The 86th running of the Whitney Invitational Handicap takes center stage this Saturday Aug. 3rd over the Saratoga Race Track. The stage is set and the defending champion of the race, Fort Larned, looks poised for a repeat win.
The morning line 7-5 favorite is looking to become the first horse since Discovery in the 1930s to repeat as a winner in the race. Discovery won it three consecutive years from 1934-36. The race back then was run at 10 furlongs, two more than the nine furlongs that its been run since 1955.
Fort Larned is coming off a big front-running win in the Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) on Jun. 15 at Churchill Downs, for what he earned him a whooping 115 Beyer Figure. He went for the lead from the start and zipped through legitimate fractions, winning wire-to-wire unchallenged.
The win was a big move forward from his disappointing effort in the Oaklawn Handicap (G2) on Apr. 13 when he stalked the pace but failed to fire finishing fifth to Cyber Secret 10.5 lengths behind.
It will be his fourth start of the year after winning the Breeders' Cup Classic last year. Trainer Ian Wilked brings regular jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. back to ride him carrying the race's top weight of 122 lbs. starting from post three.
Mucho Macho Man finished second to Fort Larned in the BC Classic and could exact some sweet revenge on Saturday. The five-year-old son of Macho Uno and trained by Kathy Ritvo, will be making just his third start of the year, and could be sitting on a big race.
His two starts this years have been sub-par compared to the high level efforts last year. But both races have been over wet tracks that he doesn't like.
Last year, he ran a big race in the Woodward Stakes (G1) over the Saratoga track, earning a 105 Beyer Figure. If he gets a fast track Saturday, expect a big race from him. Edgar Prado rode him in his last start in the Criminal Type Stakes, and will ride again carrying 119 lbs. from post two.
One horse that, contrary to Mucho Macho Man, hopes his connections do the rain dance and gets a sloppy track on Saturday is Ron The Greek. The six-year-old son of Full Mandate just loves the slop and will be doing his best running late.
He was the defeated favorite last year when Fort Larned won the Whitney. Even if he doesn't get a wet track, he could benefit from a fast pace upfront, which he will certainly get.
Regular rider Jose Lezcano gets the return mount, and will get benefit getting a four pound advantage from Fort Larned. He will start from post five.
Who will win the Whitney Handicap?
The wild card in the race will be morning line second favorite Cross Traffic. The fact that he comes by the very successful trainer/jockey combo of Todd Pletcher and Hall of Famer John Velazquez is worthy of notice on any race.
But more so is the facts that this will be just the fifth career start—all this year—for the four-year-old son of Unbridled's Song and has never run beyond a mile. He figures to set the pace here, and the big question is whether he can stretch that speed three more furlongs.
He's shown tremendous ability and has the pedigree to get the distance. If Johnny V somewhat can get him through a 'relaxed' half-mile, he could take them all-the-way. He will carry 117 pounds from post four.
Successful Dan, the half-brother to horse of the year Wise Dan, was soundly beaten 15 lengths by Fort Larned in the Stephen Foster (G1). He earned a Beyer Figure of 90, his lowest since August 2010.
The son of Successful Appeal, trained by Charles LoPresti, is a monster going wire-to-wire. He won't get that chance here, but gets a four-pound advantage from Fort Larned. Regular rider Julien Leparoux will be aboard from the rail post and could benefit from a repeat effort from last year's Alysheba (G2) where he defeated Fort Larned and Mucho Macho Man.
Last year's Travers Stakes (G1) co-winner, Alpha, will be making his second start in the U.S. since returning from Dubai. His first was at the Suburban Handicap (G2) on Jul. 6 and he finished fourth to Flat Out beaten seven lengths.
That race should serve him as a good prep for this Saturday. The nation's leading rider, Joel Rosario takes over the reins and will be aboard with 115 lbs. from post six, but will need a huge move forward to contend here.
Fast Falcon defeated Alpha in the Suburban (G2) by almost five lengths and earned a respectable 103 Beyer Figure. The race looks like a good setup for a closer like him and Ron The Greek, but he still needs to prove he can win, especially a big race.
Nick Zito trains this son of Awesome Again that has just one career win in 15 starts. That was 12 races ago and that is a big flag on his resume. Junior Alvarado rode him to a close third place finish in last year's Travers (G1) over the Saratoga track. He returns to ride with just 114 lbs. and will break from the outside post, No. 8.
The Phillip Gleaves trained Csaba completes the field. After he won his fourth consecutive race on Jan. 13 in the Hal's Hope (G3) at Gulfstream, he was regarded as a possible handicap contender for the year.
He had earned three triple-digit Beyer Figures and a 98, but then disappointed in his first G1 try when finishing fifth, beaten nine lengths in the Donn Handicap (G1). He was given a couple of months off and returned with a winning effort in the Memorial Handicap at Calder Race Course on May 25, but over inferior opposition.
His then ran in the Salvator Mile (G3) at Monmouth on Jul. 6 and could only muster a mild rally after an inside trip. If he is to contend, he will have to return to the form he showed at the beginning of the year.
Jockey Luis Saez will return to the reins after being off the last two races. He will carry 114 lbs. from post seven.
The Whitney Invitational Handicap (G1) is part of the Breeders' Cup 'Win and You're In' Challenge Series. The winner of the race gets an automatic spot on the Breeders' Cup Classic in Nov. 2 at Santa Anita.
The race will be the 10th of a 12-race program on Saturday at Saratoga. It will be televised as part of NBC's 'Summer at Saratoga' broadcast that starts at 5:00 p.m. ET.
Whitney Invitational Handicap (Grade 1)
Saratoga Race Track
Distance: 9.0 Furlongs on Dirt
Post Time: 10th race at 5:45 p.m. ET
|1||Successful Dan||C. Lopresti/J.R. Leparoux||12-1|
|2||Mucho Macho Man||K. Ritvo/E.S. Prado||6-1|
|3||Fort Larned||I.R. Wilkes/B.J. Hernandez Jr||7-5|
|4||Cross Traffic||T.A. Pletcher/J.R. Velazquez||5-2|
|5||Ron The Greek||W.I. Mott/J. Lezcano||6-1|
|6||Alpha||K.P. McLaughlin/J. Rosario||10-1|
|7||Csaba||P.A. Gleaves/L. Saez||20-1|
|8||Fast Falcon||N.P. Zito/J. Alvarado||15-1|
Morning Line odds by drf.com