Saturday’s $1 million, Grade 1 Whitney Stakes is an annual highlight of the elite summer meet at Saratoga Race Course. The 1 1/8-mile race, named after one of the most influential families in the history of horse racing, has a rich tradition, and in many years it plays a major role in determining which horses end up receiving honors at the Eclipse Awards.
The Whitney has been won by legends such as Equipoise, Discovery (three times), War Admiral, Challedon, Stymie, Gallorette, Tom Fool, Kelso (three times), Carry Back, Dr. Fager, Alydar, Slew o’Gold, Lady’s Secret, Personal Ensign, Easy Goer, Awesome Again, Medaglia d’Oro, and Invasor.
The Whitney is a “Win and You’re In” qualifying race for the $6 million Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic via the Challenge Series Presented by America’s Best Racing, which means that the winner of Saturday’s race will receive an expenses-paid berth to this year’s Longines Classic Nov. 6 at Del Mar. Four horses who won the Whitney have trained on to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the same year: Awesome Again in 1998; Invasor in 2006; Blame in 2010; and Gun Runner in 2017. For more on the race’s history, click here.
The 98th Whitney brings together some of the best older dirt horses currently in training, with the small but elite field consisting of Maxfield (7-for-8 in his career), $4.8 million-earner Knicks Go, Silver State (winner of six races in a row), champion filly Swiss Skydiver, winner of last year’s Preakness Stakes, and last year's Whitney runner-up and $2.25-million earner, By My Standards. The race will be broadcast on “Saratoga Live” on FS2, and will be covered via livestream on the show “Breeders’ Cup Live!: The Whitney,” produced by America’s Best Racing.
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Read on for information about all of the Whitney contenders.
1. By My Standards (10-1)
Jockey: Gabriel Saez
Trainer: Bret Calhoun
Career record: 16 starts – 7 wins – 5 seconds – 1 third
Career earnings: $2,254,430
Earnings per start: $140,902
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 113
Pedigree: Goldencents – A Jealous Woman, by Muqtarib
Running style: Stalker
Notable achievements and interesting facts: Last year’s Whitney runner-up has kept his solid form into his 5-year-old season, winning the two-turn Oaklawn Mile Stakes in his April debut and then overcoming a rough start to finish a good second to Silver State in the Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap going a one-turn mile on June 5 at Belmont Park. By My Standards has racked up four Grade 2 wins in his successful career, three of them coming at the Whitney’s 1 1/8-mile distance. During the summer of 2020, he tallied three consecutive Equibase Speed Figures of 110 or better, topped with his career-best 113 in the Whitney when he finished two lengths behind Improbable. Overall, he profiles as a must-use contender in exactas and trifectas who has an upset chance of winning against this tough field. Several rivals enter the Whitney with more impressive recent races, however, which means that two or three of them will have to regress and By My Standards will need to recapture his peak summer 2020 form for that to happen. Gabriel Saez has ridden By My Standards for 14 of his 16 races but did not make the trip to Saratoga last summer due to COVID-19 restrictions. He’s back aboard Saturday and should have his mount positioned third or fourth through the backstretch and in position to make a move for the lead on the far turn.
2. Silver State (4-1)
Jockey: Ricardo Santana Jr.
Trainer: Steve Asmussen
Career record: 11 starts – 7 wins – 2 seconds – 1 third
Career earnings: $1,765,094
Earnings per start: $160,463
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 113
Pedigree: Hard Spun – Supreme, by Empire Maker
Running style: Stalker
Notable achievements and interesting facts: Silver State rolls into the Whitney on a six-race winning streak but is still somewhat under the radar, which is a testament to the quality of this year’s field. He started his current run with a dominant seven-length score in an allowance race last fall at Keeneland and followed that up with another easy win at Churchill Downs. Both of those starts were at seven furlongs, but this year Silver State has won four consecutive stakes races at a mile or longer, including the 1 1/8-mile Oaklawn Handicap in April. After that win, he scored a mild upset in the Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont Park, saving ground through the turn and rallying on the rail in midstretch to draw clear and defeat By My Standards by a length, with Knicks Go fourth. He bested a top-class field in the Met Mile and will face another one again Saturday, and one could argue that Silver State’s overall résumé is less impressive than those of rivals Knicks Go, Maxfield, Swiss Skydiver, and By My Standards. On the other hand, he has developed into a professional, consistent racehorse during his 4-year-old season who has repeatedly shown a great deal of determination when challenged in the stretch. Look for him to do that once again at a distance that might be a bit longer than he prefers in the Whitney and be in contention for his second consecutive Grade 1 victory when the field turns for home. Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen won the 2017 Whitney with eventual Horse of the Year Gun Runner, who was co-owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds.
3. Swiss Skydiver (6-1)
Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.
