Road to the Breeders’ Cup: The Whitney Stakes

Saturday Stakes Strong at Saratoga Headlined by The Whitney

It may be wet Saturday at Saratoga with a 90% chance of rain and Thunderstorms, but the stakes will be high with some strong racing on the card. A sloppy surface could move some of the six turf races off the grass. That includes the two featured turf races in the $100,000 Fasig-Tipton Lure Stakes and the $100,000 Fasig-Tipton De La Rose Stakes for older fillies and mares. Those two races are sandwiched around the $500,000 Longines Test Stakes (G1) for 3-year-old fillies led by the favorite American Gal (5-2), and the $1,200,000 Whitney Handicap (G1), where Gun Runner tries for his 9th win in 16 starts to push him over $5 million in career earnings for trainer Steve Asmussen.

The winner of The Whitney picks up more than $650,000 for his connections. The race is also part of the ‘Win and You’re In’ Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series for a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Four horses who have won the Whitney have taken the Breeders’ Cup Classic later that year, with the most recent Fort Larned (2012).

Felix Geroux will ride the heavy favorite Gun Runner (4-5), who was 1st last time out in the Stephen Foster Handicap (G1) at Churchill Downs and 3rd in last year’s Travers Stakes at Saratoga in the race that introduced us to the world’s No. 1 race horse Arrogate, who I got a close-up look at during my day at Del Mar before he went flat and flopped in the San Diego Handicap.

Keen Ice (3-1) was the upset winner of the Grade II Suburban last month at Belmont. That was his first win over his last 10 starts. But recall Keen Ice, the son of Curlin, owns one of the biggest upsets in Saratoga history in 2015 when he defeated Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the Travers. He does his best work going longer, and will be a more intriguing one to watch should an off track develop.

War Story (6-1) breaks from the rail with new Hall of Famer Javier Castellano aboard. The Northern Afleet gelding won going long in the Suburban on Belmont Stakes day after just missing in the Charles Town Classic. He was a well-beaten 5th in the Pegasus World Cup in January, losing ground in the stretch to the leaders and getting passed by Keen Ice. The setup with Cautious Giant pushing the pace and War Story waiting could develop, but he’ll need to be his very best and perhaps a wet track would help.

Breaking Lucky (8-1) was the 2015 Prince of Wales winner. He’s been facing top competition since leaving Canada, and finished more than 8 lengths behind Gun Runner in the Stephen Foster in June. Still, include underneath as the most credible long shot.

Trainer Gary Contessa scratched Tu Brutus (8-1) from a restricted stakes Thursday to run him here. He was 3rd behind War Story in the Brooklyn, but Contessa likes how the Chile-bred has been training at Saratoga and gives him his Grade I shot in The Whitney.

Discreet Lover (25-1) and Cautious Giant (30-1) have little chance, although Cautious Giant will try to push the pace and should have been coupled with War Story. Steward error with same owner of those two horses. There’s really no entry you can make a solid case for to take down Gun Runner, who should get to the front and not be caught as the class of The Whitney. Of course the rain and potential wet or muddy surface could change the race outlook.

It’s also Hall of Fame weekend at the Spa, where three jockeys and one horse will be enshrined in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame on Friday morning. Three-time Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Goldikova will join jockeys Victor Espinoza, Javier Castellano and the late Garrett Gomez as they enter Racing’s Hall of Fame.

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