Although McLaughlin believes that step back occurred, it hardly mattered as Frosted rolled to a comfortable two-length victory against Comfort in the 89th running of the Whitney Stakes on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.
“He bounced,” McLaughlin said, “but he bounced right to the winner’s circle.”
Track announcer Larry Collmus described Frosted’s second consecutive sensational performance as a “walk in the park.” It was indeed that.
The 4-year-old Tapit colt immediately asserted himself against five overmatched foes in the 1 1/8-mile contest for jockey Joel Rosario, taking the short, yet talented field through a sizzling opening quarter-mile that went in 23.11 seconds and creating a buzz among the 39,405 spectators.
He continued humming along in a half-mile that went in :46.42 and played “catch me if you can” through three-quarters of a mile in 1:09.65. He stopped the clock in 1:47.77, with Rosario nothing more than a motionless passenger after being sent off at odds of 1-2.
Rosario said of his unexpected early lead, “He pulled me, so I didn’t want to take him back because he was happy there. He was comfortable after I cleared the horses inside of me on the first turn. He was really happy and enjoying it.”
Rosario went on, “Sometimes he’s a little difficult and you have to let him do what he wants to do. But when I turned for home, I knew he had something left because I know the way he likes to run.”
Rosario was conspicuous in his absence when Frosted competed in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga late last August. An injury on the day of the race caused Jose Lezcano to be named as a replacement. Lezcano dueled Triple Crown champion American Pharoah up front, perfectly positioning Keen Ice for a triumphant late surge.
McLaughlin admitted he had a fleeting moment when he thought about that ill-advised ride. That doubt did not last long. Different year, different competition, different horse.
“He’s just a really nice horse,” the trainer said of Frosted, owned by Godolphin Stable. “He matured a lot from 3 to 4. Luckily, American Pharoah is in Lexington and we don’t have to chase him anymore.”
The question now becomes whether Frosted might rank as the best horse in the nation. While California Chrome has held that distinction in a poll conducted by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association since he captured the Dubai World Cup, Frosted appears to be closing ground despite his fifth-place finish in the World Cup.
McLaughlin paid him a huge compliment by comparing him to Invasor, the Horse of the Year in 2006.
“Invasor is the best we’ve had, but he’s creeping up,” he said. “Now, he just has to win the Classic and the World Cup and he’d be there with him or pass him.”
Although that represents an enormous challenge, it appears to be well within Frosted’s reach. How will he get there? McLaughlin will ponder the Woodward Stakes on Sept. 3 at Saratoga or possibly a later start in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park as a steppingstone to the Classic — Frosted earned an automatic starting spot in the Classic with the Whitney win as part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series. McLaughlin also held out the possibility that he might train up to the $6 million Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 5.
While greatly overshadowed by Frosted, Comfort bears watching after his determined rally to finish second in his first Grade 1 attempt.
“He’s come a long way in a short period of time,” trainer Todd Pletcher said.
Upstart finished third followed by Effinex, Noble Bird and El Kabeir on an afternoon when no one was about to catch Frosted.