Big Race Showdown: Whitney Stakes

Season Two of this year’s Big Race Showdown at America’s Best Racing continues this weekend: where I clash heads with six awesome handicappers (Emily GulliksonCandice HareDan TordjmanBrian ZipseEric Bialek, and Mark DiLorenzo) to see who can stay the hottest through Derby prep season.

This week we look at the biggest handicap-division race of the summer at Saratoga: the Whitney Stakes.  See who we like right here!

Picks and Ponderings: 2018 Whitney Stakes Preview

The handicap division has no bigger showcase during the Saratoga meet than the Whitney.  The race takes its name from the Whitney family, scions of the New York racing circuit.  William Collins Whitney co-founded the Jockey Club, and campaigned prominent racehorses such as the 1901 Epsom Derby winner Volodyovski and 1904 Champion two-year-old filly Artful.  His son Harry Payne Whitney continued the legacy, owning a long list of luminaries, including 1915 Kentucky Derby winner and Horse of the Year Regret.  His son, Cornelius V. Whitney, not only campaigned racehorses as well, but also founded the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.  The Whitney name carries on in racing today through Marylou Whitney, Cornelius’s widow.

The race run in the Whitneys’ name was inaugurated in 1928, and will be run for the 91st time this year.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of the Whitney, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

a rabbit, the Woodward, and a simple solution left unused

Twitter was abuzz about rabbits leading into the Whitney, when Cautious Giant and War Story were not coupled.  The move not to couple that pair left a lot of people scratching their heads, and the race went about as many expected — Cautious Giant gunned it to the lead, and War Story ran late.  About the only surprise in that race was the souvenir Cautious Giant gave eventual victor Gun Runner as he faded out of contention.

A month has passed, and the Internet once again buzzes with rabbit talk, focusing on Loooch Racing and War Story.  This time?  War Story was coming with a different rabbit, May B.  Racing officials refused to take May B’s entry in the Woodward.

Was May B going to be a long shot in the Woodward?  Sure he was.  But, his racing lines indicated that he was in good form, likely fit to run.  May B won a $12,500 starter allowance sprint two back at Los Al, and returned to hold second in an open $35,000-$40,000 turf dash at Del Mar.

Sure, May B was far more likely to win that allowance at Thistledown from which he scratched today than the Woodward, but it’s not the stewards’ place to decide that a horse is outclassed in a certain spot.  If that were the case, after all, they surely would have been able to pull the plug on Ricks Natural Star’s entry into the Breeders’ Cup Turf all those years ago.  Assuming his connections made all the proper stakes payments, nothing in the conditions barred May B from entering the Woodward, and he was nominated for the race.

Officials had a simple solution at their disposal: couple May B and War Story.

In stakes races worth over $50,000 in New York, racing officials have the choice to allow uncoupled same-owner entries, or to require that those entries be coupled if they find that doing so is necessary to the public interest.  The entries of both War Story and May B in the Woodward would tell a clear story to any reasonably seasoned handicapper: they’re both owned by the same entity, one is a come-from-behind horse with graded stakes form, and the other is a front-running sprinter stretching out and taking a large hike in class.  It’s a classic rabbit scenario.  But, for someone newer to racing, coupling that entry would make it beyond obvious that May B would be in to make pace for War Story.  Problem solved.

The only scenario in which it serves anyone’s interest to bar May B from entering the Woodward would be if there were so many other entries for the race that allowing May B in would keep out a horse owned and trained by someone else.  In that case, it makes perfect sense for the rabbit to be the first horse excluded — even though rule 4025.10(c) covers trainers, not owners, there is an argument to be made that making a same-owner-different-trainer rabbit would serve the spirit of that rule, in the sense of giving as many parties as possible a chance to contest the race.

But, since not every spot in that Woodward Stakes starting gate was spoken for?  May B should have been allowed in, as a coupled entry with War Story.

Dubai Racing Channel – Greentree feature

Earlier this month, after Equestricon, I was part of a group lucky enough to visit Greentree, Godolphin’s training facility in Saratoga.  Last week I published a photo gallery from that visit — but if you want to get another look, watch this feature from the Dubai Racing Channel!  Laura King was out at Greentree to do a video, which both looks at the horses as well as features brief interviews from some of us on the tour: Ruben Mendez, Ciara Austin, and yours truly!

Picks and Ponderings: 2017 Travers Stakes Preview

This Saturday’s card at Saratoga is the biggest of the meet, and features the meet’s cornerstone race: the Grade I Travers Stakes.  This piece features full analysis of the Travers Stakes, as well as a selections grid for all of the stakes races Saturday at the Spa.

If you’re looking for dependability, go chat with the Maytag repairman.  If you’re looking for chaos, you’ve come to the right place: the three-year-old dirt division.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings to read my full discussion of the Travers Stakes, and to see my selections for all seven graded stakes on Saturday’s card at Saratoga!

