So much for the best laid plans of mice and handicappers.
Yet the key to handicapping the race rests in one of the America’s richest and most famous one-turn races.
The famed Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park, a.k.a the Met Mile, has been a highly reliable steppingstone to the Whitney with seven of the last 10 Whitney winners showing a start in that year’s Grade 1 flat mile.
Unfortunately, much like last week with a Haskell sans Bob Baffert, the Met Mile-Whitney link will most likely be absent from Saturday’s Grade 1 fixture at the Spa. Barring a late change, the list of probable and possible starters - Breaking Lucky, Cautious Giant, Gun Runner, Keen Ice, War Story, Discreet Lover, Tu Brutus and Watershed – does not include any of the 11 other starters who were overwhelmed by Baffert’s Mor Spirit back in June’s edition of the Met Mile.
As a result, the key prep races appear to be the Stephen Foster Handicap and Suburban Stakes, which each produced one last-race winner in the last 10 years. This year, Stephen Foster winner Gun Runner and Suburban victor Keen Ice both are among the Whitney probables.
Breaking Lucky, who was third in the Foster, is also targeting the Whitney.
Otherwise, the key angle for Saturday’s nationally televised (NBC) million-dollar, Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In (for the Breeders’ Cup Classic) race appears to be speed. In the last 10 runnings, four horses in front after the opening half-mile have gone on to win the 1 1/8-mile race.
Beyond that, three other winners were third and within 2 ½ lengths of the lead after the opening four furlongs and two were fourth, two lengths or less off the lead.
The only real closer was Honor Code, who surged from 19 ½ lengths behind to take the 2015 Whitney in memorable fashion.
The toteboard hasn’t been much help lately as just two betting favorites in the last 10 years have landed in the winner’s circle.
Conversely two horses at 10-1 or more were victorious in that span.
Most of the winners were bunched between 7-2 and 5.50-1 as six of the 10 winners were sent off at that price.
Elsewhere, Todd Pletcher, who trains Donegal Racing’s late-running Keen Ice, a 5-year-old who just so happened to beat American Pharoah at the Spa in the 2015 Travers, is the only trainer with two or more Whitney wins since 2007. He was victorious with Cross Traffic in 2013 and Lawyer Ron in 2007.
He also won it in 2002 with the ill-fated Left Bank to give him three lifetime wins in the prestigious Grade 1 stakes.
It’s not a Bob Baffert-Haskell angle, but, hey, you know about best laid plans.