By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
The road to the Breeders'
Cup Classic (G1) takes a fascinating turn this Saturday with the running of the
$1 million Whitney S. (G1) at Saratoga. Fascinating, because the 1 1/8-mile
race could change the entire Breeders' Cup Classic picture in less than two
Held over 1 1/8 miles, the
Whitney has long ranked as an important steppingstone toward the Classic. In
recent years, horses like Blame (2010), Fort Larned (2012), Mucho Macho Man
(2013), Gun Runner (2017), Vino Rosso (2019), and Knicks Go (2021) have all
used the Whitney as a springboard to success in the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Might #6 Cody's Wish (1-2) do the same in 2023? The red-hot five-year-old
has won nine of his last 10 starts for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott,
including the 2022 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1). He's never run farther than 1
1/16 miles and has campaigned primarily over seven furlongs to one mile, so
stretching out over 1 1/8 miles for the Whitney is a new test. But if Cody's
Wish handles the longer distance at Saratoga, then stretching out another
furlong for the 1 1/4-mile Breeders' Cup Classic enters the realm of
Some bettors might be
inclined to oppose Cody's Wish in the Whitney. Not only is the distance a new
obstacle, his late-running style could be problematic. Cody's Wish is
accustomed to rallying into quick pace fractions over shorter distances, so in
theory a slower pace in the longer Whitney could be detrimental.
But on the other hand, Cody's
Wish has many positives in his corner. He's by far the most accomplished horse
in the field; his five rivals have won a single Grade 1 race between them,
whereas Cody's Wish has won four Grade 1 races in a row. Furthermore, Cody's
Wish defeated two of his key rivals—#1
Zandon (9-2) and #5 White Abarrio (6-1)—by
an easy 3 1/4 lengths in the one-mile Metropolitan H. (G1) two months ago.
It's also important to note
Cody's Wish isn't inexperienced racing around two turns. The 2022 Breeders' Cup
Dirt Mile took place over a two-turn mile at Keeneland, and Cody's Wish rallied
powerfully to beat multiple Grade 1 winner Cyberknife by a head. In addition,
Cody's Wish finished second in the 2022 Challenger S. (G3) racing 1 1/16 miles
at Tampa Bay Downs, beaten only a neck by next-out Ben Ali S. (G3) winner Scalding.
The Challenger featured a
modest pace similar to what might unfold in the Whitney, so the fact Cody's
Wish missed by only a neck against a talented rival—at a time before Cody's
Wish had developed into the beast we know today—is noteworthy.
And keep in mind, Cody's
Wish has shown tactical speed in the past. He crushed the 2022 Westchester S.
(G3) racing one mile at Belmont Park after tracking hot fractions of :22.68 and
:44.91 from second place. Then in the one-mile Hanshin S. at Churchill Downs,
Cody's Wish was never more than 1 3/4 lengths off early splits of :23.20 and
:45.61 before taking the lead through six furlongs in 1:09.43.
All this is a way of saying
Cody's Wish should be tough to beat in the Whitney. If pacesetting Cornhusker
H. (G3) winner #3 Giant Game (20-1)
and the occasionally speedy Suburban S. (G2) hero #2 Charge It (5-1) vie for early command through soft fractions,
Cody's Wish can sit closer to the early tempo than usual. From there, his
trademark powerful finish can deliver victory. Remember, he's a son of two-time
Horse of the Year Curlin out of Gazelle S. (G1) winner Dance Card (a daughter
of Tapit), so Cody's Wish is bred top and bottom to thrive racing 1 1/8 miles and
For second place, we'll back
Zandon. A game runner-up in the Metropolitan, Zandon ran well against champion Epicenter
in a pair of stakes starts at Saratoga last summer, finishing second in the 1
1/8-mile Jim Dandy S. (G2) and third in the 1 1/4-mile Travers S. (G1). Zandon
also boasts a win in the 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass S. (G1) and placed efforts in
the 1 1/4-mile Kentucky Derby (G1) and 1 1/8-mile Pennsylvania Derby (G1) on
his resume, so transitioning from the one-turn mile of the Metropolitan to the
two-turn 1 1/8 miles of the Whitney should suit Zandon just fine.
Charge It is another logical
contender after crushing the Suburban against easier competition by 4 3/4
lengths, but the son of Tapit has struggled with consistency and finished
fourth in the Metropolitan, 2 1/4 lengths behind Zandon and White Abarrio. The
latter colt defeated Charge It in the 2022 Florida Derby (G1) racing 1 1/8
miles and can't be counted out of the mix for a top-three finish at Saratoga.
1st: Cody's Wish
3rd: Charge It
4th: White Abarrio
Now it's your turn! Who do
you like in the Whitney?
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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, 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.