Saratoga…the meet of champions, there is nothing else in America like it. Each weekend is packed with graded stakes filled with promise and excitement, topped off with at least one grade one that is jam packed with the top talents from around the country. This weekend features the Whitney Handicap, one of the most storied races of the meet. It has seen champions such as Invasor, Lawyer Ron, and Easy Goer cement their status as the nation’s leading older horses. This year will be no different as the nation looks to find a leader among a muddled division of older males.
Several of the nation’s top older males will line up in the Saratoga starting gate, looking to advance their status in the division. Among them are Apart, Friend or Foe, Rail Trip, Morning Line, Giant Oak, Tizway, and Flat Out. These are the main contenders that can leap to a clear lead in the division with a decisive win this weekend.
Apart, a consistent colt by Flatter is owned and trained by the same connections that ran last year’s champion older male, and Whitney victor, Blame. While Apart has some other similarities to Blame he still has a long way to go before he can be spoken in the same breath. Apart has shown talent, but his late running style has gotten him into trouble that has probably cost him some races. He only has one win to his credit this year, and that was in the Schaefer Handicap. However, he is a very consistent horse who has never been off the board this year. With an honest pace and a decent trip he will be a tough horse to beat.
Friend or Foe is a big, handsome son of Friends Lake who has a proven affinity for any track in New York. In his 2011 debut he defeated Rail Trip in the Easy Goer Stakes. He showed grit that day and that he is not one to be forgotten when running in his own backyard. The final race time was an exceptional 1.40.13 for the mile and a sixteenth event. He was slated to run last week in the Evan Shipman, but when the track came up sloppy he was rerouted to the Whitney. While he may not have faced the class of horses some of the others entries have, but make no mistake that will not keep him from running another big one over his home turf.
Rail Trip is looking for his first win since last year’s Californian Stakes. He looked to be on his way to stardom last season until a questionable ride possibly cost him a win in the Hollywood Gold Cup and a complete clunker in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. The Easy Goer Stakes was his first race since the Gold Cup, and in that race he led for every single yard up until the last couple of jumps. If he still is the same horse that looked like a potential monster last year you can bet he will most likely manhandle this bunch.
Morning Line looked so promising at the beginning of the year. He started off with a nice third place in the Hal’s Hope before barely getting nabbed by Giant Oak in the Donn. He then followed up his Gulfstream form with a smart win in the seven furlong Carter Handicap. It was after that he was pointed towards the Met Mile, but was rerouted to the Salvator Mile where he laid a giant goose egg. This writer believes that the cause of the strange performance was due to the colt struggling with the track. If that is the case watch for Morning Line to give his opposition a huge wake-up call this weekend.
Giant Oak is the type of horse bettors hate. He has the talent and has displayed it, but for some reason or another he just never gets to the winners circle. It is then, that when everyone has given up, he come catapulting himself down the center of the track to net himself a win in the Donn Handicap. Since then he has gone back to the talented horse that just can’t make it to the winners circle. He has run third once and fifth twice in his last three starts, which does not inspire much confidence. Now that we all turn our heads, watch this son of a gun steal the win.
Tizway, the old warrior tries to become the first horse in his division to obtain back to back grade one wins. His last outing in the Met Mile was arguably the most brilliant display by an older male this year. He stalked a quick pace set by Gulfstream sensation Tackleberry before striking the lead and never looking back. He pretty much cantered home stopping the clock in 1.32.9, only one tenth from the track record. If he can reproduce that type of performance around two turns then it’s going to lights out for the rest of the field.
Finally, there is Flat Out. In the Suburban Handicap he completely decimated his foes winning by over six lengths. This colt had been all but forgotten after poor performance in the Stephan Foster. Throughout his career one thing or another has prevented Flat Out from ever performing to the level many saw in him as a three year old. Now that he has finally had his breakout performance, the question is can he keep the ball rolling?
So, who will it be? One of the big shots looking to shove themselves into the limelight or will it be another longshot? Let us hope that the Whitney can provide us with the champion we all have been yearning for.