Using History as Guide to Handicap 2019 Whitney Stakes
Courtesy of J. Keeler Johnson of the America's Best Racing
Mark your calendars for Aug. 3! Starting at 5 p.m. ET, the NBCSN broadcast team will be at Saratoga to cover the $1 million, Grade 1 Whitney Stakes, a prestigious Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Nov. 2 Breeders’ Cup Classic.
First held in 1928, the 1 1/8-mile Whitney Stakes annually attracts some of the best older Thoroughbreds in North America. Since 2006, four horses have parlayed victory in the Whitney into success in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, making it a pivotal prep race for the year-end championship. Planning to watch and wager on the Whitney Stakes? Catching up on the Whitney’s rich history will help you identify the horse(s) with the best chance to claim the winner’s share of the $1 million purse.
Based upon an examination of the Whitney’s last 10 renewals, here are five trends and tendencies to aid your handicapping of the great race:
Bet Speed on Top, Deep Closers Underneath
Front-runners have enjoyed remarkable success in recent editions of the Whitney, winning five of the last six editions. Furthermore, the pacesetter was beaten by a neck in 2015 and by a head in 2010, so it’s safe to say speed is dangerous in the Whitney Stakes.
Once in the while you’ll see a deep-closing winner like Honor Code in 2015 or Bullsbay in 2009, but a fast pace is needed to set up those late rallies. You’re better off playing late runners underneath, since horses rallying from the back half of the pack have cracked the Whitney exacta in nine of the last 10 years.
New York-Based Runners Usually Prevail
Horses who prepped at Belmont Park in New York have the strongest record of recent success in the Whitney. Six of the last 10 winners (and four of the last five) used a stakes race at Belmont as a springboard to Whitney glory, with four winners exiting the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap and the other two utilizing the Grade 2 Suburban Stakes as their final prep. Moreno actually contested both races prior to winning the 2014 Whitney.
Otherwise, the Grade 2 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs has produced two Whitney winners (Gun Runner and Blame) over the last 10 years, so if you’re going to oppose the locals, a high-class runner shipping in from Kentucky is a good choice.
Favorites Aren’t Unbeatable
Favorites have won four of the last 10 editions of the Whitney, including the last three, but that’s hardly better than the average winning percentage for favorites in all North America races. Non-favored runners starting at 3.40-1 or higher have accounted for six of the last 10 Whitneys and that includes a couple of significant upsets (Moreno at 10-1 and Bullsbay at 18.80-1). If you’re feeling inclined to oppose the Whitney favorite, you can feel confident knowing the odds are generally in your favor.
Here’s a fun fact for you: nine of the last 10 Whitney winners were sired by a stallion who won a Grade 1 race going 1 1/8 miles or farther. Furthermore, the only stallion to break this trend — E Dubai, sire of Fort Larned — was a Grade 2 winner traveling 1 ¼ miles, a distance at which he also finished second twice against Grade 1 company. In other words, look for stamina in pedigrees and don’t bet the progeny of sprinters in the Whitney.
A Previous Grade 1 Win Isn’t Critical
Although the Whitney is one of the most prestigious races for older horses in North America, four of the last 10 winners earned their first Grade 1 win in the race. Despite the quality of the field, the Whitney is kinder than you might expect to up-and-comers seeking to secure their first top-level victory.
Three high-class graded stakes winners — McKinzie, Thunder Snow, and Preservationist — will enter the Whitney off strong performances at Belmont Park. McKinzie and Thunder Snow were separated by a neck when finishing second and third in the Grade 1 Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap, while Preservationist was a convincing winner of the Grade 2 Suburban Stakes.
History suggests we can focus of these three as the most likely candidates to win the Whitney, and if you dig a little deeper, one clearly stands out as the best fit from a historical perspective. Whereas McKinzie and Thunder Snow are based in California and Europe, respectively, Preservationist is a true New Yorker — he’s never run outside of the state. And while McKinzie is a midpack closer, and Thunder Snow is the son of a sprinter/miler, Preservationist is a speedy six-year-old son of Arch, already the sire of 2010 Whitney winner Blame.
Preservationist certainly put his tactical speed and stamina to good use in the Suburban Stakes. After taking the early lead, he subsequently settled back into second place before re-rallying to take command in the stretch and win by 4 ½ lengths. Preservationist is lightly-raced with just eight starts under his belt, but he’s clearly in top form this summer, and history suggests he’ll be a serious contender to score his first Grade 1 win in the Whitney.
Good luck, and enjoy the race!
For more coverage of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series, head over to americasbestracing.net
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