Historic Saratoga has broken with tradition this year, and has turned into a speed-favoring venue, especially the main track. No one can explain the contradiction. It's just there.
That brings us to the $750,000 Whitney on Saturday afternoon, the premier race for older horses at the old Spa. In Most years, you would look for the best closer in the nine-furlong...meaning that simple math this year would lead you to Flat Out, the blowout last-to-first, 6 1/2-length winner last out in the Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park.
But can this formerly obscure Oaklawn Park horse, plagued by foot problems, do it again, this time over a surface playing speed? The NYRA linemaker thinks he can, because he made him the favorite -- at 4-1 -- in a wide open-field of 11.
How wide open?
Only three pounds separate the entire field in the race. Maybe this has happened before. I just can't remember when.
Of the 11 in the field, no less than six are basically speed-types -- Rodman, Friend Or Foe, Tizway, Rail Trip, Apart and Morning line.
This promises a speed duel that,under normal conditions, will set up the race for a closer, presumably Flat Out. But these are not normal times. How many races in the first two weeks did we see a horse get loose on the lead and never look back while the persuing horses -- and more importantly, riders -- took back.
Will one horse break loose from the pack this time? It certainl;y can happen, leading the NBC announcers to rave about the wire-to-wire winning horse and rider?
There are no superstars in this year's Whitney, not even any stars, so the one to beat is the one who always is these steamy afternoons at the Spa...and that means Todd Pletcher.
Last weekend, all Pletcher did was go 7-for-7, including two stakes, a first in the century-plus history of Saratoga (an achievement that went totally ignored by the downstate press). And Mike Repole, his main man, went 4-for-4, including Stay Thirsty in the Jim Dandy. .Regretfully, I did not have Stay Thirsty on the John Piesen Hot Line (888 612 2283), but I atoned the next day with Coil at $8.40 in the $1 million Haskell. Regular readers know I've been touting Coil in this space for six weeks.
Repole is sitting out the Whitney, but Pletcher certainly is not. The Toddster, en route to his sixth Spa training title with a 12-12-6 resume from 60 starters in 10 days, and a two-time Whitney winner (Left Bank and Lawyer Ron, on a lateral from Bob Holthus) will
run Mission Impazible in this year's Whitney.
The Whitney will mark one of the rare occasions at Saratoga when trainer Pletcher and jockey Velazquez are on opposite sides of the ring. Castellano will ride Mission Impazible for the Toddster, while Johnny V pilots Carter Handicap winner Morning Line for trainer Zito.
This is the kind of race the Whitney is. You can't tell your friends from your enemies.
This race is so crazy-nuts that the multiple graded stakes-winner Rail Trip is dismissed 12-1 on the line, and last-out Cornhusker winner Headache is listed as the 20-1 rank outsider.
This whole race gives me a headache.
Speaking of Pletcher, he will run the uncoupled entry of Savvy Supreme and Her Smile, owned by celebrity chef Bobby Flay, in the co-featured $250,000 Test Stakes, seven furlongs for 3-year-old fillies, and, like the Whitney, a Grade One.
And, like the Whitney, there is plenty of speed to set up the race for a closer, in this case West Coast shipper Turbulent Descent, trained by Mike Puype, and ridden by David Flores.
Since in racing one is noted by the company he or she keeps, it is significant to note that Turbulent Descent finished second as the
favorite in the Acorn to It's Tricky, who went on to win the Coaching Club American Oaks.
Moreover, Her Smile, who finished 10 lenths behind TD in the Acorn, came back to win the Prioress - from the rail no less.
For the Test, Her Smile presumable has the best draw (eight in the field of nine). But again, unlike most years at the Old Spa, the inside is the place to be these days.
Speaking of the West Coast, Bob Baffert, fresh from winning the Haskell, will take a shot at the Test with a lightly-raced filly named American Lady -- and go-to rider Martin Garcia will be making the 6,000-mile round trip from Del Mar for the ride.
At 116 pounds, American Lady will be getting six pounds from Turbulent Descent and Her Smile, kind of like giving Willie Sutton the keys to the vault.
As for Coil, he was shipped to Saratoga on Tuesday to prepare for the Travers, which will be run on Aug. 27. Obviously, he will be tough to beat.
Win or lose the Test, Bullet Bob will head back to Del Mar in time for the "Battle of the Exes," a well-conceived match races that has the West Coast crowd buzzing.
The match is hardly Seabiscuit--War Admiral or Swaps-Nashua. It is Joker Face vs. Parable, a paid of maiden-claimers racing for a $31,000 pot to go as race four on Sunday's program.
The "Exes" are Mike Smith and Chantal Sutherland, whose six-year romance was chronicled on last year's Jockeys show on the cable channel Animal Planet. They broke up last year. And since rumor has it that the breakup was not cordial, Sunday's event is being billed as a "grudge match."
Mike opened at 3-5 on Joker Face.
Hope we don't see a DQ.
Finally, it looks like trainer Romans will be making the right move by running Shackleford against older horses in the Woodward rather than facing Coil a week earlier in the Travers. Clearly, Romans has to feel that if he can not beat Coil at nine furlongs (with Coil stumbling at the start), how's he going to beat him at the 10 furlongs of the Travers?
In one way, this reminds me of 2009 when the connections of Rachel Alexandra skipped the Travers and went to the Woodward, where she clinched Horse of the Year in a race for the ages.
When Coil won the Haskell, this makes nine different horses this year winning the nine Grade Ones for 3-year-olds. The Travers winner obviously goes to the top of the class by being the only 3-year-old to win two Grade Ones.
Romans certainly is aware of that but evidently lacks faith in his talented colt's ability to get a mile and a quarter, plus he'll be getting weight from older horses, none of whom remind me of Kelso.
Here are some horses to watch at Saratoga and Monmouth:
STUD MUFFIN -- Back in top form for Rodriguez.
CASTLES BURNING - Pitino people getting good reports.
ERIN ENCHANTED - Lion Heart filly is a nice prospect.
GOLDIE'S REWARD -- Has the right potential and connections.
KING AND CRUSADER -- Had no room to run in debut.
SALT WATER LULLABY - Will find maiden-claimer to wire.
QUEEN FOR LIFE -- Always beware the Ramsey 2-year-olds.
VERSAILLE ROAD - Must learn to break with the field.
UNBRIDLED ESSENCE -- Hit traffic in Matchmaker.
FORCE FREEZE - The Breeders' Cup Sprint winner?
DEBONAIR DARLING -- Look for a drop in class.
FEEL THAT FIRE - Took the worst of the weights.
SOARING EMPIRE - May ship for the Woodward.
RULE BY NIGHT - Has to be better than his last
Thanks for tuning in. I'll be ready today and all weekend long with my best bet action at Saratoga. Get with me and I'll get you the best overlays on the board in a weekend of moneymaking.
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