Stars fill 2019 Whitney Stakes field

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Saturday’s Whitney Stakes at Saratoga Race Course is the next step on the Road to the Breeders’ Cup for horses targeting the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park.

The 1 1/8-mile Whitney, a Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” qualifying race for the Classic, is shaping up to be a very important race in determining top contenders for the signature race at this year’s World Championships as it drew an eight-horse field highlighted by $16 million earner Thunder Snow, Grade 1 winners McKinzieVino Rosso, and Yoshida, and rising star Preservationist.

The Grade 1, $1 million Whitney will be televised during NBC Sports‘ “Win and You’re In” broadcast presented by America’s Best Racing. The broadcast will air on NBCSN from 5-6 p.m. ET. The Whitney Stakes is named to honor C.V. and Marylou Whitney, titans of the sport in the Saratoga Springs area and nationwide. Marylou Whitney, who died on July 19, will be inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame on Friday, Aug. 2.


1. Imperative (30-1)

Jockey: Jose Bracho

Trainer: Anthony Quartarolo

Owners: Ron Paolucci Racing and Imaginary Stables

Career record: 49 starts – 7 wins – 8 seconds – 4 thirds

Career earnings: $3,277,810

Earnings per start: $66,894

Running style: Stalker/closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: With more than $3.2 million in earnings, this 9-year-old gelding ranks second behind Thunder Snow in the Whitney field, but overall he is a good bet to have the highest odds come post time and deservedly so. He’s won the lucrative Charles Town Classic Stakes twice, most recently in 2017, but since that last win he’s gone 1-0-1 in 11 starts and has been thoroughly overmatched in three Grade 1 appearances. His lone win in more than two years came in June at Thistledown, where he defeated four opponents in a one-mile allowance race on a sloppy track, and he followed that up by finishing sixth of seven, beaten 6 ½ lengths, in a stakes race at Delaware Park, his most recent race. Imperative was a worthy contender in the older dirt male division back in the middle of this decade, which in the current era of horse racing is an eternity ago. It’s hard to envision him making any impression in Saturday’s stacked renewal of the Whitney.


2. Forewarned (30-1)

Jockey: Dylan Davis

Trainer: Uriah St. Lewis

Owner: Trin-Brook Stables

Career record: 17 starts – 6 wins – 4 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $205,613

Earnings per start: $12,095

Running style: Stalker/closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Owner-trainer Uriah St. Lewis fashioned one of the best underdog stories in racing last September when his longshot Discreet Lover edged Thunder Snow in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. If St. Lewis’ Whitney starter wins on Saturday, Discreet Lover’s improbable tale will seem in retrospect like, well, it was “forewarned.” To his credit, this son of Flat Out has posted two triple-digit Equibase Speed Figures in his most recent starts (the first ones of his 17-race career) and he’s amassed more than $200,000 in earnings by cashing checks at a variety of blue-collar racetracks primarily in the Mid-Atlantic and Midwestern states. But this Ohio-bred has only raced in a non-restricted stakes race one time, and he finished a nonthreatening fourth going 1 5/16 miles at Aqueductearlier this year. Plus, he has a similar stalking running style to leading contenders McKinzie, Thunder Snow, and Vino Rosso. Forewarned may be among that group as they make their way through the Saratoga backstretch, but this hard-trying type figures to call it a day by the time the real running begins through the far turn. Two races prior to his Jockey Club Gold Cup win, Discreet Lover finished a good third in the 2018 Whitney for St. Lewis.


