The 90th running of the Whitney Stakes will take place this Saturday at Saratoga. This $1.2 million G1 event will be run at 1-1/8 miles by 3yr olds and up around Saratoga’s fabled dirt course. The Whitney is rich in history and has featured some of the greatest race horses of all time. In recent years 4 horses have used a win in the Whitney as a springboard to Breeder’s Cup Classic success. The list of Whitney winners does not include the great Secretariat who was defeated in 1973 by Allen Jerkens trainee Onion.
This year’s Whitney is a Breeder’s Cup Classic “win and you’re in” event and will feature a field of 7, including Gun Runner, who may arguably be the best horse in the land, given Arrogate’s 4th place finish in the San Diego Handicap.
With a 90% chance of rain at the Spa forecasted for Whitney day, I will be handicapping the race for a wet track. For track bias, I looked back at the most recent Saratoga wet track which was on July 27th which had 1 wire to wire winner, a couple of short price stalker winners, and a handful of deep closer winners. I like the closers. Post positions did not appear to be a factor.
A quick pace in this race will be assured with Tu Brutus, Gun runner, and Loooch Racing’s sprint specialist Cautious Giant leading the way. Cautious Giant looks like a rabbit entered to guarantee this pace for Loooch’s other entry, War Story, who will break from the rail. Tu Brutus is a front running router who has gone 1-1/4, 1-3/8 and 1-1/2 miles in his last three. The downside here is that trainer Gary Contessa is 0 for 23 at this year’s Saratoga meet, 0 for his last 40 graded stakes, and Tu Brutus had an easy lead with slow fractions in his last and finished a well beaten 3rd.
The big question for the Whitney will be, what does Gun Runner do?
Gun Runner has not run on an off track since last year’s Haskell at Monmouth where he finished a well beaten 5th to mud specialist Exaggerator. With guaranteed speed to contest the lead, a forecast for a wet track, and Gun Runner’s unproven ability to handle the slop, I will be looking to beat the 3-5 morning line favorite with someone from the back of the pack.
The come from behind contingency will include War Story and Keen Ice. Keen Ice made a big step forward in winning the G2 Suburban at Belmont. He posted a lifetime best speed figure in that race which came after a winless 2016 campaign and 2 sub-par 2017 starts. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Keen Ice may have turned a corner, but he has never run on an off track, and he has never won in 6 tries at a mile and an eighth. It’s tough to bet a 5yr old who is trying something for the first time.
War Story, with Javier Castellano aboard, has 2 wins and a 3rd in three off track starts. His 3rd place finish was by a half-length in the G2 Charlestown Classic, which he followed up with a win in the G2 Brooklyn. At his best, War Story’s speed figures are competitive but not great and he will need a perfect setup to defeat Gun Runner.
The horse I am backing will be War Story. With War Story’s affinity for the wet surface and a favorable pace setup, I think he will be in position to pick up the pieces in the lane. Let’s hope to get at least the 6-1 morning line price.
On Aug 4, 2017 12:25 PM, Michael McCormick
This week is the Whitney