This weekend’s Horse Racing Race of the Week, the 2013 Whitney Handicap, in my view, is one of the key races of the Saratoga Racetrack summer meet. This race, along with the Woodward Stakes and, the granddaddy of them all, the Travers, goes a long way in my mind when year end championships are decided. This year’s field is loaded with talent with 2012 Breeders Cup Classic winner Fort Larned, the enormous Mucho Macho Man, the speedy Cross Traffic, the late running Ron the Greek and Saratoga surface lover Alpha all scheduled to run.
The Whitney, which is run at nine furlongs for $750,000, in the past has been won by such greats as Discovery (three times in a row), Stymie, Tom Fool, Kelso (also three times), the incomparable Dr. Fager, Alydar, Slew O’ Gold, the iron horse Lady’s Secret, the perfect Personal Ensign, and the powerful Easy Goer. In more recent years other winner’s include, Invasor and Commentator (twice).
Before we break down the Whitney, just two other races I’d like to point out in the $300,000 Clement Hirsch Stakes at Del-Mar for fillies and mares going a mile and a sixteenth on the turf and the $750,000 West Virginia Derby at MountaineerPark for three year old going a mile and an eighth.
The Clement Hirsch came up a bit weak this year from where I sit, I mean there are several horses entered that have won either one or no races this year. Include Me Out is the stand out on paper but Sister Kate grabbed my attention also in that one.
The West Virginia Derby, to me, looks like a two horse race between Grade: 1 winner Overanalyze and the good looking and talented Departing
Overanalyze, who won the Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park earlier in the year, never showed up over the sloppy track at Churchill in this year’s Kentucky Derby with an 11th place finish and also “mailed it in” for the Belmont Stakes as he finished 8th (behind Palace Malice).
Departing, an impressive winner of the Illinois Derby two races ago, was 6th last time out in the Preakness Stakes. After a brief rest, (because he’s a gelding his connections hope to race him for several moreyears), he will be looking to bounce back with either a win or a very good effort come Saturday. The bay by War Front worked a :49.3 half mile on Monday for this.
Both horses will be cutting back in distance and it should prove to be a good race.
Saratoga – Saturday, August 3, 2013
Race 10 – 5:45 PM
Whitney Invitational Handicap (Grade I)
Three Year Olds and Upward
One And One Eighth Miles.
J R Leparoux
C LoPresti (12-1)
Mucho Macho Man
E S Prado
K Ritvo (6-1)
B J Hernandez
I R Wilkes (7-5)
J R Velazquez
T A Pletcher (5-2)
Ron the Greek
W I Mott (6-1)
P Gleaves (20-1)
N Zito (15-1)
1) Fort Larned- got off to a rough start in 2013 when, in his first start of the year, he stumbled at the start of the (March 19) Gulfstream Park Handicap and in the process, he threw regular rider Brian Hernandez to the ground. In fact he ran around the whole race jockey-less but came out of that more or less okay.
Not sure what happened in his next start (April 13 Oaklawn Park Handicap) where he was amongst the leaders early but faded badly to finish 5th beaten 10 lengths.
His last race, the June 15 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs, he finally got untracked (no pun intended) by destroying his foes in winning by 6 ½ lengths wire to wire.
The 2012 Breeders Cup Classic winner by E Dubai (Mr. Prospector) looks for a repeat win in the Whitney this year and, with his versatility, he should have a big shot at it.
“He’s tactical; he can sit behind (if needed),” trainer Ian Wilkes. “Don’t forget Mucho Macho Man is a fast horse, as well. All three speed horses drew on the inside here. It’ll be up to (jockey) Brian (Hernandez). He can sit; (off the pace) that’s not a problem. It’s just important to get out of the gate and have a good, clean break. That’s probably the key to it all.”…agreed Mr. Wilkes, if he breaks clean, he should be tough to beat on Saturday afternoon.