3. Monongahela (12-1)

Jockey: Jose Lezcano

Trainer: Jason Servis

Owners: Michael Dubb, Bethlehem Stables, and Gary Aisquith

Career record: 24 starts – 6 wins – 11 seconds – 2 thirds

Career earnings: $381,043

Earnings per start: $15,877

Running style: Stalker/closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This Pennsylvania-bred is an intriguing contender in Saturday’s Whitney Stakes and, while he remains an outsider as a win candidate, he’s a good horse to use in exacta, trifecta, and superfecta tickets to spice up the payoffs. He has been a consistent racehorse throughout his lengthy career, competing in maiden and allowance-optional claiming races through his first 12 starts and then keeping good form when elevated to stakes company. He has stepped up even more in 2019, running second in his first two starts (including a Grade 3 stakes at Aqueduct), checking in fourth in a 1 3/8-mile stakes at Belmont Park, and then breaking through in his most recent start with a four-length win in the 1 1/16-mile, Grade 3 Philip H. Iselin Stakes at Monmouth Park on June 22. Jockey Jose Lezcano should have Monongahela sitting near the rear of the field – perhaps leading only Yoshida – through the backstretch, and it’s worth noting that Lezcano has been aboard this horse for both of his graded stakes starts this year and obviously has a good relationship with him. Monongahela has earned triple-digit Equibase Speed Figures in his prior 10 starts and, although he faces a big class test in the Whitney, he should be running late in the stretch with a solid shot to hit the board.


4. Thunder Snow (3-1)

Jockey: Christophe Soumillon

Trainer: Saeed bin Suroor

Owner: Godolphin

Career record: 24 starts – 8 wins – 7 seconds – 4 thirds

Career earnings: $16,511,476

Earnings per start: $687,978

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This textbook definition of a world traveler is still seeking his breakthrough win in North America despite having run very competitively in his three most recent starts in the U.S. following his no-show debut in the 2017 Kentucky Derby. The two-time Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline winner just missed in last fall’s Jockey Club Gold Cup and then ran a solid third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. In his most recent start, he finished behind Mitole and McKinzie in the June 8 Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap, beaten by a length at a one-mile distance that’s shorter than he prefers. Stretching out another eighth of a mile should benefit Thunder Snow, and Godolphin assistant trainer Tommy Burns told BloodHorse Sunday that the horse has taken to Saratoga’s main track very well during his morning routine. He should employ his usual stalking style for the first mile or so on Saturday and accompany McKinzie sitting close to the pace before regular rider Christophe Soumillon calls for his best. Thunder Snow doesn’t appear to have the same late acceleration as McKinzie, but is a must-use in all Whitney exacta tickets. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum’s Godolphin won the 2016 Whitney with Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Frosted.


5. Vino Rosso (6-1)

Jockey: John Velazquez

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owners: Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable

Career record: 12 starts – 5 wins – 0 seconds – 2 thirds

Career earnings: $1,253,125

Earnings per start: $104,427

Running style: Stalker/closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: If a fast pace develops in Saturday’s Whitney, it could set up perfectly for this improving 4-year-old, who enters off arguably his career-best effort in Southern California. Vino Rosso outfinished Grade 1 winner Gift Box to take the May 27 Gold Cup at Santa Anita Stakes, tallying his second win in three starts so far this year and fulfilling the potential he had flashed early in his 3-year-old season, when he won the 2018 Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets. This well-bred son of Curlin has stamina to spare for the Whitney’s 1 1/8 miles and has experience racing on Saratoga’s main track, his home base, where he finished third and nearly won the Jim Dandy Stakes last summer before running fifth in the Runhappy Travers Stakes. He has been training steadily at the Spa since his win in the Gold Cup and, while he will need to better his 114 speed figure from that race to topple McKinzie and company on Saturday, this colt has the connections, pedigree, and talent to make that jump. Few jockeys know Saratoga better than John Velazquez, who has won the Whitney four times. Look for the Hall of Famer to reserve his charge behind Preservationist, McKinzie, and Thunder Snow but still keep him relatively close to the pace, as Vino Rosso has been much improved this year at age 4 as a stalker rather than as a deep closer. Todd Pletcher has three Whitney wins, all in tandem with Velazquez: Left Bank in 2002; Lawyer Ron in 2007; and Cross Traffic in 2013 (the pair also nearly won the 2010 Whitney with Quality Road, finishing second to Blame). Velazquez also won the 2008 Whitney aboard Commentator, which was that horse’s second victory in the race.


