The Brock Talk

Friday, August 5, 2011

Will Whitney Winner Lead Too?

From a wagering standpoint, the 2011 Whitney Handicap (gr. I) is Hall of Fame material. Eleven older horses are set to go 1-1/8 miles at Saratoga in the Whitney with the favorite at 4-1 odds in the morning line. The second choice is at 5-1 and three others have been given the third choice odds at 6-1.

Although a long shot winner in the Whitney would push an already confusing division into near boredom, there are plenty of horses who could take a legitimate step to the front of the older horse class with a win Saturday. But as the morning line indicates, this bunch is still very much close together in the race for any year-end honors.

Giant Oak (photo), the second choice in the morning line at 5-1 odds, has most credentials this year among his foes, as the only Whitney starter with a grade 1 win around two turns on a main track this year. But that win came in the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park in early February and is quickly becoming a distant memory. Since the Donn win, Giant Oak has been third in the New Orleans Handicap (gr. II) behind fellow Whitney entrants Mission Impazible and Apart. He then was on the losing end of a five-horse blanket finish in the Alysheba (gr. II) and fifth again behind long shot winner Pool Play in the grade 1 Stephen Foster, both at Churchill Downs.

Flat Out gets the Saratoga handicapper’s favoritism at 4-1 off of a nice win in the grade 2 Suburban at Belmont, after finishing sixth in the Foster and second behind Awesome Gem in the grade 3 Lone Star Park Handicap. Trained by Midwest mainstay Charles Dickey, Flat Out is just beginning to earn some name recognition. The now 5-year-old horse had one win against optional claimers last year in one start. Before that, his last win was in the Smarty Jones Stakes in January of ’09 at Oaklawn while trying for the Kentucky Derby.

To characterize this group of Whitney entrants as under accomplished, is vastly unfair however.

The Nick Zito-trained Morning Line won the grade 1 Carter Handicap at seven furlongs in April, but then weakened to finish fifth in the grade 3 Salvator Mile at Monmouth Park. That performance was a bit surprising as distance has never been a challenge to the son of Tiznow. The 4-year-old Morning LIne won the grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby and an allowance race at Saratoga last year, both at nine furlongs.

The 6-year-old Tizway is another late developing son of Tiznow trying for summer fame in the Whitney. Tizway did not break his maiden until late in his 3-year-old year and didn’t win his first stake until June of last year when he won the grade 2 Kelso at Belmont Park. The James Bond trainee looked impressive in his front running victory in the grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont at one mile May 30 over Rodman, also a Whitney entrant.

Distance should be no trouble for Mission Impazible who won the Louisiana Derby and New Orleans Handicap, both grade 2, nine furlong races at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans. And in his last start, the 4-year-old son of Unbridled’s Song was just a neck short of Pool Play in the Foster at Chruchill Downs, also at 1-1/8 miles on the main track.

So there is nothing that says the Horse of the Year can’t come out of the Whitney Handicap. The last winner of the golden Eclipse Award to pass this way was Invasor, the Whitney Handicap winner and 2006 Horse of the Year.

Another interesting Whitney happened in 1978 when trainer John Vietch used the Whitney to prepare Alydar for the Travers and yet another race against just inaugurated Triple Crown winner Affirmed. Alydar won the Whitney by 10 lengths, while Affirmed was nearly been upset by Sensative Prince in the Jim Dandy. They met in the Travers, and although Affirmed crossed the wire first, he was disqualified and placed second behind new winner Alydar for interference.

Five-time Horse of the year Kelso (photo) was also fond of the Whitney Handicap, winning the race three times between 1961 and 1965. Ironically, the great gelding’s last Whitney victory in 1965 did not result in his sixth Horse of the Year title. Instead the trophy went to Mocassin, the only 2-year-old filly so honored in North American thoroughbred racing.

There is no Kelso, Alydar or even one as accomplished as Invasor in this 2011 Whitney. But nobody should be scoffing at the credentials Flat Out, Giant Oak and the like either. Quite frankly, asking for the second coming of another Kelso is a bit pretentious anyway. Don’t you think?

This Whitney will tell if any from Saturday’s group can be mentioned in the upcoming divisional championship discussions of the late Summer and Fall of each year. Right now, that’s all horse racing fans can ask. Blind Luck and Havre de Grace are doing their parts in keeping the female Horse of the Year “three-peat” alive while the males at both the 3-year-old and older levels continue to beat each other up round robin style.

There are plenty of bigger races for older horses coming up. Del Mar has the Pacific Classic later this month and Saratoga still has the Woodward on Labor Day weekend. Belmont has the Jockey Club Gold Cup and Santa Anita has the Goodwood in October, all grade 1 prep races for the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic to be run at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday of November.

It just that it’s getting very close to a time when somebody needs to step out of the pile.

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