Saturday’s $750,000, Grade 1 Whitney Stakes is an annual highlight of Saratoga Race Course’s summer meet and a race that has major importance on the road to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships in the fall.
In its own right, the Whitney is one of the most historic and significant races for older dirt horses in North America, having been won by such legends of the sport as Discovery (three times), War Admiral, Gallorette, Tom Fool, Kelso (three times), Dr. Fager, Alydar, Personal Ensign, Easy Goer, and Invasor through the years.
The 92nd Whitney Stakes a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” race, and Saturday’s winner will receive an expenses-paid berth to the $7 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 7 at Keeneland Race Course.
The 1 1/8-mile race drew a compact but competitive field headlined by Grade 1 winners Tom’s d’Etat, Code of Honor, and Improbable, and will be broadcast on the Fox Sports show “Saratoga Live.” For more information about television and radio coverage, click here.
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Read on for information about all five Whitney contenders.
1. By My Standards (5-1)
Jockey: Jose Ortiz
Trainer: Bret Calhoun
Owner: Allied Racing Stable
Career record: 10 starts – 5 wins – 3 seconds – 1 third
Career earnings: $1,378,910
Earnings per start: $137,891
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 110
Pedigree: Goldencents – A Jealous Woman, by Muqtarib
Running style: Stalker
Notable achievements and interesting facts: By My Standards ships to Saratoga off of a runner-up finish by 4 ¼ lengths to Tom’s d’Etat in the Grade 2 Stephen Foster Stakes June 20 at Churchill Downs. He briefly loomed a threat to that foe on the far turn but could not stay with Tom’s d’Etat and settled for a clear second, 2 ¾ lengths ahead of the third-place horse. By My Standards also earned a career-best 110 Equibase Speed Figure in the Stephen Foster. Prior to that start, he had won three consecutive races to kick off his 4-year-old season, including open-length Grade 2 wins in the New Orleans Classic in March and the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap in May. This talented, consistent runner will be making his first start at Saratoga and concedes familiarity with the track to Tom’s d’Etat, Code of Honor, and Mr. Buff, and that trio plus Improbable have received higher Equibase Speed Figures in 2020. Still, he’s a good bet to make his usual strong effort in the Whitney and should be considered for exacta tickets.
2. Improbable (5-2)
Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.
Trainer: Bob Baffert
Career record: 12 starts – 5 wins – 3 seconds – 0 thirds
Career earnings: $1,129,520
Earnings per start: $94,127
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 119
Pedigree: City Zip – Rare Event, by A.P. Indy
Running style: Stalker
Notable achievements and interesting facts: Bob Baffert ships this Whitney win candidate to Saratoga off of a very impressive win in the 1 ¼-mile, Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup on June 6 at Santa Anita Park, where he pressed the pace early and took over on cue from a longshot pacesetter entering the far turn. Improbable quickly extended his lead through the turn and was not challenged thereafter in a 3 ¼-length win, and he settled some debates about his distance limitations that day, since in his best starts prior to the Hollywood Gold Cup came at 1 1/16 miles or less. In his 4-year-old debut in the Oaklawn Mile on April 11, he took a two-length lead in the stretch but could not hold off Tom’s d’Etat late, finishing three-quarters of a length behind in second. He faces that foe again on Saturday plus Code of Honor and By My Standards, which makes this Whitney field a tougher one than he defeated in the Hollywood Gold Cup. Still, he’s got a good stalking running style for the Whitney and should get first run on projected pacesetter Mr. Buff under reigning Eclipse Award-winning jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., who will ride Improbable for the first time since his fourth-place finish in last year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. Ortiz won the 2018 Whitney on Diversify, and Bob Baffert notched his first Whitney win last year with McKinzie.
