A legendary championship-factoring handicap race. A DOUBLED purse. Six millionaires. This year’s Whitney Handicap (I) promised a long time ago to be a great race with emphasized effort in making it the summer target for east coast older horses, and it seems to have worked. Currently the best horse on U.S. dirt, Palace Malice aims to continue his impressive year with a win in the race, hoping to knock off Will Take Charge, who bested him in last year’s Travers. Those two certainly won’t be alone, and this wasn’t an easy race to sift through! And look out for pick 4 opinions from me on Friday, including my own live tickets!
$1.5 million Whitney Handicap (I) - 3-Year-Olds & Up. 1 1/8 miles on dirt at Saratoga Race Course. Post Time: Saturday, August 2 at 5:45pm EST.
[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Impost, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]
1) Will Take Charge - Luis Saez, 124 lbs, D. Wayne Lukas - Arguably the best dirt horse last year (and I will forever argue that point home), the 4-year-old son of Unbridled’s Song showed affection for the Saratoga main last year, placing in the Jim Dandy (II) before roaring to life to win the Travers (I) followed by top finishes in the Clark, the Classic, and the Pennsylvania Derby. Making his sixth start this year, WTC has won once and placed 3 times, showing he is still consistent. A return to Saratoga may benefit WTC, and the colt looked remarkably well in coming late in the Stephen Foster (I) last out to finish 2nd. I’m glad to see the switch back to Saez and in a fairly successful inner position. The champ deserves respect with 3 wins and 3 places in 6 starts at 9 furlongs.
2) Prayer for Relief - Joel Rosario, 117 lbs, Dale Romans - The son of Jump Start has 31 races under his belt and has improved to be a better horse than I thought this year since switching to Romans’ care. He put up huge numbers earlier in the spring, declined, then appeared to have resurged last out, placing 3rd in the Suburban Handicap (II). He is winless this year, but picks up top jock Rosario who knows his way around a route race. On that note, he will have to improve a good deal if he wants to beat these horses.
3) Moreno - Junior Alvarado, 117 lbs, Eric Guillot - Second in last year’s Travers (I), the Ghostzapper gelding fell short when caught in the final moments of the Suburban Handicap (II) by Zivo last out— a familiar story for this gutsy guy. Also winless for the year, he has hit the board in both of his Saratoga starts. Big sign for me that Moreno is ready to go is how he’s doing in his workouts, and a big bullet breeze in :58 and change shows he’s rarin’. A cutback in distance from last out could do the trick.
4) Itsmyluckyday - Paco Lopez, 119 lbs, Eddie Plesa Jr - Fresh off an extended layoff after injury, the Lawyer Ron colt is still a mystery in older horse class. In 4 starts this year, he has won 3, faltering only in his first start back after several months in the Gulfstream Park Handicap (II) won by Palace Malice. Lucky has only raced once at this distance (2nd) and will likely go straight to the front. A dark horse type, Lucky has managed to throttle somewhat easy fields and control the pace how he wants it, which presents its own possible problems figuring out the race. However, a horse he beat last out in the Salvatore Mile, Valid, just won a stakes.
5) Palace Malice - John Velazquez, 124 lbs, Todd Pletcher - Winner of the Belmont (I) last year and the Met Mile (I) this year, the Curlin colt has ruled the roost in an impressive, undefeated season thus far and arguably could have won the Travers (I) last year if only he broke better. All class this year against many of the best, the Met Mile (I) was arguably a tougher race concerning post position and a distance that may not have been his ideal. He is in an ideal situation here at 9 furlongs at a track he likes and appears to be very fit.. Strong win candidate.
6) Departing - Robby Albarado, 121 lbs, Al Stall - The War Front gelding had his own way for a while racing against softer groups at a medley of tracks, daring to step it up most recently in the Stephen Foster (I), where he ran 3rd beaten only 2 lengths by Moonshine Mullin. His record at 9 furlongs is sold: 3 wins and 2 shows in 6 tries. Departing likes to be on or near the pace early, and I sense Albarado may want to break him ahead of Palace Malice and like others, try to slow things down. His class makes this tactic questionable, especially since there are already a few front-runners in here. Exotics horse.
7) Romansh - Jose Ortiz, 119 lbs, Tom Albertrani - Bernardini progeny historically do very well at Saratoga and other NYRA tracks, and this one has been having a pretty decent year, being beaten in the Met Mile (I) by less than 2 lengths. A prior winner at ‘Toga and 3-for-5 at the 9-furlong mark, Albertrani has a very positive ROI in 3rd start off the layoff. I worry about overall class yet again, but he’s a value horse that cannot be ignored.
8) Golden Ticket - Julien Leparoux, 117 lbs, Ken McPeek - A Travers (I)-winning son of Speightstown, Golden Ticket won his only start at Saratoga as a longshot and enters this race as a likely longer-odds entry, winning none of his 5 starts this year and coming up dry in his last start (4th in the Cornhusker Handicap by 1 1/2 lengths). It’s kind of hard to make a logical case for Golden Ticket stepping up after so many goofs this year while breaking from an outer position. McPeek has had some good longshots in the past, but Leparoux is not a good dirt rider.
9) Last Gunfighter - Javier Castellano, 121 lbs, Chad Brown - The 5-year-old First Samurai son makes his Saratoga debut after coming up empty last out in the Suburban (II), beaten nearly 10 lengths despite being bet down. He is very good at this distance though with 3 wins and 1 place in 4 tries. While I preached tossing this horse in the Suburban at short odds, Gunfighter gets my attention back here attracting Castellano to ride and Chad Brown has been successful with his 3rd-start-off-the-layoff horses with a positive ROI. Use him at least in exotics!
Top 3 Picks in Order:
1) Will Take Charge
2) Palace Malice
Breaking from the fence and ready to stalk those pacesetters once again before springing, I’ll take Will Take Charge over Palace Malice, although both are worth respecting about equally in this spot, purely because I love WTC’s big turn-of-foot in the stretch. Pletcher is hot as always at Toga, and Palace Malice is his big horse that everyone has to get by and seems to have everything going for him— good yet bad news for those favorites at Saratoga! I like the way Itsmyluckyday is shaping up for this race, and the recent stake win by Valid moves him up a lot to potential upsetter. Honorable mention definitely goes to Moreno, who cuts back and has been breezing beautifully. Junior Alvarado, a talented dirt route rider, rode him perfectly in the Suburban last out.
Value Pick: Itsmyluckyday (10-1 or better) is also very worth using considering his sit-and-strike running style. Could run big.
Pick 4 choices: Will Take Charge and Palace Malice are both worthwhile favorites to include. For added value, throw in Itsmyluckyday, Moreno, and or Romansh (I like them in that order).