Run at 1 1/8 miles, the Grade 1, $1 million Whitney Stakes at Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Last year, Diversify won the Whitney Stakes but he suffered a setback and was unable to make the Breeders’ Cup Classic. There have been a handful of horses in recent history to pull off the Whitney-Classic double — Gun Runner (2017), Fort Larned (2012), Blame (2010), and Invasor (2006) — making the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes one of the premier races to run on the path to the Classic and many in here are aiming to do just that.
1. “Bob Baffert (trainer of McKinzie) has never won the Whitney.” — @LauraKingDXB
Bob Baffert will send out the morning-line favorite and most likely betting favorite in McKinzie (#6) in this race. A lot of attention has been made of Baffert looking for his first win in the Whitney, but the reality is he is proven at Saratoga and has only run one other horse in this race. McKinzie should be treated as an individual case and he is entering the Whitney fresh off his most recent efforts in both winning the Grade 2 Alysheba Stakes Presented by Sentient Jet at Churchill Downs and, more recently, encountering some trouble when finishing second in the Grade 1 Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park back in June. He is a classy individual — a multiple Grade 1 winner — and enters this race in the peak of his career. He will stretch out in distance off the one-turn Met Mile and to this 1 1/8-mile distance, and that comes with some concern in terms of this distance for him, in my opinion. He was able to win at this distance in the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby in his 3-year-old season, however, he was visually tiring late and it was the first time, with more to come, with him flashing his tail late in deep stretch to just hold. He has been unable to win beyond 1 1/16 miles since and does have that to prove in this race, especially given the expected short price.
2. “Thunder Snow has never won in America.” — @SuleimanAltaf
Godolphin will send out Thunder Snow (#4) who will make his fifth North American start Saturday. When viewing his record, let’s focus on the three more recent North American races after he acted up and failed to finish in the 2017 Kentucky Derby in his stateside debut. He made his U.S. return in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup last September, finishing a quality second given the trip and the pace in that event. He made his next start at Churchill Downs in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic in November 2018 and finished an even third that afternoon. Most recently, he finished third, a neck behind McKinzie, in the Met Mile. His form has held up in each of those three races, which makes his ability to win locally less of a concern. He has been freshened for this campaign and, similar to last year, was given a prep at Belmont for a more classic-type race. He should appreciate this distance as well as the two-turn configuration, and the two-time Dubai World Cup winner has been training nicely on this main track coming into the race.
3. “Not many who want the lead – can Preservationist “walk the dog”?” — @TurfCapper
The pace scenario for this race is an interesting one, and overall it can be seen as a major element to how this race will play out Saturday. Trainer Jimmy Jerkens will send out Preservationist (#8), and in terms of running style he is very likely to take on the pace-setter role at this distance, especially coming from the outside post. That said, he is not much faster in the early stages than many of the other entrants in this field and could find the front end competitive and more bunched than it might look when reading the past performances. Obviously, McKinzie should be in that mix as well along with Forewarned (#2), Monongahela (#3), and even Thunder Snow, who prefers to race close to the pace. Competition for the early lead is something Preservationist could have to deal with here stepping up in class and coming off the perfect trip in the Grade 2 Suburban Stakes last month at Belmont Park.
4. “Poll - How much is Vino Rosso going to win the Whitney by?” — @ballydolphin
There are many Vino Rosso (#5) “stans” out there, and he has come up on social media as the “wise-guy” alternative in the 2019 Whitney. He is a legit contender. As much as Baffert’s name has come up in this race, it would be a mistake to not put Todd Pletcher’s — the trainer of Vino Rosso — name in the Whitney conversation. His first Whitney win came in 2002 with Left Bank and he has won the race a total three times. In terms of his part in the pace scenario, Vino Rosso is capable of being one of those horses close up in the early stages, just as he was most recently when winning win the Grade 1 Gold Cup at Santa Anita Stakes in May. He has experience on this main track, and in terms of distance Vino Rosso should find this type of route to be ideal. He has been pointed to this race since that win at Santa Anita and has trained forwardly. Vino Rosso looks well prepared for the Whitney.
#5. “Whitney Stakes 2019; Quien ganara̒?” — @DarwinVizcaya
This is a very competitive race and a win from many in this field would not be much of a surprise. Vino Rosso mentioned earlier is a logical contender and I prefer him in terms of form and value over both McKinzie and Thunder Snow. There is, however, another contender in Yoshida (#7) that is an interesting player in this field. Full disclaimer, I am not one of those that has always been in his fan club. In many spots, I felt there was often more hype than horse with Yoshida for that given race. However, this spot seems to be favorable for him in terms of pace and current form coming out of the Grade 2 Stephen Foster when racing wide against the race flow. As mentioned earlier, with the potential of several horses vying for the lead, this type of race shape could benefit his off-the-pace, preferred running style. In terms of class, he is a multiple Grade 1 winner with one of those races on this main track and at this distance last summer in the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets. This will be his fourth start of the year and second of this current form cycle. Yoshida also should be a very fair price coming off three straight sixth-place finishes.
The Grade 1 Whitney is one of the premier events of the Saratoga meet that delivers top-notch equine athletes and, of course, a name that will always be remembered – Rest in Power, Marylou!
Good luck this weekend. Any questions can be sent in on Twitter @EmilyOptixEQ.