Race of the Week 2017

Quality Road, Blame Headline Whitney

Quality Road and Blame, two of the top older males in training, face off for the first time Saturday in the 83rd running of the Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney Invitational Handicap at Saratoga Race Course.


Trained by Todd Pletcher for Edward P. Evans, Quality Road will be going for his third straight Grade 1 win, having dominated the division this year with brilliant victories in the Donn Handicap, in which he earned a 121 Beyer Speed Figure – the best performance by any horse so far this year – and the Metropolitan Handicap, in which he earned a 112. 


“I think he certainly belongs in any conversation about the best horse in training,” said Pletcher of the 4-year-old Elusive Quality colt. “I think if you look at his Donn, for example, that was just an unbelievable performance, and then to come back and turn in a similar performance in the Met, we believe he is the best horse in the country.”


Quality Road, who is expected to be on or close to the pace, was made the 2-5 favorite as he drew post position 3 in the six-horse field, which in addition to Blame drew Grade 2 Suburban Handicap winner Haynesfield, 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, Met Mile runner-up Musket Man, and the Brazilian colt Jardim.


The Whitney, a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, will be race No. 10 on an 11-race card that also features the 85th running of the Grade 1, $250,000 Test for 3-year-old fillies going seven furlongs.


Having twice set the Gulfstream Park track record for 1 1/8th miles, and holder of the Saratoga track record for 6 ½ furlongs, Quality Road has been training brilliantly for the Whitney and Pletcher says the eye-catching colt is on target for another top performance.


“He’s as good, or better, than he’s ever been” said the trainer, who won the Whitney in 2007 with track record-setter Lawyer Ron and in 2002 with Left Bank.


Jockey John Velazquez agrees.


“In racing, there are no guarantees,” said Velazquez, who will be back aboard Quality Road in the Whitney. “But if he runs like he did in his last two races, he’ll be hard to beat.”


Ready to take that challenge is the streaking Blame, who scored his first Grade 1 victory on June 12 at Churchill Downs in the Stephen Foster.

Trained by Al Stall, Jr. for Adele Dilschneider, the Arch colt won the first stakes of his career at Saratoga, taking the 2009 edition of the Curlin, and after finishing second to Regal Ransom in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby went on to win the Grade 2 Fayette at Keeneland, the Grade 2 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs, the Grade 3 William D. Schafer at Pimlico and the Stephen Foster. He is 2-for-2 this year and has won six of his last seven.

“We feel like we're ready, and it's time to catch the best horse in the country when we're at the top of our game,” said Stall of the stretch-running Blame, who like Quality Road has won seven of his 10 lifetime starts and has never been worse than third. “We’re ready for the task. If he [Quality Road] goes :45 flat [for a half-mile] I’ll be smiling; Garrett [Gomez] will be smiling.”


Blame will carry 121 pounds to Quality Road’s 126-pound impost, and will leave from post position 2 as the 4-1 second choice on the morning line.


Musket Man, who was runner-up to Quality Road in the Met Mile, has never been worse than third in 12 lifetime starts and trainer Derek Ryan is hoping theYonaguska colt can catch a break in the Whitney.


“He’s had some back racing luck this year, so maybe he can turn it around,” said Ryan, who trains Musket Man for Eric Fein.  The 4-year-old drew post position 6 with Rajiv Maragh named aboard the 6-1 morning-line choice.


Mine That Bird will be seeking his first win since his last-to-first run in the 2009 Derby and his new trainer, Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, expects a different kind of race from the Birdstone gelding, who was eighth on the turf in his only start of 2010.


“We don’t have any grandiose ideas that we can run down Blame or Quality Road or some of these others from left field,” said Lukas, who also won the Whitney twice, with Criminal Type in 1990 and the filly Lady’s Secret in 1986. “We’ve been training a little bit different and he’s showing a bit more turn of foot, so we won’t be as far back, hopefully.”


Calvin Borel is back aboard Mine That Bird, who, appropriately enough, drew the rail at 12-1 on the morning line.


Also at 12-1 on the morning line is the New York-bred Haynesfield, who has not tasted defeat since last October. Winner of four straight, including a 2 ¾ length win over Convocation and I Want Revenge in the 1 1/8th mile Suburban, the Speightstown colt will be ridden by Ramon Dominguez from post position 4, just outside Quality Road.


“That seems like a good post position,” said Dominguez. “He is a versatile horse with good tactical speed, and can be where he needs. We’ll be able to see what happens early on and go from there.”


Rounding out the field is the Brazilian-bred Jardim, a 30-1 shot who is seeking his first American win in the Whitney. Trained by Eduardo Caramori, the 4-year-old gray colt will have Julien Leparoux in the irons as he leaves from post 5 as the 113-pound lightweight in the race.


The field for the Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney Invitational Handicap:









Mine That Bird (KY)

C H Borel


D W Lukas



Blame (KY)

G K Gomez


A M Stall, Jr.



Quality Road (VA)

J R Velazquez


T A Pletcher



Haynesfield (NY)

R A Dominguez


S M Asmussen



Jardim (BRZ)

J R Leparoux


E Caramori



Musket Man (KY)

R Maragh


D S Ryan






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