The 2020 Whitney Stakes Preview

July 31, 2020

If you know Geo Sette at all, then you know there is no way no how he doesn’t dissect the small but stellar field for the 2020 Whitney Stakes at Saratoga racetrack run under the Covid conditions without fans. Following is how Geo sees things playing out on the racetrack.

It’s been very difficult to digest the empty feeling that has been Saratoga this year. Sure, the seasonal meet has been in full swing, but without the crowds and the chemistry that makes Saratoga the very best thoroughbred racing in our country, it simply doesn’t seem the same. 

It’s the one track where you can always see the beauty and raw essence of the sport we love. Typically, for decades, every racing day at Saratoga was special. Near capacity crowds, a beautiful paddock, wonderfully landscaped with concessions everywhere with great food and drinks, in addition to purchasing goods and industry related items. It’s the one place you could purchase a $10 tee shirt or a $1,000.00 original painting. 

I also feel terribly for the entire Saratoga Springs community. I have experienced several times over the years, the entire surrounding area booming with business and pageantry. The streets, restaurants and taverns packed with folks who had enjoyed a great race day.  

With that said, Whitney Stakes Day has always drawn an even greater crowd. Over the years it’s been one of Saratoga’s top 5 racing days. They have been running it since 1928, so its storied history speaks for itself. Even without the fans, the race goes on. 

This years version, although a short field offers 4 of the top 7 older horses in training and it made for a very difficult handicap. As always I covered all the bases and have provided an in-depth analysis so you can enjoy the race at a greater level. 

Keep in mind, the Whitney is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders Cup Classic. 

Here’s how I see the race with my precise order of finish. 

# 3 Code Of Honor   

On paper this race is wonderfully competitive, but this colt stood out to me as the purest Grade 1 horse in the race. With the short field of 5, I feel his running style will work to his advantage. Although greatly successful so far in his career, he’s been victimized several times with bad trips being bumped or forced too wide.  Hall of Fame Jockey Johnny Velazquez, his regular rider, is up again for Shug McGaughey which represent fabulous credentials to win this race. Johnny V has won this race 4 times, and trainer Shug won the Whitney in 2015 with Honor Code, and back in 1988 and 1989 with Easy Goer and Personal Ensign.  This game colt has won over this Saratoga soil as a two-year old and as a three-year-old.  He’s making his 3rd start of 2020 and to me can be primed for his best race.  This guy is a proven Grade 1 winner, and in my opinion, he should have won a few others, losing one by a nose at the wire and others because he was forced to fight off too many racing obstacles.  I feel he’s best suited by a mile and a quarter distance, but he can be just as formidable at 9 panels as well. Look for him to be charging powerfully through the stretch and hit the wire first.

I think Jonathan Stettin likes him too, and that’s never a bad thing!

# 5 Tom’s D’eTat    

This guy has been one of the better stories you will find currently in the thoroughbred community. He comes into this race winning 4 straight and 5 out of his last 6 with many coming in convincing and rather dominating fashion. Looking back it’s hard to think of many 7-year-olds who have possessed such great racing form, especially at this level. So he’s seeking his 5th consecutive victory and he certainly has an affinity for this distance winning 6 of his 9 lifetime starts going 9 furlongs.  He too sports fabulous connections with the great Joel Rosario up for Albert Stall Jr who won this race a decade ago with Blame.  His last race, the Grade 2 Steven Forster, was sensational, and if he runs back to the specific effort, he may very well be hard to beat.  This colt has matured to be a consistent, reliable and rather relentless runner, and he’s doing it gobbling up fabulous Beyer speed ratings.  I do feel he has recently benefitted from a few near perfect trips, but that doesn’t take away from his raw ability.   My decision placing him under my top choice wasn’t easy, but Code of Honor to me has a class advantage and over the span of 2+ years, as he’s faced tougher fields. This guy will be worthy of the money he takes in at the window and deserves all the respect he gets. I’m just feeling this time he gets beat. He’s a must play in most of your exotics especially when considering your exacta and triple wagers. 

# 2 Improbable      

This guy is the one colt that makes handicapping this race so difficult. He has raw talent, and now as a 4-year-old he seems to be more composed. He’s coming off an electrifying victory in the Grade One Gold Cup at Santa Anita, where he simply stalked and then blew away the field running a big number while being well backed at the windows.  Now he picks up the great Irad Ortiz who was last on him in the Kentucky Derby. Trained by Bob Baffert who won this race last year with McKinzie as well as countless other Grade One events, it’s hard to find more confident connections. This horse definitely looks more professional out on the track after having several issues at the gate being restless or starting erratically. As a 2-year-old he was a super horse, but since then he’s been inconsistent. He is also versatile in his ways. He can be very tactical or he can seize the lead. He has proven to travel well too, as he has raced at 7 different tracks in his 12 lifetime starts. That is something to think about as he’s making his Saratoga debut.  All things considered he warrants great respect. He’s a solid horse and a worthy Grade One contender,  but in this small field,  he’s got a few tigers to beat in my top two choices. I have him placed third by default.  If he runs back to his last race he will make this Whitney crazy interesting, so with that he’s capable to better my rating. I feel more comfortable using him in my triple and exacta boxes rather than in my more robust plays. 

# 1 By My Standards   

As I mentioned in my beginning thoughts, this colt is one of the top 7 older horses in training so my respect is there. He adds to the sometimes head-scratching ways of a seasoned handicapper.  He comes into this race in fabulous form with back to back stellar races and he absolutely adores this 9 furlong distance. He comes out of the very consistent Bret Calhoun barn and now gains the services of the piping hot Jose Ortiz, who at the moment is Saratoga’s best rider.  This colt is making his Saratoga debut and is 9 for 10 lifetime in the money as well as a perfect 7 for 7 on a fast track cashing in on exacta tickets.  He in many ways is a quality horse, purchased for $150,000 and sired by Goldencents, he has not disappointed his owners, but as I broke the race down 9 ways till Tuesday,  in this short field of 5, I was forced to list him 4th. He looks to be more of a Grade Two horse than a Grade One. It will be very interesting to see how he performs for this Whitney because his improvement has been continuous.  He deserves consideration on your exotic tickets as he clearly shows the propensity to hit the board. The question remains, has he run his best race yet?  I’m not sure, watch the board and expect him to mount a strong close as they come down the lane. 

# 4 Mr. Bluff   

On another day, this gelding can look outright scary. He’s a tough New York  Bred winning an incredible 9 times at this distance in 13 lifetime tries. He possesses high speed and is likely to be up early to try and steal this Whitney.  I have great respect for John Kimmel and Junior Alvarado is a very capable rider, but as good as this guy as been during his career, he doesn’t own any Grade One or Grade Two victories. He seems to be better suited in NY Bred stakes races rather than one like this in open company.  He’s got a few wins over this Saratoga strip, but in this classy field of 5, I feel he’ll be there early, but eventually get passed by classier horses. 

Well there you have it. The Whitney is the marquee race on a great Saturday racing card. I’m hoping you have a great day at the races, at least the next best thing from actually being there in attendance. I’m hoping my analysis provides a guide for you to make a more informed decision for yourself at the windows.   Enjoy! 

As always, your comments as always very much appreciated.  


Photo: Steve Heuertz

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Geo Sette

Geo serves multiple roles at Past the Wire. He is a columnist, handicapper, and analyst. Geo has been fascinated with the Sport of Kings since...

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