3. Code of Honor (5-2)
Jockey: John Velazquez
Trainer: Shug McGaughey
Owner: William S. Farish
Career record: 12 starts – 6 wins – 2 seconds – 2 thirds
Career earnings: $2,473,320
Earnings per start: $206,110
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 115
Pedigree: Noble Mission – Reunited, by Dixie Union
Running style: Closer
Notable achievements and interesting facts: This multiple Grade 1 winner is a logical win candidate in the Whitney as he returns to Saratoga for the first time since winning the prestigious Runhappy Travers Stakes last August. He rolled through the stretch under regular rider John Velazquez that day to score by a widening three lengths, and aside from a seventh-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic where he did not like the track at Santa Anita Park, he has maintained top form ever since. In his two starts as a 4-year-old, Code of Honor rallied to take the 1 1/16-mile, Grade 3 Westchester Stakes on a muddy track at Belmont Park in early June and then came back to finish third in the Grade 1 Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap on July 4 at Belmont. In the one-turn Met Mile, he made up ground on pacesetting winner Vekoma in deep stretch while racing in the middle of the track, which should set him up well for the two-turn, 1 1/8-mile Whitney. All signs point to a top effort for this colt on Saturday, and look for Velazquez to keep him in a stalking position, but not too far behind projected pacesetter Mr. Buff, through the backstretch before calling for his closing kick in the far turn. Hall of Famer Shug McGaughey has won the Whitney three times, with the undefeated filly Personal Ensign in 1988, Easy Goer in 1989 (both Hall of Famers as well), and Honor Code (co-owned by Will Farish’s Lane’s End) in 2015. John Velazquez, also a Hall of Fame member, has four Whitney wins: Left Bank (2002), Lawyer Ron (2007), Commentator (2008), and Cross Traffic (2013).
4. Mr. Buff (15-1)
Jockey: Junior Alvarado
Trainer: John Kimmel
Career record: 38 starts – 14 wins – 7 seconds – 4 thirds
Career earnings: $1,084,536
Earnings per start: $28,540
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 119
Pedigree: Friend or Foe – Speightful Affair, by Speightstown
Running style: Pacesetter/press the pace
Notable achievements and interesting facts: Veteran gelding Mr. Buff should be a major player in how Saturday’s Whitney Stakes is run, even if he’s an outsider as a win candidate. His best races through a long and successful career have come when he’s been forwardly placed, and there are no other speed horses entered in the Whitney. Mr. Buff enters off of a disappointing fifth-place finish in the Grade 2 Suburban Stakes at Belmont Park on July 4, when he pressed the pace early but tired in the stretch to check in 12 ½ lengths behind Tacitus. He shortens up from 1 ¼ miles to a mile and an eighth Saturday which should be much more to his liking as he’s 9-for-13 at that distance. It’s worth noting that when he competes in top-level races such as the Suburban or the Grade 1 Clark Handicap and Woodward Stakes last year, Mr. Buff has not performed well… but he faces a small, albeit talented field Saturday, and as noted he has a clear advantage in terms of early speed. Look for regular rider Junior Alvarado to be aggressive and get Mr. Buff in a position to take command by the first turn with the goal of slowing the pace down through the backstretch and reserving enough stamina to pull the upset. Alvarado employed a similar strategy aboard 10-1 Whitney winner Moreno in 2014.
5. Tom’s d’Etat (6-5)
Jockey: Joel Rosario
Trainer: Albert Stall Jr.
Owner: G M B Racing
Career record: 18 starts – 11 wins – 2 seconds – 1 third
Career earnings: $1,627,272
Earnings per start: $90,404
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 118
Pedigree: Smart Strike – Julia Tuttle, by Giant’s Causeway
Running style: Stalker
Notable achievements and interesting facts: One of the most enjoyable stories in horse racing from a fan’s perspective over the past few years has been following Tom’s d’Etat’s emergence as a leading contender in the older dirt male division, and he has a good chance of writing another compelling chapter in Saturday’s Whitney as he returns to one of his favorite tracks. Despite having his career interrupted several times due to injury, this 7-year-old has gradually raised his game to elite level under patient handling by trainer Al Stall, returning in 2020 to post two impressive wins in the Oaklawn Mile in April and then the Grade 2 Stephen Foster Stakes in late June. He defeated Whitney foes Improbable in the former and By My Standards in the latter, and won going away in both races. Tom’s d’Etat is also 3-for-4 at Saratoga, and earned his career-high Equibase Speed Figure of 118 last summer at this track in the 1 1/8-mile Alydar Stakes. His only loss at the Spa came one start later, when he finished a decent fourth in the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes – but he’s undefeated in four starts since then. Since shipping to Saratoga, he’s posted a sharp four-furlong workout in :48.22 on July 24 for Stall and all systems are go for another top effort. Jockey Joel Rosario is a perfect 5-for-5 aboard Tom’s d’Etat, including two of his Saratoga wins, and should have him positioned in midpack behind Mr. Buff and and Improbable through the backstretch before making a bid for the lead somewhere on the far turn. Rosario won the 2016 Whitney riding Frosted and has finished second in the past two years on Mind Your Biscuits (2018) and Yoshida. Stall-trained Blame won the Whitney in 2010 on his way to an Eclipse Award as champion older male.