Five Questions to be Answered in the Whitney Stakes

Racing
Fans watch the horses race in the stretch at Saratoga Race Course. (Penelope P. Miller/America's Best Racing)

Run at 1 1/8 miles, the Grade 1, $1.2 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, Gun Runner won the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes and then went on to capture the Breeders’ Cup Classic in impressive fashion. There have been a handful of horses in recent history to pull off the Whitney-Classic double, making the Whitney one of the premier races to run on the path to the Classic.

Emily Gullikson

Before we get into the “five questions,” I want to introduce myself since this is my first run at this article after taking over from a good pal and an influence on my career, Joe Kristufek. My name is Emily Gullikson, or Mayhemily for those that follow me on Twitter, my roller-derby past, or see my name on handicapping leaderboards. I am one of the partners at OptixEQ.com, a handicapping information provider. One of my primary roles in the company is taking trip notes. I watch a lot of races (somewhere around 50,000) at various circuits and for all levels throughout the year. Extensive note taking and race watching provides me the opportunity to follow horses throughout their careers. My goal is to bring that experience here.

I am going to take a slightly different approach to the “Five Questions to be Answered” theme. Instead of creating the questions myself and answering them, I will pull the questions from Twitter. I came across some Twitter users inquiring about the upcoming Whitney Stakes and will answer those below. I think, over time, this will provide more diversity in the questions and topics, and often ones I would not have considered to ask.  

So, without any more post drag … my inaugural Five Questions to be Answered in the Whitney Stakes.


1. “Am I the only one who is skeptical about Mind Your Biscuits going long?” — @SummersInToga

Definitely not. This is a major question that I don’t think anyone will know the answer to prior to Saturday afternoon. This will not only be his first time running at the nine-furlong — 1 1/8-mile — distance, but also his first time in his 22 starts going around two turns. I will not go so far to say this is his best distance, nor ask what took them so long to stretch him out? That said, I can see a scenario with him winning on Saturday. While the distance might not be ideal, I cannot definitively say he is a toss in the Whitney.

2. “Does anyone think (Mind Your Biscuits) will be on the lead?” — @derby1592

First off, I’m sure someone does, but just speaking for myself here, the answer is no. Even coming out of the shorter races and sprints, he is still not fast enough early to get the lead from Diversify. Both Dalmore and Backyard Heaven have more early speed than Mind Your Biscuits. On the topic of where he’ll be in the race from a pace perspective, he should be tracking that trio. He will not be as far back early as we was in the Twinspires Breeders’ Cup Sprint. In my opinion, his trip from an early positional standpoint will be similar to last out in the Met Mile, and or even to the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes in December 2016 at Santa Anita.

3. “The problem is the last race matters … why did (Backyard Heaven) run sooo bad?” — @HonestRacing

This is a really good question and one that is asked daily from handicappers – why do horses run good and bad races? One speculation regarding Backyard Heaven was he reacted badly to the heat at Churchill Downs on the night of the Stephen Foster Handicap. It was uncharacteristically hot … especially hot for a horse that wintered at Aqueduct. The race was also at night and run under the lights and some horses react to that as well. 

From watching the race and a trip-notes perspective, jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. moved him too soon. There was some mild contact at the start and Backyard Heaven quickly tucked in behind the pacesetters sitting a “pocket” trip. His main rival, Irish War Cry, was out front setting the pace. He was probably focused on him, not Pavel directly to his outside. When Irish War Cry began to be pulled up, Ortiz made his move, meanwhile Mario Gutierrez sat patient on Pavel. Backyard Heaven moved up to Uncle Mojo on lead and was under a ride from the top of the lane; it did not look good from there. Unable to improve position late, some subtle drifting was present in midstretch after it was clear he was not going to hit the board. Based on those late visuals, I think distance limitations with Backyard Heaven is something to consider.

