Whitney analysis: Knicks Go leads elite, compact field

Whitney analysis: Knicks Go leads elite, compact field
Photo: Derbe Glass/Gulfstream Park

The Grade 1, $1 million Whitney Handicap on Saturday at Saratoga drew an elite field of five horses. In addition to the purse money, the winner of the 1 1/8-mile race will earn a “win-and-you’re-in” spot in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

All five horses in the field have earned more than $1 million in their careers, and four of the five already are Grade 1 winners.

In recent years the winner of the Whitney has gone on to be named a divisional champion: Improbable in 2020, Gun Runner in 2017 (also horse of the year), Honor Code in 2015 and Blame in 2010.

Here is a full-field analysis of the Whitney, which is slated as race 10 of 12, with the official Saratoga morning-line odds. Post time is scheduled for 5:48 p.m. ET.

1. By My Standards (10-1 – Goldencents – Bret Calhoun / Gabe Saez – 16: 7-5-1 - $2,254,430) The 5-year-old has come back again this year in fine form with a late rally to win the Oaklawn Mile by a nose in April followed by another closing move to finish just a length behind Silver State in the Met Mile (G1) two months ago. By My Standards is 3-for-6 going the nine-furlong distance of the Whitney. The Bret Calhoun trainee has had a history of falling just short when he moved up to race in Grade 1s, as was the case last year in this race at odds of 5-1 behind Improbable. This year’s field is formidable, and although I do expect By My Standards to run well again, I don’t see him getting that first Grade 1 victory. Use underneath.

2. Silver State (4-1 – Hard Spun – Steve Asmussen / Ricardo Santana Jr. – 11: 7-2-1 - $1,765,094) Silver State is riding a six-race winning streak that goes back to October of 2020. He has gotten better and better as he has gotten older under the care of Steve Asmussen. Silver State had his greatest victory when he won his first Grade 1 in the Met Mile with a bold rally from a stalking position. Before that win at Belmont Park, Silver State won the Oaklawn Handicap (G2) going nine furlongs. Silver State is No. 5 in the latest NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll. Can he keep the streak alive against what will be the strongest field he has faced? Win contender.

3. Swiss Skydiver (6-1 – Daredevil – Kenny McPeek / Irad Ortiz Jr. – 14: 7-3-2 - $2,125,480) Since the champion 3-year-old filly won her 2021 debut with an impressive victory at Santa Anita in the Beholder Mile (G1), things have not gone smoothly. Trainer Kenny McPeek said Swiss Skydiver was not in peak form when she was third in the Apple Blossom (G1) behind Letruska and Monomoy Girl in April. She has not been able to run since then for a variety of reasons, most recently because of a quarantine imposed on McPeek’s barn from an exposure to the equine herpes virus. The trainer wants Swiss Skydiver on the track, so she will take on the older male division’s top horses in the Whitney. Yes, she beat the 3-year-old boys in the Preakness, but she was in tip-top racing form then. Use underneath.

4. Knicks Go (6-5 – Paynter – Brad Cox / Joel Rosario – 21: 7-3-1 - $4,833,995) Knicks Go moved back to two turns at the 1 1/8-mile distance and overwhelmed the field in the Cornhusker Handicap (G3) as the odds-on favorite. The Brad Cox runner made it clear that his early speed is a dangerous weapon under those two-turn conditions as he did in the Pegasus World Cup (G1) and the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1). Knicks Go is currently No. 6 in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll. He presents a big challenge for the rest of the Whitney field: How will they deal with that speed? None of them have that kind of front-running ability, but they know that if Knicks Go is left alone to set the pace then he will be very hard to beat. Top choice.

5. Maxfield (8-5 – Street Sense – Brendan Walsh / Jose Ortiz – 8: 7-0-1 - $1,265,902) It is hard to find fault with Maxfield when you consider his career record with only one loss in eight starts. He became a Grade 1 winner as a 2-year-old in his second start. In his last two races at Churchill Downs in the Alysheba (G2) and the Stephen Foster (G2), he was a clear-cut winner. The lone loss for Maxfield was when he travelled to California and ran third in the 1 1/4-mile Santa Anita Handicap. Maxfield is ranked No. 2 in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll, which is the highest for a horse from the older male division. Win contender.

Summary
: This year’s Whitney is a perfect example of a mantra of mine: It doesn’t have a be a big field to be a great field. With the 3-year-old filly champion facing off against four of the best from the older male division, this is the race of the year so far.

Maxfield, Knicks Go and Silver State head into the Whitney after brilliant victories. But Knicks Go seems to have a significant pace advantage over this field. The Brad Cox trainee is at his best in two-turn races where he has legitimate early speed and stamina to go with it. The rest of the field will have to make decisions about how they deal with Knicks Go’s strategic edge.

Knicks Go is the horse to beat and my top choice, with Maxfield and By My Standards as the competition to round out the exacta.

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