Stars fill 2019 Whitney Stakes field


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.

Forte is slight 5-2 favorite for Belmont Stakes over stablemate Tapit Trice

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Forte is finally getting a crack at running in a Triple Crown race. The colt, who was scratched the day of the Kentucky Derby, is the early favorite for the Belmont Stakes.

Forte, last year’s 2-year-old champion, was made the slight 5-2 favorite for the grueling 1 1/2-mile race.

Trained by Todd Pletcher, the colt will break from the No. 6 post in the nine-horse field at Belmont Park. Pletcher’s other horse, Tapit Trice, is the 3-1 second choice and drew the No. 2 post.

Forte was the early Derby favorite, but was scratched by Kentucky officials the morning of the May 6 race because of a bruised right foot. He was on a vets’ list that kept him out of the Preakness, but has since come off it.

“He’s doing great, he’s training really well. He hasn’t missed any training,” said Mike Repole, co-owner of Forte. “We still think this is the best 3-year-old in the crop and he’s going to prove that.”

Mage, the Kentucky Derby winner, is skipping the Triple Crown finale after finishing third in the Preakness on May 20.

Angel of Empire is the third choice at 7-2. He finished third in the Derby and is one of three horses in the race trained by Brad Cox.

National Treasure, the Preakness winner trained by Bob Baffert, is 5-1. He drew the No. 4 post.

Arcangelo is 8-1 and will break from the No. 3 post. He is trained by Jena Antonucci, who will try to become the first woman trainer to win the Belmont.

The other four entries are listed at double-digit odds.

The Belmont field, in post position order, with jockeys and odds:

Tapit Shoes, Jose Ortiz, 20-1; Tapit Trice, Luis Saez, 3-1, Arcangelo, Javier Castellano, 8-1; National Treasure, 5-1, John Velazquez; Il Miracolo, 30-1, Marcos Meneses; Forte, 5-2, Irad Ortiz Jr.; Hit Show, 10-1, Manny Franco; Angel of Empire, Flavien Prat, 7-2; Red Route One, Joel Rosario, 15-1.

Preakness winner National Treasure has final workout for Belmont Stakes

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK — Preakness winner National Treasure breezed five furlongs in his final workout for the $1.5 million Belmont Stakes this weekend.

Working on the main track at Belmont Park with exercise rider Erick Garcia aboard, National Treasure was timed in 59.55 seconds and galloped out six furlongs in 1:11.20 and seven furlongs in 1:25.20. It was the second workout on the track for the Bob Baffert-trained colt.

“He worked very well this morning,” said Jimmy Barnes, Baffert’s top assistant. “It’s a big track and you can find yourself lost out there. Erick did an excellent job working him and now we’re just waiting for the race.”

National Treasure was fourth in the Santa Anita Derby before the Preakness on May 20.

Trainer Steve Asmussen’s Red Route One also posted his final work for the final jewel of the Triple Crown, breezing a half-mile in 50.20 seconds over Belmont Park’s dirt training track.

“I thought he went beautiful,” said Toby Sheets, Asmussen’s Belmont-based assistant. “It was nice and fluid and he came back with good energy. I’m very happy with him. We wanted to be out on the track before it got really busy.”

Red Route One finished fourth in the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course, almost five lengths behind National Treasure.

Kentucky Derby winner Mage is not running in the Belmont Stakes.