The number seven is rampant in the 2021 edition of the Grade 1, $1 million Whitney Stakes, as each of the five entrants possesses seven career victories. Combined, the field has won 35 of 70 lifetime races for more than $12 million career earnings.
Leading the group is Knicks Go, who has made a career of taking the lead at the start and running his competitors off their feet while coasting home in front in the final eighth of a mile. Using his early speed, Knicks Go has won five of his last six North American starts, most recently the Grade 3 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap at the distance of the Whitney. Next by accomplishments is the filly Swiss Skydiver, winner of the Grade 1 Preakness Stakes against males last fall and the Grade 1 Beholder Mile Stakes earlier this year. Maxfield has only been defeated one time in eight career starts and enters the Whitney off strong victories in the Grade 2 Alysheba Stakes Presented by Sentient Jet and in the Grade 2 Stephen Foster Stakes, also at the distance of this race. Silver State has also won two graded stakes in a row starting with the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap in April at this 1 1/8-mile trip followed by a win in the Grade 1 Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap in June. Last but not without impeccable credentials in this strong quintet is By My Standards runner-up in the 2020 Whitney and winner of the Oaklawn Mile Stakes in April before a runner-up effort in the Metropolitan Handicap.
Owing to the heavy favoritism Knicks Go will very likely receive from bettors, I’m going to opt for By My Standards to post the upset in this year’s Whitney Stakes. Winner of the 2019 Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby and well-regarded in the Kentucky Derby that year, By My Standards had little chance in the Derby after getting squeezed back at the start and losing position. Sitting out the balance of 2019, By My Standards returned as a 4-year-old last year and won three races in a row, including both the New Orleans Classic Stakes and Oaklawn Handicap, before a big runner-up effort behind Tom’s d’Etat in the 2020 Stephen Foster Stakes. Next came a career-best effort with a 113 Equibase Speed Figure when second behind Improbable in the 2020 Whitney. He ran poorly last fall in two races but, just as he did to start 2020, By My Standards began 2021 with a bang, first winning the Oaklawn Mile in April before a runner-up effort in the Met Mile in June. Although second in the Met Mile, By My Standards may have been best as he brushed the gate at the start, was soundly bumped back to last of six, and was wide on the turn. Nevertheless, By My Standards rallied and was beaten just one length at the finish line by Silver State. Now having finished first or second in five of six career starts at this 1 1/8-mile distance, with a clean break By My Standards can post the upset win in this year’s Whitney by running as well as he did in last year’s edition of the race.
That being said, By My Standards must run down Knicks Go in the stretch to win. There’s a saying in racing “speed is the ultimate bias,” and with Knicks Go that is a fact. Brilliant as a 2-year-old when winning the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity in the fall of 2019, Knicks Go went off form but got his brilliant speed back after moving to the barn of Brad Cox over the winter of 2020. Reeling off three wins in a row, including the Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile last fall, Knicks Go won the Pegasus World Cup Invitational this past January with a strong 115 Equibase Speed Figure, just one point shy of the career-best 116 figure earned three months earlier. Following uncharacteristically poor fourth-place finishes in the Saudi Cup and Metropolitan Handicap, Knicks Go showed all his speed and talent when winning the Cornhusker Handicap last month at the distance of the Whitney and could prove impossible to catch once again.
Maxfield has been nearly perfect in his career, winning seven of eight races. His only loss came when trying 1 ¼ miles in the Santa Anita Handicap in March, perhaps just a bit farther than he wants to run. In his only try at the 1 1/8-mile distance of the Whitney, Maxfield easily won the Stephen Foster Stakes in his most recent start near the end of June, earning a 107 figure. Perhaps he didn’t have to run any faster, because two months earlier when winning the Alysheba Stakes, Maxfield earned a career-best 115 figure, which stands up as nearly the same as the best figures of the top contenders in this field. It must also be noted that jockey Jose Ortiz is a perfect 5-for-5 when riding Maxfield, compared to 4-for-5 for Joel Rosario (Knicks Go) and 7-for-14 for Gabriel Saez (By My Standards).
In terms of probability, both Silver State and the filly Swiss Skydiver can’t be ruled out. Silver State earned a 113 Equibase Speed Figure for winning the Oaklawn Handicap in April at the distance of the Whitney before a game victory in the Metropolitan Handicap, while Swiss Skydiver already proved capable of beating males in last year’s Preakness (111 figure) and won the Beholder Mile Stakes in March off a layoff similar to the one she’s coming off today. Notably, North American leading jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. rides Swiss Skydiver for the first time, and the jockey is in a pitched battle with his brother Jose for the coveted Saratoga riding title, with the brothers having won 24 races each through Wednesday,one behind leading jockey Luis Saez.
Win Contenders, in preference order:
By My Standards