SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin is holding his breath as he awaits the $1.25 million Whitney Stakes on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.
His powerful barn will send out the overwhelming favorite in 3-5 Frosted, last seen producing a sensational performance in the Metropolitan Handicap. As optimistic as McLaughlin is, he feels certain that was a once-in-a-lifetime effort. The only realistic direction from here is backward.
“Obviously, he’s going to regress from his huge effort in the Met Mile,” McLaughlin conceded. “We just hope he doesn’t regress enough to lose. We hope he regresses and can still win.”
Frosted could not have been more spectacular in the Met Mile, roaring off by 14 ¼ lengths as fans looked on in amazement. That is believed to be the largest winning margin in the history of the race, which carried an automatic berth in the Las Vegas Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
A Whitney victory would ensure a spot in the starting gate for the $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park on Nov. 5, the race Frosted’s connections prefer. They would look forward to a showdown with 2014 Horse of the Year California Chrome.
“I think we’re the best on the East Coast and, in a East Coast-West Coast scenario, we’ll find out in time,” McLaughlin said.
Frosted ran seventh in last year’s Classic; he took fifth in the Group 1, $10 million Dubai World Cup. McLaughlin allowed him an ample recovery period after the World Cup to gear up for the Met Mile.
“Timing, I thought, was the most important thing,” the trainer said. “Last year, we were running often, so time is key and now we have time again, about eight weeks. He doesn’t act like he needs it, but it looks like he’s better with a little time.”
Still, McLaughlin acknowledges he never anticipated the “wow” performance the gray or roan Tapit colt gave him at Belmont Park.
“No one could expect something like that,” he said. “We thought he could win certainly, and he was the favorite and rightly so, but never could you imagine a 14-length win like that in a Grade 1 in that important of a race.”
The Met Mile is among the races most prized by those in the breeding industry.
McLaughlin is cautiously optimistic about the 1 1/8-mile Whitney.
“We don’t know about going back to nine furlongs,” he said. “He likes this track and he’s won two million-dollar races at nine furlongs, the Pennsylvania Derby and the Wood Memorial.”
Frosted drew post-position four for regular rider Joel Rosario.
The 89th edition of the Whitney drew a talented six-horse field. Effinex, coming off a repeat victory in the Suburban Handicap, may pose the greatest threat to Frosted as the 7-2 second choice on the morning line. He is particularly formidable when he has the services of Mike Smith, owning three victories in five starts with him aboard. Smith and Effinex will start from farthest outside.
Comfort (8-1) takes a three-race winning streak into his first Grade 1 start. Upstart and Noble Bird, who ran third and sixth, respectively, in the Met Mile are each 10-1. El Kabeir is viewed as the longest shot at 20-1.
Even a semblance of the Met Mile should be enough for Frosted to get the job done.
“I don’t think you could run a better race than that,” McLaughlin said. “Hopefully, he’ll never have to.”