2) Cross Traffic- is a $300,000 yearling purchase by the recently deceased Unbridled’s Song (more on that later) and has an abundance of early speed.
After breaking his maiden in a very quick time, he came back some six weeks later to annihilate a field of optional claimers by over 7 lengths.
Trainer Todd Pletcher then enters him in the Grade: 3 Westchester Mile on opening day of the Belmont spring meet. In the Westchester, he suffered a brutal defeat…he set a wicked early pace (:45.1, 1:08.4) but was run down in the last few steps by Belmont surface lover Flat Out while getting the mile distance in an eye popping 1:32.4.
Almost the same exact thing happened in his last race…Pletcher ran him back in the Met Mile (May 27) where he ripped thru the opening fractions (:44.4, 1:09.1) only to lose a head bobbing finish.
I’m not enamored by the fact he’ll have to find a way to negotiate one furlong further than he’s ever been before (in just his 5th career start), but don’t underestimate him….this guy is a running fool and poses a serious wire to wire threat.
3) Mucho Macho Man- is another who had a rough start this year.
After running his lungs out to finish right behind FortLarned in the 2012 Breeders Cup Classic, he came back to the races in the Sunshine Million at Gulfstream where he was up with the early pace over a very sloppy track but just totally quit running at the quarter pole and was eventually pulled up by rider Mike Smith.
He then got sick and was knocked out of action for a few weeks before making just his second start of the year on June 15
In that second start (the Criminal Type Stakes) he faired a lot better (once again he was up with the early leaders but could do no better than 3rd, beaten 4 ¼ lengths).
Now, since his first race of the year probably didn’t do anything for him fitness-wise, that in turn, will allow me to excuse his last race being from where I sit it was his first REAL race since the BC and he may have “needed that race”.
“This year, we had a slow start,” trainer Kathy Ritvo said. “We ran into a track that was not to his liking. Then he came up with a virus. We restarted everything because he’s such a good horse. He came back and had a really good race in the Criminal Type at Belmont. It was similar to his race in the Alysheba last year before he won the Suburban . It was a good race, and it turned out to be a tough race. We were proud of his effort. I think it has set him up perfectly. I think he is doing as good as he did coming into the Woodward last year. He likes the track up here. He hasn’t missed a work. It’s a tough field, but he belongs here.”
Yes…exactly….his Criminal Type race may have set him up perfectly for this race and if it did, he could be sitting on a huge race.
Ron the Greek is an inconsistent stretch runner who hasn’t won since January but did finish third to the top pick in the Stephen Foster last time out. I love the running style of this horse but truth be told, he’s going to need some luck and complete pace meltdown to have a shot a winning this race. Successful Dan is a half brother to 2013 Horse of the Year Wise Dan and has won 8 of 13 starts in his career…sounds good right?…only one problem, he’s been soundly defeated by Fort Larned two out of the last three times he’s faced him. Alpha is 3 for 3 over the track (but 2 for 9 everywhere else) which immediately makes him a contender on Saturday. But he hasn’t won, or hasn’t even been close to winning, since last August.
Record: 14-38 = 37%
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Little Bets N’ Pieces
**** 2012 Female Sprint Champion Groupie Doll is set to return to the races in the 6 1/2-furlong Masters Stakes at Presque Isle Downs in Pennsylvania on Sept. 9 after a 9-month lay-off trainer Buff Bradley said this past week after watching the now 5 year old mare work five furlongs in :59 3/5.
“She did very well this morning,” said Bradley. “(jockey) Calvin (Borel) breezed her and it was a freaky good work. Every week she’s getting stronger and doing well. Calvin said he’s very impressed by her, she finished strong and galloped out very powerfully today, too. The eighth after the :59 and three, she galloped out in :11 and four. She just does it easy.”
Champion Groupie Doll is nearing her return to the races
**** Unbridled’s Song, who was a standout in all phases of his life from the sales ring, to the racetrack and as a sire, died July 26 in Lexington at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital.
