Cross Traffic went wire-to-wire under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez to upset the field in the 86th running of the $750,000 Whitney Invitational Handicap (G1) on Saturday at the Saratoga Race Track in New York. Trained by Todd Pletcher, he was sent off as the far 7-2 second betting choice behind the big favorite Fort Larned at 6-5.
As the gate opened, Velazquez wasted no time in sending Cross Traffic to the lead, but as he headed into the clubhouse turn, he found stubborn opposition from Mucho Macho Man (8-1), who was eager early on the rail under Edgar Prado.
Jockey Brian Hernandez Jr. moved Fort Larned from his three slot to the outside of Cross Traffic in third, just a head behind Mucho Macho Man. Csaba (42-1) was placed fourth, five lengths behind the leading trio, and was followed to the clubhouse turn by Ron The Greek, Alpha and Successful Dan in that order, with Fast Falcon as the trailer.
The first fractional was an "easy" 24.17, considering the lightning fractions that Cross Traffic had been used to in his four previous races. It was the first time he was going around two turns, and this allowed Velazquez to get him to make that important first turn.
As the horses entered the back stretch, Fort Larned was second to Cross Traffic at just a length behind, and Mucho Macho Man was taken to the clear on the outside in third place. Csaba still led the trailing pack five lengths behind the leader.
The half-mile went in 47.28, as the pace quickened with Fort Larned shadowing Cross Traffic but not letting him take a breather in front.
As they rounded the far turn, Hernandez Jr. started to work on Fort Larned, and Prado did the same on Mucho Macho Man, while Cross Traffic continued to roll after three-quarters of a mile in a quickened 1:10.24.
Csaba continued in fourth, but behind him, the trailers were starting to make their moves, especially Successful Dan (6-1), who was given his cue by jockey Julien Leparoux.
As they entered the home stretch, Cross Traffic had Mucho Macho Man measured in second, while Ron The Greek (6-1) started his bid under Jose Lezcano on the rail. Fort Larned was fading fast in fourth, and Successful Dan was looming large with his bid on the outside.
Cross Traffic was a little erratic on the final furlong, and Successful Dan grabbed second and looked like he could make a run for the lead. But once Velazquez straightened Cross Traffic, he was able to hold off Successful Dan by three-quarters of a length.
Mucho Macho Man proved to be third best. He finished two lengths ahead of Ron The Greek, who got fourth in a photo-finish over Fort Larned, rounding up the money positions. Alpha, Csaba and Fast Falcon completed the order of finish.
The final time for the nine furlongs by Cross Traffic was 1:47.89.
The favorite Fort Larned disappointed on Saturday with a lackluster effort. A reason might have been that he carried the top weight of 122 lb on the handicap race. He gave a three to five-pound advantage to the four horses that finished in front of him.
The key now will be seeing how he comes out of the race and what trainer Ian Wilkes has in store for him.
Successful Dan, half-brother to Horse of the Year Wise Dan, rebounded well from his previous race, which mirrored Fort Larned's effort. This time, he was able to have a challenged pace up front and ran a valiant race effort, finishing a closing second.
Mucho Macho Man had no excuses. He had a fairly good trip but just got outkicked in the home stretch by Cross Traffic and Successful Dan. This was just his third start this year and his first on a dry track. He's a talented horse and can only move forward from this effort.
The Whitney Invitational Handicap (G1) is part of the Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" Challenge Series. With the win, Cross Traffic has earned an automatic spot on the Breeders' Cup Classic on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita.
It will be interesting to see if his connections want to see him get extended to run at the 10-furlong BC Classic—one more than the Whitney. The four-year-old has tremendous ability but showed in the deep stretch that he is still a little raw and has room to grow.
This was just his fifth race and first time around two turns. But the upside seems to be worth the try, and he has the pedigree to handle the additional furlong.
Cross Traffic is owned by GoldMark Farm, LLC and now has career record of 5-3-2-0, with total earnings of $681,300.
|Race Name: Whitney Invitational H. - Grade: 1|
|Age Restriction: Three-Year-Old and Upward|
|Value of Race: $750,000|
|Distance: 1 1/8 Miles On The Dirt|
|Track Condition: Fast|
|Winning Time: 1:47.89 Fractionals: 24.17 47.28 1:10.24 1:34.80|
|4||Cross Traffic||John R. Velazquez||9.10||5.40||4.40|
|1||Successful Dan||Julien R. Leparoux||5.90||4.90|
|2||Mucho Macho Man||Edgar S. Prado||5.20|
|Also ran: 5 - Ron the Greek , 3 - Fort Larned , 6 - Alpha , 7 - Csaba , 8 - Fast Falcon|
|Wager Type||Winning Numbers||Payoff|
|$2 Pick 3||4-4-4 (3 correct)||433.50|
|$2 Daily Double||4-4||160.00|
|Winning Owner: GoldMark Farm, LLC|
|Winning Trainer: Todd A. Pletcher|
|Winning Breeder: Diamond A Racing Corp.|
|Pedigree: Cross Traffic, Gray or Roan Colt by Unbridled's Song out of Stop Traffic, by Cure the Blues|