From a form-cycle perspective, there is a reasonable case that he regressed in the Foster. He had been improving with each start going back to December. He ran a big race to win the allowance race at Aqueduct in March, and then he ran a career-best speed figure (I use OptixFIG) to take the Alysheba Stakes presented by Sentient Jet on Longines Kentucky Oaks day. He was impressive to score even with the slight bias, forcing the pace and being the pressured throughout. Even with the 43-day rest going into the Grade 1 Stephen Foster, it was the shortest time between starts in his career. None of the horses to run back from the Foster has won, however every one of them improved their speed figure slightly in their next start. Given the time between races, I think it is reasonable to think he will be able to run his (maybe not best) race on Saturday in the Whitney.

4. “Is Diversify a lock for the ‘Win and You’re In’ Whitney Stakes?” — @BetAmerica

I think Diversify is a vulnerable favorite in the Whitney Stakes. There are multiple factors to that reasoning. First off, he will get pressure on the front end. Whether it’s Dalmore dueling or Backyard Heaven stalking, Diversify will not be able to coast easily on the front end. It is because he will have that pressure, and coming out of a big effort less than a month ago that he is very likely to regress in this race. That race is not stand alone either. He ran a big race wide, tracking the pace to win the Commentator Stakes at Belmont at the end of May. Both of those efforts were taxing performances. He has shown throughout his career that his best efforts, from both finishing position and speed figure have come when he is allowed more time to recover between races. The case that I am making against Diversify relates to the earlier question regarding why horses run good and bad races. And one more thing, there are no locks in horse racing.

5. “Que ejemplar sera̒ el ganador del Whitney G1 $1.2M a disputarse sa̒bado en Saratoga?” @PotroRob

I could see a few horses winning the Whitney on Saturday. I mentioned earlier a scenario for Mind Your Biscuits to win. Backyard Heaven is very likely to rebound and get the right trip if up for the distance test. The best value in the race is Good Samaritan. He is a distance specialist, Grade 1-placed, and has multiple wins in Grade 2 races. He did not have the best trip in the Grade 1 Met Mile last out behind the pacesetting winner Bee Jersey. He raced in the outside paths, which were unfavorable that day at Belmont. Jose Ortiz was aboard for that race and had a chance to figure him out; he will be back aboard for the Whitney. Both Tapwrit and McCraken are only a bit below their Whitney competition. A win from either of those would not be a total “upset” performance, but they will have to bring their career best and hope that noone else does.

The Grade 1 Whitney is one of the premier events of the Saratoga meet and, as always, this race delivers top-notch horses. I am looking forward to the race this Saturday!

2018 Whitney S.
August 4th, 2018

Winning Time: 1:49.62
  • Purse: $1,200,000
  • Distance: 1 1/8 Miles
  • Age: 3 yo's & up
  • Surface: Dirt
  • Winning Time: 1:49.62
Results
Win
Place
Show
1st
6 Diversify
$5.20
$3.30
$2.80
3rd
5 Discreet Lover
$6.60
6th
8 McCraken
7th
2 Backyard Heaven
Payoff
Pick 3
6-6-6
6-6-6
$40
Pick 4
4-5/6/8-5/6-6
4-5/6/8-5/6-6
$214
Pick 6
1-1-4-5/6/8-5/6-6
1-1-4-5/6/8-5/6-6
$3,550
Pick 6
1-1-4-5/6/8-5/6-6
1-1-4-5/6/8-5/6-6
$72
Daily Double
6-6
6-6
$8
Exacta
6-4
6-4
$10
Superfecta
6-4-5-1
6-4-5-1
$38
Trifecta
6-4-5
6-4-5
$49
Payoff
Pick 3
6-6-6
6-6-6
$40
Pick 4
4-5/6/8-5/6-6
4-5/6/8-5/6-6
$214
Pick 6
1-1-4-5/6/8-5/6-6
1-1-4-5/6/8-5/6-6
$3,550
Pick 6
1-1-4-5/6/8-5/6-6
1-1-4-5/6/8-5/6-6
$72
Daily Double
6-6
6-6
$8
Exacta
6-4
6-4
$10
Superfecta
6-4-5-1
6-4-5-1
$38
Trifecta
6-4-5
6-4-5
$49

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