The 2021 Whitney Stakes at the Spa

August 7, 2021

Maxfield and Knicks Go are set to put on a show in the Whitney at Saratoga

It may be a small field but it is surely a select one with the two big names joined by the star filly Swiss Skydiver and Met Mile winning Silver State. Geo Sette dives deep into the race as he usually does and runs down all five starters in his order of preference.

Geo Sette

The Whitney Stakes always highlights a big Saratoga Saturday card, and this year is no exception. For over 90 years it has been one of the meet’s most anticipated races. A robust purse of $1,000,000 for horses four-years-old and upward. The field isn’t very big, but you can say it’s elite with arguably five of the very best older horses in training. Each of these entered has surpassed over $1,250,000.00 in career earnings. The race is sure to produce high drama along with being a significant betting interest. Additionally, the winner will earn a “Win and you’re in” spot in the Breeders’ Cup Classic later this autumn. 

It looks to be a very competitive field where a contending argument can be made for each horse to emerge victorious.   It’s likely to be a very exciting finish, here’s how I see it shaping up. 

# 5 Maxfield    

This colt gets my top rating and honors as he appears to be primed for a top effort. This son of Street Sense was lightly raced as a juvenile and as a three-year-old, but he did nothing but win and rather impressively over 3 different tracks. Now as a four-year-old he’s continued his winning ways, winning three of his four starts this year. The last two were the Grade 2 Alysheba and the Grade 2 Steven Foster, both at Churchill Downs where he ran career best Beyer numbers, winning by 3+ lengths. So he’s won 7 of his 8 starts with his only defeat coming in the Santa Anita Handicap going 10 furlongs where he was a bit wide, yet still raced willingly. The very competent stable of Brendan Walsh saddle Jose Ortiz. Maxfield has been working smartly at Saratoga with three conditioning breezes for this race as he’s making his Saratoga debut. He appears to be suited best by this 9-furlong distance and is likely to be sitting a solid trip to be in position facing moderate to potentially fast fractions to run this field down in the stretch.  As I watched all his career starts in race replay, I saw the same tenacious approach with winning in mind. Yes, he’s facing a tough field of proven hard hitters, but he just may prove to be the very best of this bunch. He’ll be exciting to watch as they turn for home. 

# 1 By My Standards  

This colt has been a mark of consistency and I feel that he too is sitting on a big race.  After completing a very profitable four-year-old campaign, he took six months off and came back running as a 5-year-old, running a pair of strong, hard-hitting races. His last race was the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park going a mile, so this is his 3rd race off that layoff.  He now appears to be strong, fresh, and very fit coming into this race with a series of fabulous morning drills, all very fast breezes. I am confident that trainer Bret Calhoun has him ready, and his regular rider, the very capable Gabriel Saez is back in the saddle.  This son of Goldencents has earned $2,254,430.00 in hitting the board 13 times in his 16 career starts, winning 7 of them and filling the exacta 12 times.  This of course is a limited field of 5 and he has raced brilliantly in such smaller fields, it works into his running style promoting the likeliness of a good trip. He was 2nd in last year’s Whitney Stakes to Improbable so he’s shown to appreciate the Saratoga racing strip.  Like my top choice, I’m expecting him to mount a powerful close as they come down the stretch, my choice to fill yet another exacta. 

# 4 Knicks Go   

This gray possesses high speed and it’s sure to be on display in this Whitney field.   He’s won some major purses now totaling just shy of $5,000,000.00 and comes out of the widely successful Brad Cox barn who once again saddles Joel Rosario in the silks which will likely make him the post time favorite at the windows. He’s been flashy and rather dynamic with some runaway victories, but at the same time he’s been greatly disappointing. He’s a five-year-old who appears to be in fabulous shape, and his works for this race have been solid as well, but I’m not sold that this is his best distance.  His 2020 campaign was flawless, and he came into 2021 with his same dynamic speed, but then had a pair of races where he weakened badly at short odds, both tough Grade 1 fields, one of them being the Met Mile where he was defeated by two of his opponents in this race.  His connections then placed him in a Grade 3 event at Prairie Meadows where he dominated the overmatched field posting his career best Beyer at 113, winning by more than 10 lengths.   Obviously, he’s deserving of consideration because he’s the fastest horse in the race, but he’s facing some of the best in this division and because he has shown to tire at times, to me he doesn’t offer any betting value as he’s likely to be well supported at the windows. Then you must throw in the fact that in his only start over this same Saratoga oval in the grade 3 Sanford sprint (July 2018) he ran a very poor race finishing 5th in a field of 7. Granted many people believe he was a different horse then, and later that same year he won the Breeders’ Cup going away by 5 at 70-1 odds.  He’s my 3rd choice, respectfully speaking. Could he lead this field all the way? Sure, on his best day, but in my opinion, he would need the others to not bring their “A” game as well. 

# 3 Swiss Skydiver   

The three-year-old Filly Champ takes on the boys.    All eyes will be on this filly as she’s making her 3rd start of the year.  Last summer here at Saratoga she was stunning winning the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes, and winning it rather impressively too.  Then later in the year in early October she beat the boys in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico, holding on to defeat Authentic.  She now gains the services of Irad Ortiz and she appears to be fit coming into this race with a pair of sharp breezes, but is she ready to beat the boys not having raced since April 17th?  There are many handicappers who will support her running fresh as she began her four-year-old campaign with a dazzling victory in the Grade 1 Beholder Stakes at Santa Anita.   I have much respect for this filly who has hit the board in 12 of her 14 lifetime starts and I believe she will show speed facing the boys in this race. The question remains, will she rush up to challenge Knicks Go? Or will she patiently sit a tactical trip and then try to pass him as they turn for home?   I wouldn’t be surprised if she did better than my 4th place showing, so if you are playing multiples with your exactas and triples, she’s worthy of the consideration. I would be surprised if she won this race, but she’s a contender to hit the board for sure.  It will be fun to watch her,  I originally had her placed 3rd,  but after thinking of the money Knicks Go will take in, I felt he’s more likely to hold on for a share. 

# 2 Silver State. 

This colt has been simply fabulous and trust me, as a handicapper breaking down a small field like this, it was very difficult to put him at the bottom.  This son of Hard Spun was purchased for $450,000 as a yearling, and has earned over $1,1750,000. He comes into this Whitney Stakes winning his last 6 starts. Allow me to repeat that, he has a 6-race winning streak!  There’s no doubt he’s got a nose for the wire, and he finished ahead of my 2nd choice By My Standards, in his last, but when I break down his complete body of work, he simply appears to be a cut below in class to most of these in the race.  Of course, I have worlds of respect for trainer Steven Asmussen and Ricardo Santana Jr.  who’s his regular rider.  This colt is making his Saratoga debut and he’s got some nice works over the track. There’s lots to admire about his heart, but considering the field he’s facing, he’s more likely to finish off the board.  If you are playing deeper gimmicks,  then of course you should use this colt in your wagers. 

The weather should provide ideal conditions, and this really should be a race that will be talked about for many years to come.  There’s a great undercard as well, so go ahead and make it a racing day to remember. Good Luck! 

Contributing Authors

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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