6. McKinzie (7-5)

Jockey: Mike Smith

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Owners: Karl Watson, Mike Pegram, and Paul Weitman

Career record: 11 starts – 6 wins – 4 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $1,703,560

Earnings per start: $154,869

Running style: Press the pace/stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Aside from a puzzling 12th-place finish in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, this supremely talented colt racing for elite connections has never missed the exacta in his other 10 starts. He’s a three-time Grade 1 winner who has time and time again shown an incredible amount of determination in the stretch, twice being involved in disqualifications after heated battles earlier in his career (winning one, losing one) and showing no letup this year at age 4. He’s come up short three times in four 2019 starts, losing to Gift Box by a nose in the Santa Anita Handicap Presented by San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino, to Battle of Midway by a half-length in the San Pasqual Stakes, and to Mitole by three-quarters of a length in the Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap, his most recent start, where he was blocked in traffic through most of the stretch but was rolling late once clear. But in his other start this year, McKinzie dominated the Alysheba Stakes Presented by Sentient Jet at Churchill Downs, winning by 4 ¾ lengths over high-class Tom’s d’Etat and subsequent Stephen Foster Handicap winner Seeking the Soul. A repeat of that performance should put this son of Street Sense in the Whitney Stakes winner’s circle, and look for jockey Mike Smith to place his mount just off of probable pacesetter Preservationist and bide his time through the backstretch before making a bid for the lead on the far turn. Hall of Famer Smith has won one Whitney, back in 1993 aboard Brunswick. More recently, he finished second by a neck to Honor Code in 2015 on Liam’s Map.


7. Yoshida (10-1)

Jockey: Jose Ortiz

Trainer: Bill Mott

Owner: China Horse Club, WinStar Farm, and Head of Plains Partners

Career record: 15 starts – 5 wins – 3 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $2,185,770

Earnings per start: $145,718

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Eleven months ago, this versatile runner pulled off a mild upset with a visually impressive, rallying Grade 1 win in the Woodward Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets during the final weekend of Saratoga’s 2018 meet. In the four starts since then, however, Yoshida has gone off form, finishing fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and then sixth in three consecutive stakes races through this summer. Truthfully, he ran decent in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, making up ground at the top the Churchill Downs stretch before hanging late – but in his subsequent three starts (on turf in the Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational Stakes and on dirt in the Dubai World Cup and the Stephen Foster Handicap) he was never really involved. This horse is a Grade 1 winner on both dirt and turf and should make for a good stallion prospect despite being a Japanese-bred, but his connections are still hoping he can add another prestigious top-level win to his résumé at a track he clearly enjoys racing on. Yoshida is the only deep closer in this compact field and will be coming from last as they wheel into Saratoga’s upper stretch, but running past McKinzie, Thunder Snow, Preservationist, and Vino Rosso will be a tough task indeed, even if he does regain his 2018 form. Eclipse Award-winning jockey Jose Ortiz and Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott are seeking their first wins in the Whitney; they both have finished second once this decade – Mott with Ron the Greek in 2012, and Ortiz aboard Keen Ice in 2017.


8. Preservationist (3-1)

Jockey: Junior Alvarado

Trainer: Jimmy Jerkens

Owner: Centennial Farms

Career record: 8 starts – 5 wins – 1 second – 2 thirds

Career earnings: $572,300

Earnings per start: $71,538

Running style: Press the pace/stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This late-blooming, 6-year-old horse faces his biggest class test to date but comes into the Whitney in peak form and is a legitimate win candidate against top-flight competition. He raced only four times from 2016-2018, winning two times during winter 2018 and then sitting out more than 10 months before returning to finish third in his 2019 debut in January. Since then, however, Preservationist has reeled off three consecutive victories, winning an allowance race each at Aqueduct and Belmont Parkand then rolling to a visually impressive score over multiple Grade 1 winner Catholic Boy in the Suburban Stakes at Belmont on July 6. This well-bred horse has a high cruising speed that will be put to the test in the Whitney, which will be his first race going two turns (the 1 ¼-mile Suburban at Belmont starts midway through that track’s first turn). In the Suburban, Preservationist did not wait long to take the lead through Belmont’s massive backstretch, and it’s a good bet that jockey Junior Alvarado will not waste much time doing the same in the Whitney after breaking from the outside post. Alvarado won the 2014 Whitney aboard 10-1 shot Moreno, and Centennial Farms owned 1994 Whitney winner Colonial Affair.

The Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series continues on NBC Sports with the Whitney Stakes from Saratoga Springs on August 3. Coverage begins at 5 p.m. on NBCSN.

Breeders’ Cup preps reach crescendo with Fall Stars Weekend at Keeneland

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To the horse racing world, Keeneland is Disneyland. Everything about the Keeneland experience tells you that you are in a special place where the world revolves around thoroughbred racing and breeding.

Take Blue Grass Airport in Lexington, for example. Although it’s in a relatively small marketplace, it can handle 747 jets, because wealthy owners attending the horse sales often arrive in a jumbo jet with a large entourage. When you leave the airport, you are at the intersection of Man o’War Boulevard and Versailles Road. You’re literally across the street from Gate 1 of Keeneland Race Course. Keeneland, by the way, is adjacent to the legendary Calumet Farm. Venturing out onto various side streets, you will almost stumble upon some of the most famous breeding facilities in the world. In the paddocks of these farms, the vision of mares and their foals frolicking is commonplace, looking like a scene from a movie.

Keeneland is unique, as its elegance and its racing exist side by side with its primary purpose: being a place where millions of dollars change hands on a regular basis in the sales pavilion. A countless number of legendary horses had their careers begin with their purchase in that pavilion. Unlike venues in places like New York and California, where racing is conducted virtually year-round, racing at Keeneland is held for three weeks in the spring and three weeks in the fall.

RELATED: Pleasant Passage wins Miss Grillo Stakes

The fall meeting is situated perfectly to provide final prep races for many of the horses who are pointed to a performance in the Breeders’ Cup. In a span of 3 days, from October 7th to 9th, Fall Stars Weekend will feature 9 different “Win and You’re In” races in nine different Breeders’ Cup divisions. Normally, these would be very attractive races with large purses, but when you add in the fact that the Breeders’ Cup will be held at Keeneland this year, they are even more attractive. These races offer the prospect of having a horse get a final prep at Keeneland, stay stabled in the Lexington area, and then compete in the Breeders’ Cup, all in a four-week span. For those based at Keeneland, it means they will just have a brief walk through the magnificent stable area to get to the location where they will be racing.

History of The Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland

The first Breeders’ Cup held at Keeneland was the 2015 edition, and the decision to hold the event there was controversial. Many in the racing world felt that the facility was too small, as it could not hold the large crowds of Churchill Downs and Santa Anita. Brilliant management at Keeneland led to the attendance in the main building being limited, with satellite locations on the grounds handling the overflow of a total crowd of about 40,000. It was a comfortable event to attend, helped in no small part by the fact that the star of the show was the first Triple Crown winner since 1978. American Pharoah lived up to his billing, turning in a dominant performance to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the final race of his career. The event returned to Keeneland in 2020, but attendance was limited due to the pandemic. Once again, however, the star of the show delivered, as Kentucky Derby winner Authentic capped off his career with a win in the Classic.

Fall Stars Weekend will be featured in two telecasts, to be shown at 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday on CNBC. Each day will feature two live races, along with highlights of some of the other “Win and You’re In” races from the weekend.

RELATED: Alpinista overcomes heavy ground to win l’Arc de Triomphe

Saturday storylines at Fall Stars Weekend

On Saturday, the Claiborne Breeders’ Futurity will be shown live. The winner will gain entrance to the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. The likely favorite will be the Todd Pletcher-trained Forte, who was a dominant winner of the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga. Pletcher has another interesting prospect in Lost Ark, who is 2-for-2 lifetime, including a runaway win in the Sapling Stakes at Monmouth in his last start. Bob Baffert will be shipping in two juveniles for a possible start in the Breeders’ Futurity. Most notable of these is Carmel Road, who captured a maiden race at Del Mar by 8 ½ lengths in his last start. The other possible Baffert starter is National Treasure, who captured a 6 ½ furlong Maiden race at Del Mar in a fast time in his only career start. Another youngster pointed to this race is Frosted Departure, from the barn of Ken McPeek. This one captured an allowance race at Churchill Downs by 9 ¼ lengths last time out.