“Unbridled’s Song was majestic from the beginning. Rarely are there horses that are supposed to be great from the beginning and actually are,” said Taylor Made president Duncan Taylor. “Unbridled’s Song was one of those great horses. He had it all—looks, pedigree, speed, and presence. Our team loved him from the beginning. I appreciate and am proud of the job our team did with the management of this magnificent horse”
Unbridled’s Song was euthanized after a rapid decline in his health as a result of a large mass present in multiple sinus cavities and around the optic nerves. He began exhibiting acute neurological signs Thursday morning (July 25th) and was transported to Rood and Riddle. Based on the results on an MRI, it was determined the mass was invasive and aggressive in nature and deemed inoperable.
Unbridled’s Song sold for record price of $1.4 million at the Barretts March sale, but buyer Hiroshi Fujita would back out of the sale because he said his veterinarian detected a bone chip in the colt’s left front ankle. Seller Ernie Pargallo and consignor Taylor Made would dispute that diagnosis, but Paragallo also would say he welcomed the opportunity to race him.
On the track, Unbridled’s Song won the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Belmont Park as a two year old. He would continue that success at 3, winning the Florida Derby and Wood Memorial Stakes. He turned for home in the 1996 Kentucky Derby with a clear two length lead but coughed it up to finish fifth and came out of the race with a sore left front foot.
Upon retirement, he was sent to Taylor Made Farms in Kentucky where he sired champions Midshipman and Embur’s Song, Canada’s 2011 champion older mare. He also sired Breeders’ Cup winners’ Unrivaled Belle and Unbridled Elaine.
From 14 crops to race to date, Unbridled’s Song has sired 730 winners from just over 1,000 lifetime starters, with nearly $90 million in career progeny earnings.
One of my favorites over the years, Unbridled’s Song
**** Grade:1 winner and the regally bred Take Charge Indy has been retired from racing after surgery to repair his left foreleg resulting from an injury sustained in the July 28 Monmouth Handicap. The son of A.P. Indy will stand at WinStar Farm for the 2014 breeding season.
Jockey Gary Stevens said he heard a “loud pop” when 3-5 favorite Take Charge Indy (by A.P. Indy out of Take Charge Lady) was leading the field by 1 1/2 lengths through a :47.2 half-mile. He quickly eased the 4-year-old.
“I was on the lead with a big smile on my face. He was cruising. The only question was how much would he win by,” Stevens said.
Digital radiographs showed a condylar fracture of his left foreleg and he was immediately shipped to nearby Hogan Equine. Dr. Patty Hogan successfully performed a 30-minute procedure on Take Charge Indy the next day, and WinStar reported he came out of the surgery in “good” condition.
Take Charge Indy was injured and retired recently
**** 2012 two year old colt champion Shanghai Bobby breezed three furlongs in :38.4 at Saratoga Race Course this past Monday in what was his first work since being diagnosed with a fractured pelvis bone.
Trainer Todd Pletcher said he was “pleased with the move”.
“It was his first work back, and it went very well,” Pletcher said. “It was just an easy three-eighths. It was nice to get him back on the work tab. He went just nice and easy by himself, just getting him back into a routine. He did exactly what we were hoping he would do, and seemed to handle it well.”
“Now, we’ll kind of start to pick it up gradually as we go along,” Pletcher said. “Basically, he’ll be on a weekly work schedule from here, but I don’t see him making a race here at Saratoga.”
Champion Shanghai Bobby, shown here winning the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga, is on the comeback trail
**** It looks as though Jim Dandy winner Palace Malice and blow out Haskell winner Verrazano are on collision course in the Travers Stakes according to trainer Todd Pletcher, who trains both colts.
“We’re fortunate to have two such outstanding colts,” Pletcher said. “You hate to run horses against each other from the same barn, but in this case I think it’s the logical place for both horses and both owners. We’ll see how they both come back and both train, but right now it certainly looks like they’re likely to show up in the Travers.”