August 6, 2015
I have had the honour of covering the Grade I Whitney three times in my career at HRP and every time, I applaud the laurels of those who have raced and won it previously, both in real-life and at HRP. This time around, with a reduced but still impressive $1,250.000 on the line, and a guaranteed spot in the Grade I BC Classic, we will take a look at what it takes to actually win the Whitney, since SAR and its nine-furlongs can prove to be the undoing of so many, and prove the greatness and so many others.
First off, being a four-year-old definitely helps if you are going to win the Whitney, as seven of the nine winners were four with none of them coming back to win at five. That eliminates more than half of the field this year. It also helps if you come from a stable that has never won the race, since no one has doubled up in victories over the course of its storied history. Thankfully, that only eliminates two of the horses lined up, and one of the other four-year-olds. Having speed is an asset since seven of the nine winners have come gone wire-to-wire or been with the leaders the entire way (Barbarino ran the best race of his career to win in 2007 over Dark Crown, Natural Born Killer and Little Slick, and Nashua Flair capitalized on the fastest half-mile in history to win last year). So, look for horses inside to be the best at setting the pace and staying there.
Post positions 1, 3 and 5 seem to be the only ones to win the Whitney, with the last two winners coming from the rail, so look for the inside to be the place to be once again. The last two winners have also come out of the Grade I Triple Bend, and neither of them one it, and we have the runner-up from that field in this field (Are you sensing a pattern yet?). Weight would be a factor if they had kept this a Handicap but since it has become a Stakes race this year, with everyone carrying 124-pounds, the only thing we can look at are those touting the same weight as their last race and once again, all eyes point to the inside starters. Lastly, one has to look at pedigree as a minor factor when considering the field but none of the previous winners have produced a runner in this field so the hope is that there is the ability for the sire line to continue nearly have the field able to reproduce. All in all, the signs point to a single horse who, while below some of the best on paper, has all the right tools to prove the best in this field given the past history.
1-Hardline (Four-year-old gray colt / Owner-Downwind Stables)
When looking at all the factors that lead to a top Whitney candidate, Hardline has to be considered right at the top of the list and after just missing to a solid three-year-old in the Grade I Triple Bend, he ships back to the scene of his biggest victory and could make it two consecutive Grade I wins over the course, and three overall. Triple-digit speed ratings are the norm for this four-year-old and while he only has the one win in four tries this year, it came at nine-furlongs and with brilliant workouts under his belt, all factors point to him as the choice and my favourite to score another huge win.
Analysis-Signs point to a peak effort
2-Niagra (Four-year-old bay colt / Owner-D J C Racing Stables)
Reigning Horse Of The Year Niagra found a way to win big last year with his score in the BC Classic but at heart, he has found more ways to lose than to win in Grade I events and despite a resume that sees him less than a length from an undefeated season, he still has a lot to prove to this handicapper and should not be taken at a very short price. Another with triple-digit speed ratings in abundance, he seems to stalk and pounce but never finds more than necessary to win and that could be cause for concern, despite a record that would prove his fondness for the distance and an ability to set the pace when others will be taking back.
Analysis-Speed to lead but can find a way to lose
3-Hallelujah (Six-year-old bay horse / Owner-Eastern Equine)
Hallelujah finally got a Grade I win with victory in the Awesome Again at SA last season but came up short from well off the pace in the BC Classic and winless in four starts this season, adding doubt to his already spotty credentials and making him a longer shot than he should be. He is a very good horse, no doubt, but lacks the ability to win when this level comes around and after finishing fourth last year against easier, might find this competition tough to handle from well off the early fractions.
Analysis-Will need to sit closer than normal to be effective
4-Visa Vice (Eight-year-old chestnut gelding / Owner-Mb Stables)
Visa Vice is the elder statesman of the Whitney field at the age of eight but he had a wonderful season as a seven-year-old and looked to be in fine fettle again, before a spell of off-the-board finishes put him up against it. Now, with a cut back in distance and the hope of some speed up front, he might be able to get into a midpack position and make a minor rally; albeit for a minor placing but still something that might kick him past the $2000.000 mark in earnings.
