J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
summer of fantastic racing at Saratoga continues on Saturday with five more
stakes races, including the prestigious $1,250,000 Whitney Stakes (gr. I), the
highlight of the meet for older male horses and a major "Win and You're In"
prep race for the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I). Let's take a look at the
|Ricardo Santana, Jr.
|John Terranova, II
|4th Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I) (VIDEO)
|1st State Dinner Stakes (VIDEO)
|Irad Ortiz, Jr.
|Richard Violette, Jr.
|3rd Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) (VIDEO)
|1st Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) (VIDEO)
|6th Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) (VIDEO)
|1st Suburban Handicap (gr. II) (VIDEO)
when a grade I race draws only six horses, it's a sign of a weak field or a
couple of standout horses that have scared away the competition, but in the
Whitney, that is not the case. Three of the starters are grade I winners, two
more are graded stakes winners, and the last is a listed stakes winner that
looks like a rising star. This six-horse field has a lot of depth!
course, it's possible that 3-5 morning line favorite Frosted did scare off a few potential starters. After all, the son
of Tapit turned in an astonishing performance to win the Metropolitan Handicap
(gr. I) by 14 ¼ lengths last time out, earning a 123 Beyer and a negative 8 ½
Thoro-Graph figure, the latter figure being the best ever assigned by
goes without saying that if Frosted repeats that performance, he is going to
crush his competition in the Whitney Stakes, but I think this could be the
perfect time to play against him. His Metropolitan performance, while
spectacular, came over a very fast track while cutting back in distance to one
turn for the first time since he was a two-year-old in 2014. He'll be facing a
deeper track while returning to two turns in the Whitney, and he'll be facing
tougher competition as well. Furthermore, his best form prior to the
Metropolitan wouldn't tower over this field, and if you exclude the
Metropolitan from his record, I don't think he would even be favored in the
Whitney. He can certainly win this race, but if he goes off at 3-5, his
rivals-some of which might have an equal chance of winning-will offer lots of
most obvious candidate for an upset is Effinex,
the second choice on the morning line at 7-2. The five-time graded stakes
winner enters the Whitney off a second straight win in the ten-furlong Suburban
Handicap (gr. II) at Belmont Park, and while he did benefit from a modest pace
that day, he flew home the final six furlongs in 1:11.70 to win by a neck. He might
be at his best going ten furlongs, but he's also thoroughly proven at nine,
having won the Clark Handicap (gr. I) and Oaklawn Handicap (gr. II) at this
biggest concern with Effinex is that he has a tendency to be inconsistent. Just
two starts back, he finished sixth in the Stephen Foster Handicap (gr. I), and
while he seems to do better with frequent racing and should be ready to roll in
his third start since June 18th, it can be hard to predict when he
might disappoint. Also, his only race at Saratoga to date yielded a
fourth-place finish in the 2015 Woodward Stakes (gr. I) after he acted up at
the starting gate, so that's another thing to keep in mind.
all these reasons, I'm going to take a chance with the up-and-coming 8-1 shot Comfort. The son of Indian Charlie is
lightly raced, with only seven starts under his belt, but brings a three-race
win streak into the Whitney and is 2-for-2 this year. In his 2016 debut, he
tracked a fast pace in an 8.5-furlong allowance optional claiming race at
Belmont before powering home to win by 2 ¾ lengths, and he came back on July 4th
to win the 8.5-furlong State Dinner Stakes at Belmont in even more impressive
fashion. In my opinon, Comfort had every excuse to lose that race-heavy
favorite Touchofstarquality was the lone speed in a small field, and after
getting away with a slow opening quarter in :23.49, Touchofstarquality
accelerated through a half-mile in :46.41 and six furlongs in 1:09.89, which
gave him a two-length lead under no urging from his rider. Those fractions,
coupled with the slow first quarter, should have sucked any finishing kick out
the closers, and that was the case for all except Comfort, who just kept coming
in the homestretch to reel in Touchofstarquality and win going away by 3 ¼
lengths in the sharp time of 1:40.76.
these races, Comfort earned Beyer speed figures of 103 and 105, putting him
right in the mix against Effinex and even Frosted if the heavy favorite
regresses to his pre-Metropolitan form. Trainer Todd Pletcher has enjoyed
success with lightly raced horses in the Whitney-he won the 2013 renewal with
Cross Traffic, who had only four races on his record, and he sent out Liam's
Map to be second in the 2015 Whitney off a record that is very similar to
it a hunch, but I think Comfort is ready to take another step forward, and his
running style-stalking the pace before finishing strongly-should be well-suited
to Saratoga. He'll need to work out a good trip from post two, but at anywhere
near his morning line odds of 8-1, I think he's a huge overlay with a big
chance to win.
also wouldn't count out Noble Bird,
an inconsistent runner with the ability to run huge on his best day. Although
he was no match for Frosted when sixth in the Metropolitan after setting fast
fractions, Noble Bird proved more than capable of capitalizing on a slow pace
when he romped to victory in the Pimlico Special Handicap (gr. III) two starts
back, winning by 11 ¼ lengths while earning a 110 Beyer. He ran similarly well
with an easy lead in the Ben Ali Stakes (gr. III) earlier this year, finishing
a good second to Eagle, and if Noble Bird can shake clear early on in the
Whitney, he could prove tough to catch.
it's your turn! Who do you like in the Whitney Stakes?
To help simplify the process of choosing and keeping track of everyone's prime horse selections in our 2016 Road to the Breeders' Cup Classic Handicapping Challenge, I would like to ask everyone to please submit their prime choice each week by leaving a special comment on the official blog page for the contest. This will greatly reduce the chances of any prime horse selections getting overlooked, and will also make it simpler to double-check the standings. Thanks, and enjoy the racing!
J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.