I’ve looked at the last 25 runnings of the Whitney, and here are a few of the key factors that emerged:
- Purse: Each year since 2000, the purse of the Whitney has ranged between $750,000 and $1.5 million.
- The Whitney/Breeders’ Cup Classic connection: In the past 25 years, six horses have won the Whitney and the Classic in the same year, and they are an impressive group. They include Awesome Again (1998), Invasor (2006), Blame (2010), Fort Larned (2012), Gun Runner (2017) and Knicks Go (2021).
- The Whitney/Older Male Eclipse Award connection: In this 25-year span, nine Whitney winners have won the Older Male Eclipse Award in the same year. They are: Victory Gallop (1999), Lemon Drop Kid (2000), Invasor (2006), Lawyer Ron (2007), Blame (2010), Honor Code (2015), Gun Runner (2017), Improbable (2020) and Knicks Go (2021).
- The sweep of Horse of the Year, the Older Male Eclipse Award and winning the Whitney and the Breeders’ Cup Classic: Three horses in the past 25 years have accomplished this feat. They are: Invasor (2006), Gun Runner (2017) and Knicks Go (2021).
- Location, location, location: While some older horses opt for Del Mar’s Pacific Classic at this time of year, the attraction of Saratoga and the prestige of winning the premier race for older horses at the meet is undeniable. Almost invariably, the Whitney attracts the top older horses in training on the East Coast and the Midwest, at the very least.
- Timing: The Whitney is run in early August, which is perfect to start a fall campaign that will culminate in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
This year, there is a highlighted matchup in the Whitney between two outstanding horses who have never faced each other. In addition, there are three other contenders who would not surprise anyone if they defeated the top two, as they are Grade 1 winners in their own right with a solid record of accomplishments.
Anticipated matchup between Life Is Good and Olympiad
The top two contenders in the race are Life Is Good and Olympiad, who are ranked No. 2 and No. 3 in the Aug. 1 edition of the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll. The only horse ahead of them in the poll is the seemingly unbeatable Flightline, who is prepping for the Sept. 3 Pacific Classic at Del Mar. His trainer, John Sadler, has chosen to keep him close to home, knowing that he will have to go east for the Breeders’ Cup in November.
Life Is Good, from the barn of Todd Pletcher, has wins in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, the Pegasus World Cup and most recently, the John A. Nerud Stakes to his credit. The only significant blemish on his record was a fourth place finish in the Dubai World Cup, when he couldn’t get the final furlong on a racing surface that many horses have trouble adapting to. Unlike many horses who endure the trip to Dubai, Life Is Good came back like gangbusters in the John A. Nerud Stakes at Belmont, winning by five lengths in outstanding time. He is likely to be on the lead and try to carry the field the whole way in the Whitney.
Life Is Good is a horse who won six of his first seven starts, with his only defeat in that span coming by a neck to the great Jackie’s Warrior in last year’s H. Allen Jerkens Stakes at Saratoga. A neck defeat to the top sprinter in the country is nothing to be upset about. In the Whitney, the stretch out to nine furlongs could work in favor of Life Is Good, in addition to the fact that it is his second start since returning from Dubai.
Olympiad is a different story altogether, as he has blossomed in his 4-year-old season, winning five in a row. His win in his last start, the Stephen Foster Stakes, was a dominant performance, and he seems to get better with each new start. His stalking or mid-pack running style will allow him to use Life Is Good as a target to catch in the final furlong. Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott has handled him beautifully, and this race should set up very nicely for him. While he has beaten some of the horses he will face in the Whitney, he has never faced one as talented as Life Is Good.
Other contenders to watch in the Whitney Stakes
Those two are the headliners, but there are three Grade 1 winners in the field that have clearly shown that they are capable of an upset at this level. The most well-known of this group is Hot Rod Charlie, who posted his Grade 1 win in last year’s Pennsylvania Derby. He crossed the finish line first in last year’s Haskell Stakes, but was disqualified for interference in the stretch. He has a consistent record of finishing in the top three in some of the most highly regarded races in the country, and he always gives a solid effort.
Another Grade 1 winner in the field is Americanrevolution, who posted his Grade 1 score in last November’s Cigar Mile at Aqueduct. He was second in the Stephen Foster Stakes to Olympiad in his last start, and his stalking style could work in his favor here. Americanrevolution is yet another in the field who seems to always give a strong effort.
Finally, there is Happy Saver, who is the Rodney Dangerfield of the older male stakes horses in the U.S.
He’s a 5-year-old who posted a Grade 1 score in the Jockey Club Gold Cup as a 3-year-old. His last four starts, however, reveal what a high-quality horse he truly is. He placed second in the 2021 Jockey Club Gold Cup, the 2021 Clark Stakes, and this year’s Alysheba Stakes and Met Mile. Three of these races are Grade 1 events, and the Alysheba Stakes is a Grade 2. The reason I call him a Rodney Dangerfield-type is that his average odds over his last four starts is 6-1. No respect…no respect at all!
The Whitney often achieves a status that is far beyond a stakes race. It is an event in the sense that matchups of this type are only likely to happen in a race with the prestige of the Whitney and in a setting like legendary Saratoga. Without a doubt, it is the key race to take place this year in the lead-up to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, with a matchup that is worthy of a race with the history of the Whitney.