Race of the Week 2017

Cross Traffic Shows the Way in Whitney

After two heartbreaking losses, Cross Traffic finally earned his first stakes victory with a front-running triumph over some of the country's top older horses in the 86th edition of the Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney Invitational Handicap on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.


Leaving from post position 4, just outside last year's Whitney winner Fort Larned and Mucho Macho Man, Cross Traffic enjoyed a smooth trip to the first turn and emerged to lead the field of eight through an opening quarter-mile in 24.17 seconds. With Mucho Macho Man and 6-5 favorite Fort Larned tracking him intently, Cross Traffic began picking it up from there, running a half-mile in 47.28 and three-quarters in 1:10.24 under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez.


Confronted by his pursuers on the turn, Cross Traffic spun into the stretch with a two-length advantage, and, despite an erratic run through the lane, had enough left to repel a late challenge from Successful Dan and win by three-quarters of a length. Mucho Macho Man held on for third, with Ron the Greek along for fourth and Fort Larned checking in fifth.


Completing the order of finish were Alpha, Csaba and Fast Falcon.


"Being outside of Mucho Macho Man and Fort Larned - the other two speeds - we felt like we were in a good position," said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. "It worked out really well. We got a great run into the first turn. The first quarter was key. Johnny was able to get to the position he wanted without overdoing it and kind of picked it up from there."


Cross Traffic, who returned $9.10 for a $2 win bet as the 7-2 second choice, completed the 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.89.


"The first quarter was the most important one; we didn't have to chase him to be there," said Velazquez. "After that, we started picking it up every eighth of a mile, but it was a comfortable pace. It wasn't a very fast pace, so he was doing it easy and comfortable. I felt comfortable the way he was going."


The victory was the 4-year-old Cross Traffic's third in five career starts, having finished second by a head in the Grade 3 Westchester in his stakes debut and second by a nose in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap, both at Belmont Park.


"It was a strongly run race throughout, and we were just hoping he could hold on the last part after the two losses we had at Belmont," said Pletcher, who got his third Whitney as a trainer. "Those were heartbreaking losses, to run as well as he did in those two races and miss by a whisker. Turning for home, I thought we had a big shot, but I was still wanting to get there."


The Whitney victory also earned Cross Traffic an automatic berth and an all-fees-paid entry into the Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita this fall as part of the Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" series.


"This was a real quality-filled race," added Pletcher, who trains the Unbridled's Song colt for Goldmark Farm. "To beat the Breeders' Cup winner [Fort Larned] and runner-up [Mucho Macho Man] from last year and some really good horses speaks volumes about his quality. It was great to see him [win]. He certainly deserved a Grade 1 after the Met Mile. I know we've had a couple of tough beats over the years, but that one kind of stands out as one of the toughest."


Fort Larned, a 6 ¼-length winner of the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap in June, was bidding to become the first horse since Discovery (1934, 1935, 1936) to win consecutive editions of the Whitney. Off to a flat-footed start, he had a wide trip throughout and could not sustain his run after coming within a length of the winner on the turn.


"He just walked out of the gates," said trainer Ian Wilkes of Fort Larned. "It wasn't the start we were looking for. He got away bad. He got a good trip on the outside. All hats off to the winner. He's run over this track before; there's no excuse there. It was one of those days. We'll fight another day."


Successful Dan, who tripped and fell coming out of the paddock before the race, was 1 ½ lengths clear of Mucho Macho Man. Charles LoPresti, who trains the older half-brother to - and stablemate of - reigning Horse of the Year Wise Dan, said he did not think the mishap affected the 7-year-old gelding.


"I'm happy," said LoPresti. "He ran his race the way I thought he'd run. It's unfortunate that happened [the fall before the race], but I don't think that took anything away from him. He was really running at the end. I told my nephew around the three-eighths pole he was picking up horses left and right. I knew he was going to run his race, and he did."


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Older Comments about Cross Traffic Shows the Way in Whitney...

Fort Larned has got to get over his gate problems. When he breaks on top, like the Stephen Foster and Breeders Cup, he can beat anyone, but if he doesn't, like the Oaklawn Handicap and Whitney, he is in trouble. Ian Wilkes is a good horseman and I hope Fort Larned will be ready for the Breeders Cup.
108 BSF for the Whitney win.
For the first time in Longacres' history, the final race was run without commentary. Native Rustler, under local-born champion jockey Gary Stevens, won the final race. As the horse crossed the finish line Stevens turned toward the crowd and smiled and waved.
Then I was there that afternoon when he rode and won the final race for his day at old defunct Longacres Park
1st 100 grander that is......
Matter of fact: TRIVIA QUESTION What was Gary Stevens FISRT 10 grander?? The B. C. Derby with Prarie Breaker 1983
I used to see Gary all the time when he was leading rider at Longacres as he came to Vancouver often and did Russel Baze
I had dinner with the Pope last week and am planning on polaying a round of golf with Tiger this week. Oh yeah, and Gary Stevens called me about our planned vacation this fall, right after the breede4rs Cup.
Our leading rider went down on a horse that did what??? staggered....Plate in the leg and only major injury here all season.
I have been working close with an exercise rider of 40 years experience and I ask him these questions all the time and he finds ALL of them plausible.....I go to the source to find out, where does YOUR journey talke you?
That's one of the reasons they employ jockeys, to help steer the horse, but then we're all kidding ourselves. Horses don't need jockeys anyway.
Horses particularly on the lead, get tired and often stagger...The horse's motion has nothing to do with the rider.
Or is he kind of a dumb horse? Like what animal when there is 35 feet to the right almost runs right into the horse nearest on his left?? Or just a horrible ride? He had a chance to get to CT if he would have ran straight or used the free 50 feet to his right..
Cross Traffic took it to them for 9 furlongs. JRV and Pletcher! Not a great ride on Successful Dan either.

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