For this weekend’s Horse Racing preview, we go back to Saratoga Racetrack in Saratoga Springs, New York for a look at the prestigious 2012 Whitney Handicap. The $750,000, mile and an eighth event has drawn as competitive as I’ve seen in years as probable post-time favorite Ron The Greek, will take on the speedy Rule, the veteran Caixa Electronica, Trickmeister and several others who might run well.
The Whitney, which was first run in 1928, has always drawn strong fields over the years and usually holds a lot of water when end of the year championship awards are handed out.
Looking back over the years at some of the bigger names in racing history who’ve won this race, they include Discovery, who won it three years in a row (1934-1936), 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral in 1938, the rags to riches Stymie in 1946, iron filly Gallorette, who made 72 career starts, in 1948, the vastly under-rated Tom Fool in 1953, five time Horse of the Year Kelso won three runnings but hopped around like a kangaroo in doing so as he won it in 1961, 1963 and 1965.
Other winners include the great Dr. Fager in 1968, Alydar, runner-up in all three Triple Crown races in 1978, won it that same year, the gorgeous Slew O’ Gold in 1984, another iron filly Lady’s Secret in 1986, the “perfect” Personal Ensign won in 1988, while the powerhouse Easy Goer won the very next year.
Old Friends retiree Will’s Way won this race in 1997; the beautiful Awesome Again won it in 1998, as well as Belmont Stakes winner Victory Gallop, who won the 1999 edition.
More recently, Medaglia d’Oro (Rachel Alexandra’s dad) won in 2003, Commentator, another Old Friend retiree, won it twice. In 2005 he won a thrilling version of this race while holding off a hard charging (and ill-fated) Saint Liam, before winning it again in 2008. Horse of the World won the Invasor won it in 2006 and Zenyatta conqueror Blame won it in 2010.
Other races that caught my attention this weekend include Saturdays $750,000 West Virginia Derby, at Mountaineer Park in Chester,W.Va. for three year olds.
2011 two year old champion Hansen, who will be ridden by Mike Smith, drew post position 9 and has been installed as the (heavy) 3-5 favorite in the field of 10.
Out at Del-Mar, and also on Saturday, multiple stakes winning mare Switch will run in the Grade 1, $300,000 Clement Hirsch Stakes for older fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles.
Switch, who certainly looks ready to run a big race judging by her quick six furlong work (1:11 flat) last Sunday, is coming off a win in the A Gleam Handicap at Hollywood Park at seven furlongs.
Saratoga – August 4, 2012
Race 10 – 5:45 PM
Whitney Invitational Handicap (Grade I)
For Three Year Olds And Upward.
One And One Eighth Miles.
|1||1||Rule||5/H||L||J Bravo||117||T A Pletcher||
|2||2||Hunters Bay||5/H||L||E Wilson||115||R Baker||
|3||3||Caixa Eletronica||7/H||L||J Castellano||116||T A Pletcher||
|4||4||Endorsement||5/H||J Rosario||115||E G Harty||
|5||5||Trickmeister||5/H||L||R A Dominguez||116||R E Dutrow, Jr.||
|6||6||Ron the Greek||5/H||L||J Lezcano||120||W I Mott||
|7||7||Flat Out||6/H||L||R Napravnik||116||W I Mott||
|8||8||Hymn Book||6/G||L||J R Velazquez||118||C R McGaughey III||
|9||9||Fort Larned||4/C||L||B J Hernandez, Jr.||117||I R Wilkes||
1) Ron The Greek- this horse, along with Game on Dude, Mucho Macho Man and Acclamation for sure, and possibly Wise Dan and Alternation, figures to be battling all year long for the top position in what looks to be a pretty wide open Old Male Horse division.
This now five year old horse by Clear Mandate has already chalked up two Grade: 1 wins (and is gunning for his third in this race) while coming from behind in the Santa Anita Handicap (won 3 ½ lengths) and the Stephen Foster (won by a head).
He definitely seems to have improved since moving to Bill Mott’s barn about a year ago. Since the move, he’s won four and finished second three times in seven races.
Lastly, he looks to have a tactical advantage as his best running style seems to be to come from behind. This should bode well for him being this race has several horses with good early speed in Trickmeister,Fort Larned, Endorsement and Rule
2) Fort Larned- is a winner of three of his last five and has recorded 108 Speed Figures in three of his last four. With the exception of Flat Out, who did it twice last year, none of these horses have run that fast.
Two more things that stand out to me about this son of E Dubai(by Mr. Prospector) are one, he comes into this race with a huge work (5F- :58.3) in tow and two, Track Oddsman Eric Donovan, who is sharp as a tack, lists him as a just slightly behind Ron The Greek on the morning line odds.
3) Hymn Book- hasn’t won since the Donn Handicap back in February. However this stretch running son of Arch always runs a good race as his 17 starts and 13 on the board finishes would indicate.
Also, the more I look at his last race, (the Suburban July 7) the more I like it. In that race, he broke bad and was forced to go four wide on the turn for home yet he finished just two lengths behind Mucho Macho Man, who I thought was going to sprout wings like Pegasus that day after running a mile in 1:33.4 and finishing the 1 1/8 miles in a rapid 1:46.2
Trickmeister went way too fast way, too early in the aforementioned Suburban Handicap when he wilted down the stretch to finish third. All in all, he didn’t run that bad of a race and for a winner of six of eight lifetime starts, I find it a little baffling he is a whopping 15-1 on the morning line. Flat Out, who is another dual Grade: 1 stakes winner but hasn’t won in almost a year. He is yet another who switched to the Bill Mott barn and when he did, he ran better than he’d run in a while (second in his 2012 debut)….dangerous if he continues to improve under Mott or regain last year’s form. Rule who is speedy but a tad inconsistent. He did, however, have a very nice return to the races in his 2012 debut….could be a threat should he be allowed an uncontested early lead.