Trainer: Ken McPeek
Owner: Peter Callahan
Career record: 14 starts – 7 wins – 3 seconds – 2 thirds
Career earnings: $2,125,480
Earnings per start: $151,820
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 111
Pedigree: Daredevil – Expo Gold, by Johannesburg
Running style: Press the pace/stalker
Notable achievements and interesting facts: This classic-winning filly will attempt to become the seventh female to win the Whitney Stakes Saturday, joining an impressive list of fillies and mares: Black Maria (the inaugural winner in 1928), Bateau (1929), Esposa (1937), Gallorette (1948), Lady's Secret (1986), and Personal Ensign (1988). Swiss Skydiver earned an Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old filly last year based on a campaign in which she won five graded stakes, highlighted by the 1 ¼-mile Alabama Stakes at Saratoga and the Preakness Stakes in October, where she defeated Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve winner and eventual Horse of the Year Authentic. After finishing seventh in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff when she stumbled at the break, Swiss Skydiver returned for her 4-year-old season in March and impressively won the Grade 1 Beholder Mile Stakes at Santa Anita Park. In her next start, however, she turned in a disappointing effort when she finished a distant third behind budding superstar Letruska and two-time champion Monomoy Girl in the April 17 Grade 1 Apple Blossom Handicap at Oaklawn Park. Owner Peter Callahan told BloodHorse’s Bob Ehalt that Swiss Skydiver had a minor foot infection in the Apple Blossom that may have affected her performance, and she’s been training steadily at Saratoga in recent weeks for her comeback. She’ll have to recapture her summer and fall 2020 form to have a shot at the upset in Saturday’s Whitney, but her stamina and class are proven and getting reigning Eclipse Award-winning jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. to ride for the first time is a major plus. His early decisions aboard this filly will be crucial in affecting the Whitney’s race shape, as Swiss Skydiver has shown the ability to win while setting or pressing the pace in her prior starts, especially early in her 3-year-old season. As such, Swiss Skydiver profiles as the logical horse to challenge pacesetting Knicks Go through the first turn and into the backstretch during the Whitney. Irad Ortiz picked up his first Whitney win in 2018 on Diversify, and also won last year’s renewal on Improbable.
4. Knicks Go (6-5)
Jockey: Joel Rosario
Trainer: Brad Cox
Owner: Korea Racing Authority
Career record: 21 starts – 7 wins – 3 seconds – 1 third
Career earnings: $4,833,995
Earnings per start: $230,190
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 117
Pedigree: Paynter – Kosmo’s Buddy, by Outflanker
Color: Gray or roan
Running style: Pacesetter
Notable achievements and interesting facts: Knicks Go looms as a leading win candidate in the Whitney based on his running style, which relies on elite gate-to-wire cruising speed that none of his other rivals can match. Since switching to trainer Brad Cox prior to his 2020 season, this colt – who first turned heads with a Grade 1 win followed by a runner-up finish in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile back in fall 2018 – has been transformed. He’s won five of seven races since then, leading at every point of call in each victory, and his only two defeats have come around one turn (fourth-place finishes in the Saudi Cup and Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap earlier this year). After the Met Mile, Cox switched Knicks Go back to two turns for the Grade 3 Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap on July 2, and he dominated an overmatched field by 10 ¼ lengths, earning a career-best 117 Equibase Speed Figure. Knicks Go will face a far tougher bunch in Saturday’s Whitney, but none of his rivals, with the possible exception of Swiss Skydiver, prefer to race on the early lead. Joel Rosario, who has been aboard Knicks Go for his last six starts, should be able to control the pace provided his mount breaks well. If he can set a moderate tempo, this contender has shown more than enough stamina to carry his speed all the way to the winner’s circle. Rosario won the 2016 Whitney on Frosted. More recently, he finished second on Yoshida in 2019 and third on Tom’s d’Etat last year.
5. Maxfield (8-5)
Jockey: Jose Ortiz
Trainer: Brendan Walsh
Career record: 8 starts – 7 wins – 0 seconds – 1 third
Career earnings: $1,265,902
Earnings per start: $158,238
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 115
Pedigree: Street Sense – Velvety, by Bernardini
Color: Dark bay or brown
Running style: Stalker
Notable achievements and interesting facts: Maxfield should vie with Knicks Go for post-time favoritism in the Whitney as he shoots for his second Grade 1 win and first since taking the 2019 Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity in his second career start. After that breakthrough win, he was a leading Kentucky Derby contender but was sidelined in summer 2020 due to a condylar fracture and missed the rescheduled Triple Crown series, returning to the track last December. He’s been one of the leading Breeders’ Cup Classic contenders since then, winning four of five starts, with his only blemish a third-place finish in the 1 ¼-mile Santa Anita Handicap in March. He rebounded after that to convincingly win two graded stakes at Churchill Downs, and most recently overpowered a suspect field when taking the Grade 2, 1 1/8-mile Stephen Foster Stakes by 3 ¼ lengths on June 26. He’s stepping up in quality of competition Saturday, but Maxfield is the most logical contender to hit the board as his stalking running style is perfectly suited to the Whitney’s 1 1/8 miles. He’ll need to keep Knicks Go in his early sights through the backstretch, but jockey Jose Ortiz (undefeated in five starts on Maxfield) is a good judge of pace and is off to a hot start at the Saratoga meet. He should have this talented runner in a prime position to make a bid for the lead coming out of the far turn. Maxfield is a major threat to become Godolphin Racing’s second Whitney victor following Frosted in 2016. Ortiz finished second in last year’s Whitney on one of this year’s rivals, By My Standards.