By Georgio Sette
It’s the 91st running of the Grade 1 Whitney stakes, now with a purse of $1.2 million.
There’s no doubt it’s one of the best races at the Saratoga
meet, and one of the best for older horses in the country.
This 2018 field of 8 is packed with four & five-year-old’s who have exhibited flashes of brilliance, and now are collectively entered to extend their championship ways, with a Breeders Cup dream coming soon enough this autumn.
It’s sure to be another 9-furlong thriller, and here’s how I see it, offering my best order of finish while providing information I know you will find useful for you to make an informed decision at the betting windows.
# 4 Mind Your Biscuits He’s arguably the best NY Bred in training, a true hard hitter & relentless closer, who recently added yet another dynamic performance to his resume; albeit in defeat (by a nose) in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Mile. He ran a monster race that day at the one-turn mile & now he’ll have to demonstrate that same tenacity going two turns at this 9 furlong distance. I trust the connections of Chad Summers & Joel Rosario to get this done. Yes, we are asking him to win a race at a distance he’s never competed before, but based on his race history, which supports incredible versatility, performing at an exceptionally high level at numerous tracks, surfaces & distances, my confidence is just bubbly. Earlier this year at the end of March he was absolutely smashing with his last to first romp across the world at Dubai in the Grade 1 Golden Shaheen. He got up to win it for the 2nd year in a row, so if he’s capable of such a stretch explosion at 6 panels, I feel with the right trip & smart urging from Rosario, he can break well, sit 5th or 6th, and then blast them down the lane. I’m expecting fast to moderate fractions, so this can very well be his day at the Spa. He’s had four breezes since his Met Mile effort ( a fabulous 109 Beyer) & he’s just a killer 19 for 22 lifetime in the money. Are you ready? Let’s go!
# 2 Backyard Heaven This lightly raced colt ( just 5 career starts) looms to be a threat with a menacing stalking presence. He’s got the bloodlines to be exceptional at the distance, and comes from a top barn with Chad Brown & Javier Castellano will be in the silks. This is a notable switch from the great Irad Ortiz who will be riding the #6 and highly touted “Diversify.” As you know part of my handicapping schemes is that I evaluate performance & behavior with video handicapping, and I watched this colt’s simply dynamic performance & smashing victory in the Grade 2 Alysheba Stakes at Churchill Downs, where he seemed to glide effortlessly to complete his 4 & 1/2 length romp while posting an imposing 105 Beyer. The very next month over the same Churchill soil, he came up flat & faded to a very disappointing 6th, beaten soundly against what I believe were inferior horses in the Grade 1 Foster. Since then he’s been smartly freshened with steady breezes, and to me appears fresh & fit and ready to rock & roll. In the Foster, he was the odds-on choice at 4:5 and could have been exhausted with the late start in the day & the balmy 95-degree temperature. I’m expecting him to break alertly, get good position, sit 3rd behind the speed of # 3 Dalmore & # 6 Diversify, hold his position for the first 5 panels & to be turned loose after that.
Watch the board, there may be some smart money on him, & if he brings his best, he’s dangerous for sure.
# 1 Tapwrit
This million dollar purchase by Tapit rose to fame by winning the 2017 Belmont Stakes, blitzing that field at it’s daunting mile & a half distance under Jose Ortiz
( who will be riding # 7 Good Samaritan). He then disappointed his backers in the Travers finishing an even 4th in the field of 12. His 2018 campaign started after a 10-month layoff. His first was a bad start, hitting the gate and running without any ferocity, and then finishing a disappointing 5th as the co-favorite in the Grade 2 Suburban. Todd Pletcher switches to Hall of Famer Johnny Velazquez, and if the pace is as fast as I feel it will be, Johnny V can easily save ground & get a strong response in the grueling final 1/8 of a mile. Tapwrit was too wide in the Suburban, I’m saying really nuts like 9 wide while chasing runaway winner Diversify. His only two races on the Saratoga soil have been lackluster, but he just may be in a perfect spot to show the brilliance he had in last years 3rd jewel of the Triple Crown. I know it will surface again, so this spot can be perfect timing for it.