The other live race on Saturday’s telecast is the Coolmore Turf Mile, which is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Mile. This is always a contentious race, and some veteran campaigners who haven’t lost a step highlight this year’s field. One of those vets is the Bill Mott-trained Casa Creed, who won the Fourstardave Stakes at Saratoga in his last start. Major turf races at this time of year frequently feature Chad Brown trainees, and this race is no exception. His top two probables here are Emaraaty, who won the Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga in his last start, and Masen, who won the Poker Stakes at Belmont earlier this year. Paulo Lobo will return with In Love, who won this race last year.  Finally, how about a horse who has been 1st or 2nd in 10 of 12 lifetime starts at 1 mile on turf? That’s trainer Michael McCarthy’s veteran Smooth Like Strait. This one is a wide-open affair with some worthy contenders, to be sure.

RELATED: Mo Donegal rewards team’s confidence at Belmont

Sunday storylines at Fall Stars Weekend

The first live race on Sunday’s telecast from Keeneland will be the Bourbon Stakes, for 2-year-olds on the turf. It is a “Win and You’re In” race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. Some key trainers dominate the storylines in this race. Mark Casse has won the Bourbon Stakes in 4 of its last 7 runnings, and he will run Boppy O, the winner of the With Anticipation Stakes at Saratoga in his last start. McPeek is another 4-time winner of the Bourbon. He won last year with Tiz The Bomb, who then went on to finish 2nd in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf. His 2 probables for the race are Rarified Flair (2nd in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile last out) and B Minor (won a Maiden race on dirt at Churchill Downs in his last start). It also should be noted that North America’s all-time leading trainer in wins, Steve Asmussen, will have two probable entries in Red Route One and Gigante. Red Route One won a Maiden race at Kentucky Downs in his last, while Gigante was the winner of the Kitten’s Joy Stakes at Colonial Downs in his last appearance. Finally, there is Brendan Walsh, who seems to always be a factor in Kentucky, and especially in turf races. He presents Reckoning Force, who won that $500,000 Kentucky Downs Juvenile in his last out.

The show-topper on Sunday is the venerable Juddmonte Spinster Stakes. Back in 1984, Princess Rooney posted a win in the Spinster as her final prep before winning the inaugural running of the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Other notables who have won this race in their final prep before winning the Distaff include Bayakoa, Paseana, Inside Information and Blue Prize.

This year’s Juddmonte Spinster features a matchup between two of the top females of the past couple of years in Letruska and Malathaat. Letruska won the Spinster last year on her way to an Eclipse Award as top older female dirt horse. This year, she has posted 2 wins and a third in 4 starts. Malathaat won the 2021 Kentucky Oaks and was 3rd in the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. She enters this race off a win in the Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga.

This weekend presents the final North American “Win and You’re In” opportunities for the Breeders’ Cup. In New York, California, and Kentucky, 14 horses will gain entry into the “Big Dance” of Thoroughbred Racing. Most of us will be getting a case of “Breeders’ Cup Fever” this weekend, as the reality of those races on the first weekend of November draws ever so much closer.

Alpinista overcomes heavy ground to win l’Arc de Triomphe

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PARIS – Alpinista made light work of the rain and heavy ground to narrowly win the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Jockey Luke Morris attacked heading into the last furlong and the 5-year-old mare just held off a late charge from Belgian jockey Christophe Soumillon on Vadeni and last year’s 80-1 winner Torquator Tasso, ridden by veteran Italian jockey Frankie Dettori.

“I had a beautiful draw in stall six and after being perfectly placed, there was a second when I thought we were getting drawn into it too early,” Morris said. “But once she had taken charge, I was able to sit on her from 100 meters out.”

Morris felt the conditions would have made it harder for Alpinista to attack the way she did.

“I was concerned when all that rain came but the race went very smoothly,” he said. “I couldn’t believe how it could have in a 20-runner Arc. It was incredible.”

Alpinista was among the pre-race favorites.

“If it hadn’t been my horse, I would have thought it was going to win every inch of the way, but when it’s your own of course it’s a nightmare,” Alpinista trainer Mark Prescott said. “I didn’t think all that rain would help, but she’s never traveled better and has come on with each race.”

It was not yet clear if Alpinista will next race at the Breeders’ Cup or the Japan Cup next month.