Dogwood Stables’ Palace Malice was installed as the even-money morning line favorite and will be seeking to keep his perfect 2014 season intact when he takes on eight foes in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1.5 million Whitney Handicap at Saratoga.
The purse for the Whitney was doubled from last year, and, in addition to a hefty check, the winner earns an automatic starting spot in the Grade 1, $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic as part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” series.
This year’s Breeders’ Cup will be held at Santa Anita on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1.
The 11-race card at Saratoga has plenty of star power with five stakes races. In addition to the Whitney, the supporting stakes are the $100,000 De La Rose, $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt (G1), $500,000 Test (G1) and the $100,000 Lure.
The Test and Whitney will be nationally televised on NBC as part of the “Summer at Saratoga Breeders’ Cup Challenge” series at 5:00 p.m. ET.
The Todd Pletcher-trained Palace Malice has been unstoppable this year, winning the Gulfstream Park Handicap, New Orleans Handicap, Westchester and the Metropolitan Handicap in his four starts.
The colt sits on top of the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll, conducted by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, and is ranked first by Randy Moss of NBC in Randy’s Rankings for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
His trainer has been close to unstoppable as well at Saratoga. The six-time Eclipse Award winning trainer is well on his way to winning his 11th training title at the Spa. He has won with 12 of his 34 starters at the meeting through Thursday. Six trainers are tied for second in the standings with four winners each.
Pletcher saddled last year’s Whitney winner Cross Traffic and won the race with Lawyer Ron in 2007 and Left Bank in 2002.
The colt faces a tough test in the Whitney and will run into his rival Will Take Charge, last year’s Eclipse Award winner for top three-year-old. After getting beaten by a combined 45 lengths in the Triple Crown races last spring, Will Take Charge went on a tear during the second half of the 2013 season.
The D. Wayne Lukas trainee ran second in the Jim Dandy and then won the Travers and Pennsylvania Derby. After losing the Breeders’ Cup Classic by a nose he came back to cap off his 2013 campaign by winning the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs.
This year, the colt has won just one of his five starts, taking the Oaklawn Handicap back in April. In his last two starts, the colt was sixth in the Alysheba and most recently ran a good second in the Stephen Foster Handicap. The colt is the 4-1 second choice on the morning line.
Lukas is confident going into the race. "He's quite a horse, and I think he's the best horse in the country right now," Lukas said via John Scheinman of the NYRA. "I feel like he's still the champion, and I feel very good about the fact that we all get together on the same racetrack."
In addition to Will Take Charge and Palace Malice, there are two others in the race that competed in last year’s Travers over the Spa main track. The speedy Moreno was beaten in the last couple of jumps and is coming into the race off a second in the Suburban Handicap. The gelding is 10-1 on the morning line.
Romansh was fifth in the Travers last year and was only beaten 1 1/2 lengths in the Met Mile two back, and then was fifth in the Suburban in his last outing. The Thomas Albertrani trainee is 10-1 on the morning line.
After knocking down a $97.00 exacta with my top two picks in last Saturday’s Breeders’ Cup Challenge race, the Haskell Invitational from Monmouth Park, we are likely going to have to settle for a smaller payoff in the Whitney.
Here are my top three selections for the Whitney:
Win: Palace Malice
While his last two wins came in one-turn mile races, the two turns and the extra furlong here will not pose a problem. He has won twice at this distance and has run well over the Spa main track, breaking his maiden in his second career outing back in 2012.
He won the Jim Dandy last summer before a close-up fourth in the Travers, where he stumbled coming out of the gate. It is tough to find any knocks on this colt expect for the price, which is going to be very much on the short side.
The colt comes into the race riding a three-race winning streak, last out taking the Salvatore Mile at Monmouth Park. The third-place finisher in that race was Valid, who came back to win the Monmouth Cup in his next start on July 27.
The Edward Plesa trainee went down the Triple Crown trail last year, a distant 15th in the Kentucky Derby and then rebounding with a solid second in the Preakness Stakes. The colt has good tactical speed and should be sitting just off the likely pacesetter Moreno. This colt is worth a look if he goes off near his 12-1 morning line odds.
Show: Will Take Charge
The Lukas colt has won just one of five starts this year, but last spring was soundly beaten in the Triple Crown races and rebounded to take down the Eclipse Award for top three-year-old. The colt had an outstanding second half of the year that included wins in the Travers, Pennsylvania Derby and Clark Handicap and a narrow loss in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
The colt put in a good effort last out in a runner-up finish in the Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs and appears to be coming into this race primed for a top effort.
Morning line odds courtesy of the NYRA.
Follow Michael Dempsey on Twitter @turfnsport