optional claimer, and Captain Gaughen (4-1), second to West Hills Giant in the NYSS Spectacular Bid on June 30 at Belmont Park.
Rounding out the field are Orino, Madam I'm Adam, Sun Storm, Belief System, and Deferred Asset. Escapefromreality and Jesses Giant Dunk were entered main track only.