Nine of the top older horses in the
country will convene Saturday afternoon at Saratoga Race Course for the
85th running of the Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney Invitational Handicap,
a race which could have far-reaching implications in the division.
In the past 10 years, four
Champion Older Males have boasted the Whitney on their resumes, most recently
Blame in 2010. Lawyer Ron (2007), Horse of the Year Invasor (2006) and
Left Bank (2002) also won the 1 1/8-mile race,
and with no older dirt horse yet having seized control on the East Coast,
Saturday’s edition could go a long way in sorting out the division.
Between them, Hall of Famer Bill
Mott and Todd Pletcher will be saddling four starters, with Mott – who has never
won the race – sending out 3-1 favorite Ron the Greek and 4-1 co-third choice
The most accomplished runner in
the group with two Grade 1 victories this year, the 5-year-old Ron the Greek has
been first or second in seven starts since joining Mott’s barn late in 2011.
Victorious in the Sunny and Mild overnight stakes and the Queens County at Aqueduct Racetrack in his first
two starts for Mott, Ron the Greek went on to annex the Grade 1 Santa Anita
Handicap in March and in his most recent start, won the Grade 1 Stephen Foster
Handicap at Churchill Downs on June 16.
“He’s a huge, gorgeous horse,
actually, but a horse you could tell probably wasn’t going to get good until
later in his career,” said Mott, who trains the son of Full Mandate for Brous
Stable. “I think it’s just a timing issue, as most things are in this business.
He’s starting to come around at the right time and just landed in our hands at
the right time.”
Flat Out, who last year won the
Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park, has made one start for Mott, coming
off a five-month layoff to finish second to the Pletcher-trained Rule in the
Grade 2 Monmouth Cup on July 7.
“I thought it was a perfect race
for him,” said Mott of Flat Out, who carried the colors of Preston Stables. “He
probably didn’t get to run full out the whole way. He was kind of stuffed early
in the race and got out late. He was closing on the winner. It was a useful
race. I think it was the type of race you’d like going into a major race like
the Whitney. It was enough, but it wasn’t too much.”
Ron the Greek, who drew post
position 6 under top weight of 120 pounds, will be ridden by Jose Lezcano, while
Flat Out will have Rosie Napravnik aboard from post position 7.
Pletcher, who won the Whitney in
2007 with Lawyer Ron and in 2002 with Left
Bank, is represented by Rule, 5-1 on the morning line from the rail,
and Caixa Eletronica, who was tabbed at 15-1 from post position 3.
Bred and owned by WinStar Farm,
Rule has hit the board in all three starts at the Spa, finishing second in a
maiden race in 2009, winning the Birdstone Stakes last year, and finishing third
in the 2011 Grade 1 Woodward, in which he earned a career-best Beyer Speed
Figure of 106.
Stablemate Caixa Eletronica, who
carries the colors of Repole Stable, fared well at the Spa last year with two
starter handicap victories, one at six furlongs carrying 127 pounds, and one at
the Whitney distance toting 131. He won the Grade 2, $1 million Charles Town
Classic this year and most recently was fifth to Pacific
Ocean in the Grade 3 James Marvin on opening day.
“We’ll be able to save ground
around the first turn,” said Pletcher. “There appears to be plenty of pace in
there so hopefully we’ll be able to save ground and work our way into a good
Joe Bravo will be aboard Rule,
while Javier Castellano rides Caixa Eletronica.
Second choice at 7-2 on the
morning line is Fort Larned, who has a 2-0-1 record in four graded stakes
starts this year, including victories in the Grade 3 Skip Away in March at
Park and the Grade 3
Cornhusker on June 30. Since trainer Ian Wilkes outfitted him with blinkers late
in 2011, the 4-year-old E Dubai colt has been a
consistent performer, with the exception of an eighth-place finish behind Ron
the Greek in the Stephen Foster.
went into the Stephen Foster with a pretty horse; I didn’t have a racehorse,”
said Wilkes of Ford Larned, who is owned by Janis Whitham. “So, he didn’t run
much that day. The owner was willing to take a shot [two weeks later for the
Brian Hernandez in the irons, Fort Larned will leave from post position
of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey also is a two-time winner of the Whitney,
having taken the 1988 edition with the 4-year-old filly Personal Ensign and the
1989 running with 3-year-old Easy Goer, both of whom were later inducted into
the Hall of Fame themselves.
McGaughey will try for a Whitney
hat trick with Stuart Janney, III’s Hymn Book, a fast-closing second to Mucho
Macho Man last time out in the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park. Winner of the Grade 1 Donn Handicap
earlier this year, the 6-year-old gelded son of Arch will be making his
on Saturday with 2012 Hall of Fame inductee John Velazquez aboard from post
“[The post position] doesn’t
matter with him,” said McGaughey of Hymn Book, 4-1 on the morning line. “If he
gets away good, he’ll get a position going around that turn. With Johnny riding
him, you know you’re going to get the best. If the pace is fast, he’ll be laying
back, and if the pace is slow, we’ll be laying up fairly close.”
Completing the field are Casner
Racing’s Grade 3 winner Endorsement, 2-1-1 from five starts this year; Canadian
import Hunters Bay, who has won three straight at Woodbine, including the Grade
3 Eclipse and the Grade 3 Dominion Day, and the speedy Trickmeister, most
recently third in the Grade 2 Suburban.