# 6 Diversify The 2nd of the simply dynamic NY Bred’s in this field. He’s got high speed & comes off his absolutely dominating victory in the previously mentioned Grade 2 Suburban at Belmont Park, soundly defeating two opponents in this race # 1Tapwrit & # 5 Discreet Lover. He’s got world-class rider Irad Ortiz back in the saddle, and for many reasons, I trust his trainer Richard Violette. I am also expecting him to be the favorite at the betting windows to the tune of 6:5. Yes, he absolutely crushed the field in his latest posting an incredible 110 Beyer, and he’s followed with an equally insane .59 flat breeze over this Saratoga soil, so you may ask, why don’t I have him as my top choice? Well, racing to me doesn’t work that way. Could he showcase that wonderous form again? Sure, absolutely, but I’m a believer of circumstances and I have seen the “bounce theory” come into play far too often. Again, there are many particulars and trust me, I covered them all, this is a well-bred gelding, who like my top choice, is one of the best NY Bred’s in training, and being that he’s 9 for 14 lifetime shows he’s got winning ways & a true nose for the wire. I just feel his last was just too easy, he’ll be pressed more on the front end and he’s facing a much tougher field. I’m expecting # 3 Dalmore to be rushed up alongside him, and make it tougher for him. Additionally, keep in mind that he’s just 1 for 4 at the distance, and many of his victories came in state-bred races, rather than open fields. Can he take it all here? If he runs like the wind as he did in the Suburban, he can be scary, but I’m betting against it & feeling he’s better suited for 4th best today.
# 8 McCraken This is a well-traveled colt with solid connections in Ian Wilkes & Brain Hernandez who’s been his lifetime rider. In last years Travers, he faulted badly in his only race over the Saratoga soil, but he broke poorly from the 9 hole & he never got going throughout the race. That was a surprise as in his previous race he was dead game in the Grade 1 Haskell, just missing by a nose. He’s since been freshened somewhat & I felt he had much more to offer in the Met Mile where he steadied and raced without ambition. I feel his best days are still ahead of him, he’s 9 for 11 lifetime in the money & he’s hit the board in all 4 tries at this distance.
I respect him & his connections, and feel he could be used as a price in various betting gimmicks.
# 7 Good Samaritan He’s another colt who deserves to be part of this field, and you must love the Bill Mott/ Jose Ortiz connections, but keep in mind, for the longest time he was ridden by Joel Rosario ( who rides my top choice). Although very talented, he’s been beaten soundly by several horses in this field & I consider him a Grade 2 talent. He’s a powerful closer & is capable of stepping up in this spot, but with his slow works and history vs several of his opponents, I’d side with him only to hit the board in your superfectas. He simply needs a perfect trip & for several others to falter badly from their current form.
# 3 Dalmore This gelding has had a productive exacta history, hitting the gimmick 9 times in 17 tries, being on top 4 times. He’s got raw speed & should have an early presence running with or after Diversify. His rider Ricardo Santana is as good as it gets recently. He’s riding with confidence & will surely press the pace, but in the end, I feel he’s facing superior Grade 1 colts and I am expecting him to tire after they turn for home. An outsider for sure, expecting him to get little betting interest at the windows, and he’s likely to be dismissed at odds of 40-1 or better, so. If you like him, you’ll get value, but in my opinion, you need to find a softer spot for him.
# 5 Discreet Lover Seasoned veteran may show some early speed as he did in several 2017 races, I love Manny Franco and his riding capabilities, but the overall connections do not thrill me. He’s been working at Parx, and seems to be in good shape as I viewed several of his races, but he’s just not as fast as many in this field, and he’ll need a career-best just to hit the money board. He’s also 0 for 3 at Saratoga and only 1 for 13 at the distance. I wouldn’t bet on him today unless of course, you like the name & you’ve been cheating on your wife or husband. He belongs with Grade 3 company. Passing on him for sure.
Ok, well there you have it – the top contenders for the 2018 Whitney Stakes. I’m hoping you are feeling me & if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask.
Good luck with your choices and your betting ways, Let’s go!!! ~Georgio Sette