Record: 13-38 = 34% (my percentage is on the rise after winning four of my last five picks)
Little Bets N’ Pieces:
**** Noble Mission, a full brother to reigning Horse of the World Frankel, won the Bet365 Gordon Stakes last Tuesday at Goodwood, a day before his famous older brother won the Sussex Stakes. (More on that in a moment)
Noble Mission now has three wins and three runner-up efforts from six lifetime starts.
A possible next target for the Noble Mission is the Ladbrokes St Leger September 15 at Doncaster Racecourse.
With the win, Noble Mission became the third group stakes winner from multiple stakes winning mare Kind. The mare’s first foal (by Sadler’s Wells) was Bullet Train, winner of the Totesport.com Derby Trial in 2010.
The following year, Kind produced the great Frankel, who has now won all 12 lifetime of his starts.
In addition to Bullet Train, Frankel, and Noble Mission, Kind is the dam of Morpheus, an unraced two-year-old by Oasis Dream, and an unnamed yearling filly by Oasis Dream. So stay tuned….there could be more greatness on the way overseas.
**** Speaking of the fastest horse in the world, Frankel, he turned in another breathtaking performance and remained undefeated in now 12 lifetime starts when he absolutely cruised to a six-length win under jockey Tom Queally in the $490,500 QIPCO Sussex Stakes at Goodwood this past Wednesday.
Frankel sat just off the early pace and with three furlongs left, Queally “pushed the button” and the gorgeous son of Galileo quickly opened up on the field.
The final time for the mile distance was 1:37.2 over a turf course rated “good”.
After the race Queally said, “Every moment spent on his back is a special moment and today was no different. He’s amazing, he had all the other horses cooked just after halfway and it was a nice prep for his next race.”
“He’s a class apart from anything else at the moment, he does it all very easily therefore I have a very easy job, all I have to do is steer,” Queally added.
On a side note, our thoughts and prayers go out to Frankel’s trainer Sir Henry Cecil, who has been unable to attend the race as he is undergoing further treatment for cancer.
**** Champion Arazi, who took America by storm with a dominating win in the 1991 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, was pensioned from stud duty at the end of the 2011 due to declining fertility and will live out the rest of his days at Independent Stallions in Victoria, Australia.
“He’s in great form, very bright and active,” Mike Becker of Independent Stallion Station said of the now 23-year-old. “He’s cheeky, yet loves attention and is quite the character. He has a penchant for apples and will sniff through your pockets until he finds them and makes his displeasure known if you forget them. He has a home for life with us.”
Bred in Kentucky, Arazi began his racing career in France, winning six of his first seven starts but was then sent to America to run in the Breeders Cup. There he turned in an electrifying performance to win the Breeders Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs. He was later named Europe’s Horse of the Year and champion two-year-old, as well as the Eclipse Award champion two-year-old.
Arazi went back toFrance to prepare for the following spring’s Kentucky Derby but, after knee surgery, really never came back the same as he finished eighth in theDerby.
He then campaigned in France and England that summer and fall, winning the CIGA Prix du Rond-Point but disappointed again on a return trip to America when finishing 11th in the Breeders Cup Mile at GulfstreamPark, His career concluded with nine wins from 14 starts and earnings of $1,212,351.
Through last week (and from 16 crops of racing age), Arazi is the sire 292 winners, including 13 stakes winners, who have earned a total of $26,469,763. His chief earner is Congaree, who won ten graded stakes events and earned $3,267,490.
“We still get a while lot of interest about Arazi from the U.S.,” Becker said. “We’ve sent locks of his mane or tail, shoes, or bridles, and get emails almost weekly from people interested in his welfare. It’s safe to say I’ve never had a stallion with a bigger, more widespread fan base. We’re proud to have him and will make sure he has every care for his life.”
**** Two days after winning the Haskell Invitational, Paynter was still at Monmouth Park with a slight fever that prevented him from shipping back to trainer Bob Baffert’s base in Southern California.
“There’s no other issue regarding how he came out of the race, it isn’t anything physically like bone-related; he just happened to spike a fever,” owner Ahmed Zayat said last Tuesday. “He’s bright and alert and he’s looking good but we wanted to be very cautious and not ship him. Obviously we didn’t want to put him on a plane with him having a fever.”
“He’ll probably miss a week, hopefully just five or six days,” Baffert said. “He’s probably just a little stressed from the trip and the race.”
“The plan right now, if it’s just a slight fever and it subsides, is to keep him at Monmouth and then van him toSaratoga,” Zayat said. “If it’s an infection that could set him back a week or so in training, you worry what do you do next, do you run in the Travers or skip it?”
**** Zayat also mentioned his other top 3-year-old, Bodemeister, who also spiked a fever a few weeks ago, is two weeks away from working again.
“He had a very tough campaign,” Zayat said of Bodemeister, who finished second in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness after winning the Arkansas Derby several weeks earlier.
“We are being very, very cautious, trying to give him all the time possible for him to kick back, because when we run him, we want him to run like the real Bodemeister he is.”