Photo: Adam Mooshian, NYRA
With tears in his eyes and feelings of confirmation and redemption, Bayou-born trainer, Eric Guillot, wore his emotions on his Whitney Handicap sleeve after a front-running win from his four-year-old trainee, Moreno, as the strapping son of Ghostzapper took a star-studded Whitney field gate to wire.
In only his third win from twenty lifetime starts, Moreno controlled the pace with no challenger in sight. Through fractions of :23.67, :47.50 and 1:11.31, Moreno looked comfortable, and in control. When jockey Junior Alvarado turned for home, he knew the race was won aboard Moreno.
Alvarado was given instructions to stay two lengths in front of the field, which he tried to do throughout, while looking for shadows of his challengers in the rearview mirror. “As soon as I turned for home…[Moreno] took, like two big jumps. I said like, ‘Whoa I don’t think there is any way somebody can pass me, the way he responded for me past the three-sixteenths pole.’”
Moreno, who was last seen at Saratoga losing a photo finish to multiple Grade 1-winner, Will Take Charge, in last year’s Travers, was never challenged throughout the nine furlong race. Palace Malice, the 3-5 post-time favorite, didn’t seem comfortable in the stretch, finishing off the board for the first time since a sixth place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The rejuvenated Itsmyluckyday finished a solid second, 1 ¼ lengths back, but never challenged Moreno. Will Take Charge was three lengths further back for third, while the longest shot on the board, Prayer for Relief finished fourth at 49-1.
Guillot called out to all his stable hands, his brother and just about any and all relatives in the Whitney winner’s circle. “It feels great. The bottom line is I know I like to have fun, and I like to talk a lot of crap and everybody probably thinks I’m a goof ball out here, that I don’t know what I’m doing. But I know what I’m doing. My work ethic is second to none. This is the kind [of race] I wake up 4:30 in the morning for…”
Moreno became a Grade 1 winner with the win and his connections took home $800,000 for the win with the increased $1.5 million Whitney purse.
The win shakes up the running for the Older Male Eclipse Award and Horse of the Year, since Palace Malice had reeled off four straight graded stakes wins, including the Grade 1 Metropolitan Mile on the Belmont Stakes undercard. The Grade 1 Woodward, run on the final weekend of Saratoga, and the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont await any and all challengers for what looks to be a wide open race for end-of-the-year honors.
On the undercard of the Whitney, three-year-old filly, Sweet Reason, confirmed her Grade 1 status by arriving home in plenty of time to take the Grade 1 Test Stakes at 7 furlongs. It was her second Grade 1 win at seven furlongs at Saratoga after taking last year’s Spinaway Stakes in the slop. Last time out, Sweet Reason took the Grade 1 Acorn on the Belmont Stakes undercard.