A match-up of some of the best handicap horses in the country, the Whitney Invitational (I) looks strong once again this year with returning champ and Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned leading the fray with Classic runner-up Mucho Macho Man, the dizzying speedster Cross Traffic, the strong record breaker Successful Dan, and last year’s Travers (I) winner Alpha surfacing for the challenge. It’s the key race of the $500,000 Late Pick 4 and the first Breeders’ Cup Fantasy Capping race. Weather looks likely to be beautiful in New York this weekend with possibility of spot showers that shouldn’t affect the main too much.
"TUMBLR’S BEST HANDICAPPERS" FANTASY CAPPING CREW! This is our first race to nail! Have some Brisnet PP’s to help with your picks.
$750,000 Whitney Handicap Invitational (I) - 3-Year-Olds & Up. 1 1/8 miles on dirt at Saratoga. Post Time: Saturday, August 3 at 5:45pm EST.
[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Impost, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]
1) Successful Dan - Julien Leparoux, 118 lbs, Charles Lopresti - While likely not going to stay at his 12-1 morning line odds (who the hell wrote that?), the Wiseman’s Ferry gelding and full brother to Horse of the Year Wise Dan was favored as the horse to beat in his last start in the Stephen Foster (I), where he was outmoved by the big favorite here, Fort Larned. That was his 2nd start off a long layoff, and nowhere near his track record-breaking best, and he has never been worse than 3rd at this 9-furlong distance. While it will be his Saratoga debut and Lopresti has sighed over being stuck on the rail, “Dan” should be considered a threat as one of the classiest in the field. However, he has some serious work to do on recovering those old big numbers of his.
2) Mucho Macho Man - Edgar Prado, 119 lbs, Kathy Ritvo - Around this time last year, I was favoring this Macho Uno colt to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic (obviously I had a change of heart in November when I surmised that Fort Larned would win). Not yet a G1 winner or a Saratoga winner in 2 past tries, Mucho has had a rough year struggling in the mud in the Sunshine Millions then was beaten by about 4 lengths last out in an overnight stakes at Belmont. San Pablo was the worthy winner of that race, but MMM looked a snorish third slightly behind Hymn Book, who most recently finished 2nd in the Monmouth Cup (II). On the plus side, his class level is unquestionably good and he has a strong record on a fast track, finishing out of the top 3 only twice in 17 starts. Mucho turned a strong 4 panel work back in June, and has since been preparing to go long for this race. Ideally built, he will be at a price for his class if you’re willing to excuse his last start as something he needed. To me personally, clockers need to be singing Mucho’s praises for him to have a shot against Fort Larned, and he’s only been graded as “workmanlike” lately.
3) Fort Larned - Brian Hernandez Jr, 122 lbs, Ian Wilkes - Unraced since his titanic “unchallenged, gallantly” 5-length conquering of the Stephen Foster (I), the E Dubai stallion was the winner of last year’s Whitney in a playful romp and by the numbers, he should be able to repeat. Known to throw a clunker here and there if he’s forced wide, Fort Larned reads like a single but keep in mind how often favorites fail at Saratoga.
4) Cross Traffic - John Velazquez, 117 lbs, Todd Pletcher - I was shocked at how fleet-footed this Unbridled’s Song colt was, reminding me much of his sidelined gray stablemate and fellow Unbridled’s Song son, Graydar, who managed to defy my expectations of holding his speed up for 9 furlongs in a G1 stake. He was scarcely bested last out by Sahara Sky and multi-graded winner Flat Out— both at a mile, and is super consistent in his running and rating style. Very quick, Cross Traffic looks to be maxed out as a miler, though I thought similarly of Graydar. At 5-2, he is overbet for an unproven horse at the distance, but surely use him in exotic plays.
5) Ron the Greek - Jose Lezcano, 118 lbs, Bill Mott - The Full Mandate son was tops last year coming into this race, but has looked better since he departed from his peak form last summer. Out of the money just twice at this distance in 12 tries, Ron the Greek will try to take advantage of all the speed in his race and recover his old form. A tall order of an entry, Ron sparkled on an off track earlier this year in the Sunshine Millions, got pinched to lose by a half length in the Charles Town (II), but couldn’t catch Fort Larned last out in the Stephen Foster (I). Saratoga is not a closer-favoring track, and even with all the speed up front, Ron would need to have an ideal trip where he’s not too far off this year (as he was last year) and will need to improve. Use in your exotics.
6) Alpha - Joel Rosario, 115 lbs, Kieran McLaughlin - The Bernardini colt and last year’s Travers (I) winner, Alpha has seen better days, losing pretty badly in all 3 starts this year in Dubai. Unruly in his last start in the Suburban (II), he’s been training better since returning to the States. Dare I say it, he has a shot. Bernardinis are tops in New York, and this colt is 3-for-3 over Saratoga’s main under a featherweight. Hell, if Stay Thirsty can beat Groupie Doll at Aqueduct, I’m a monkey’s uncle to doubt Alpha. Use in your exotics for sure at 10-1 (on that note, how is “Dan” 12-1 and Alpha freaking 10-1?)
7) Csaba - Luis Saez, 114 lbs, Philip Gleaves - The Kitten’s Joy colt is a past G3 winner back in Florida, and ships here out of trying to take advantage of a sheer dumb luck strategy that the pace up front will fall apart. Should a freak rainstorm break out, use him. Otherwise, he probably doesn’t belong as a horse who can’t compete with classier types.
8) Fast Falcon - Junior Alvarado, 114 lbs, Nick Zito - Awesome Again progeny typically improve with age, and Fast Falcon looks to be no exception when nearly besting Percussion at this distance, and later the pair finished 2-3 to Calidoscopio [ARG]. He was beaten 2 1/2 length last out to Flat Out and Last Gunfighter at this distance, and has some serious late pace kick. Should the pacesetters wear each other out, Fast Falcon looks likely to gallop up there, but at this class level, he probably won’t be good enough to win. Exotic horse for sure though.
Top 3 Picks in Order:
1) Fort Larned (even)
2) Successful Dan (4-1)
3) Fast Falcon (9-1)
I’m fairly confident Fort Larned is the all-around best horse in the field who shouldn’t encounter a whole lot of trouble as a horse who can sit off of Cross Traffic’s hot pace, pounce when that one [likely] folds, and hold off the late movers with his class. I had issues picking 2nd the most, ultimately going with the classy Successful Dan over MMM, whom I’m not sure is the same horse he was last year. Fast Falcon is keen for 3rd, and can conquer other classy horses here with a pace setup.
Value Pick: I’m not sure which one bettors are likely to ignore more, but Fast Falcon (9-1 or better) looks keen for the top 3 and Alpha (12-1 or better) loves this track. Neither will likely win, but they are must-haves in the exotic category.