Picks and Ponderings: A visit to Godolphin’s Greentree training center

…it surprised me to learn just how close Greentree lies to the racecourse.  Just a fence and a line of trees separate it from the barns just south of Saratoga’s main track.  And yet, despite its proximity, it still feels a world away, as I learned when I had the once-in-a-lifetime chance to visit Greentree last Wednesday.

Over at Picks and Ponderings, see the photos I took at Greentree, and see the horses and the scenery that make Godolphin’s haven in Saratoga special.

Picks and Ponderings: 2017 Diana Stakes and Sanford Stakes Preview

Summer has officially found its stride.  After all, racing action returns to Saratoga this weekend.

Picks and Ponderings turns it attention this week to the pair of graded stakes on Saturday at the Spa.  In the Grade 1 Diana Stakes, a select field of six — including proven star Lady Eli and rising stars Antonoe and Dickinson — will tussle for the honour of becoming the first top-level winner of the Saratoga meet.  One race before that, eight juveniles will clash in the Sanford Stakes.  All entrants have a win to their name — Direct Dial and Admiral Jimmy have stakes experience, but whoever wins the Sanford will tally the first added-money victory of their career.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of Saturday’s pair of graded stakes races at Saratoga, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Picks and Ponderings: Hopeful Stakes Preview

The Saratoga meet draws to a close on Monday.  The final day’s card features one last Grade I affair: the Hopeful Stakes.

The race will be a showdown between a pair of sharp graded stakes winners: Bashford Manor (GIII) winner Classic Empire heads east to match skills with Sanford Stakes (GIII) winner Bitumen.  Will one of them win?  Will one of the five others spring the upset?

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of the Hopeful Stakes, and end your Saratoga meet on the right note!

Picks and Ponderings: 2016 Woodward and Spinaway Stakes Preview

Saturday’s card at Saratoga features a pair of Grade I races: the Woodward for the handicap division, and the Spinaway for juvenile fillies.

The Woodward Stakes features Frosted, who is in career form this summer — can anyone beat him?

The Spinaway features a field of seven juvenile fillies — who is going to punch their ticket to the Breeders’ Cup?

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read my preview of the Woodward and the Spinaway, and get ready for the last weekend of racing at Saratoga!

Picks and Ponderings: 2016 Travers Stakes Preview

This Saturday’s feature at Saratoga is a deserving one, even amid the Breeders’ Cup quality card: the Grade I Travers Stakes.

The Classic-distance race for three-year-olds drew a capacity field of fourteen.  The field includes two of the three Triple Crown race winners, the winners of both local preps, and a lot of horses who have been coming close against such illustrious company all spring and summer.  The Travers deserves its Grade I status, easily.

Over at Picks and Ponderings, we have analysis whether you like written words, video, or both.  I have full written analysis of my reasoning.  On video, Paul Mazur and I go horse-by-horse, since so many of the runners have a shot.

Let us help you get ready for the race of the summer.

Picks and Ponderings: 2016 Whitney Day Stakes Preview

Saturday’s card at Saratoga features five stakes races, including two Grade Is.  Over at Picks and Ponderings, Paul Mazur and I take a divide-and-conquer approach.

I tackled the meet’s feature for the handicap division, the Whitney (GI), as well as the twelve-furlong Waya (GIII) for turf route mares.  Paul takes on the other three stakes on the card: the Test (GI) for three-year-old filly sprinters, as well as the De la Rose and the Lure, a pair of restricted stakes for older turf routers.

Head over to Picks and Ponderings, read our preview of the stakes races on Whitney Day, and let us know what you think in the comments!

onward and upward from Belmont Day

Belmont Stakes day got off to a good start for Curlin babies, with Connect posting an authoritative allowance win.  Connect, of course, proved that was no fluke this past Friday when he returned to win the Curlin Stakes.

Two others who raced on Belmont day did not fare quite as well.  Curalina (Whatdreamsrmadeof, by Graeme Hall) went off the betting favourite in the Ogden Phipps (GI), off her sensational La Troienne victory.  She could only muster fourth place.  Later in the day, Preakness winner Exaggerator (Dawn Raid, by Vindication) went off favoured in the Belmont Stakes (GI), but had nothing late and finished eleventh out of thirteen in the field.

Both Curalina and Exaggerator returned today, trying to put their Belmont Day disappointments behind them.

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it’s a Curlin baby in the Curlin Stakes!

Trainer Chad Brown has taken his time with Connect (Bullville Belle, by Holy Bull).  He debuted in December, finished a solid third in a maiden special weight at Aqueduct, then got another five months to grow into himself.  He returned in May at Belmont, and came back a comfortable winner at the same level.  On the Belmont undercard, facing allowance company, he stretched from six and a half furlongs to a mile and a sixteenth.  Once again, Connect connected.  He pressed Wake Up in Malibu early, took over, and again crossed the wire clear by daylight.

Today, he tried stakes company for the first time — in a race named after his sire.

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