Analysis-Has done well over this course but might find this field tough
5-Lythrum Salicaria (Four-year-old bay gelding / Owner-Blushing Meadows)
Lythrum Salicaria was a surprise second in the Grade I Met Mile at more than 37-1 but could not duplicate that effort with only second in the PRM Cornhusker last time out carrying much less weight and now, having to tote the same as everyone else, he will find himself at a disadvantage when it comes to getting the nine-furlongs once again. He is without a win dating back to October 2014 and only shows that one anomaly, after being well back in the SA Handicap, so the chances of him stepping up for a big effort here, while possible, will beg many to look elsewhere for their value play.
Analysis-Two good efforts do not a Whitney champ make
6-Galvaston (Six-year-old bay gelding / Owner-Hay Makers Inc.)
Galvaston is certainly improving, and certainly knows how to win off three straight scores, but the jump from N4X into the toughest Grade I race of the year make his chances almost obsolete, with the hope that he can remain in contact through to the wire. He came within .20 seconds of the track record two starts back at WO, and that record is held by Whats Up, and if you are going to take a shot at a horse who can get the distance at huge odds, put your money on this gelding before he moves back down into more reachable company.
Analysis-Three straight wins but this is a whole new level
7-Nile Warrior (Five-year-old chestnut horse / Owner-Canadian Racing)
Multiple Grade I winner Nile Warrior has burned more money lately than Apple and having gone off as the favourite in his last five races, with only two victories, it is time to take him for a minor player until he can prove that he is back to Grade I status. He was second as the choice in the BC Classic, and won a docile Dominion Day at WO over horses who have come back to flop, so back him for a minor placing if you must but do not make him the favourite, lest you lose more money on a horse who was good in the day but needs to be good on Saturday as well.
Analysis-Needs to prove more than he has to this handicapper
8-Mister Major (Seven-year-old chestnut gelding / Owner-Sanny Village)
Mister Major was good enough at the age of six to win the Grade I Woodward over this same course and distance but fell off the wagon with three off-the-board finishes before two masterful wins in the Alysheba and Grade I Metropolitan and now, he looks for a three-bagger as the best threat to the four-year-old domination. He has shown two completely different tactics in his last two races, leading gate to wire at CD before coming from off the pace at BEL, and if the pace is modest, he might be the one setting it from his outside stall and that could give him the best shot of adding another win to his already impressive list.
Analysis-The best shot of upsetting the four-year-olds
9-Duca Di Toscana (Four-year-old bay gelding / Owner-Nakamura Stables)
Duca Di Toscana looked to be a solid three-year-old who might have been just a notch below the best of his division at four but his close seconds at OP and PIM set him up for a career-defining score over a good course in the Grade I Foster and might set him up for another big effort over the similar SAR course. He gets his regular rider back in the saddle and knows how to get up there and contest the pace but the question is simply whether he is fast enough and speed ratings, and final times, suggest that he might need a bit of an off-track to run his best.
Analysis-Has turned a corner and will continue to improve
Based on past history, current form and the way the track normally plays, the four-year-olds to the inside have the best chance of taking down the Grade I Whitney and with $1250.000 in the line, Hardline is my top selection with all the criteria needed to prove his might. Coming off a second in the Grade I Triple Bend at DMR, he gets back to a longer distance and a course that has proven him well in the past, with all signs pointing to him becoming the first Travers-Whitney winner in HRP history.
Niagra also has all the credentials to win the Whitney but winds up second in my picks because of his propensity to lose the big races more often than win them. Fifth in the Travers last year, and second by slim margins in both the SA Handicap and the SA Gold Cup, he might be the type of can get ahold of the nine-furlongs better and would not be a surprise to win. Mister Major, on the other hand, knows how to win as of late with two huge scores including the Metropolitan Handicap and whether coming from off the pace, or sitting right with the leaders, he knows how to handle this class and cannot be discounted as he attempts to become the oldest winner of this extremely crucial race.
Show-Mister Major (5/1)
Triple T Racing 🙂
Categories: Grade I