It is the first Saturday in August and that means it is time for the annual running of the $1.25 million Whitney Handicap at Saratoga Race Course. This is one of the biggest Grade 1 events of the summer horse racing season as part of the “Win & You’re In” racing series for the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
This major stakes race features some of the top three-year-old thoroughbreds betting picks and up in the nation and while this year's field does not appear to be long in numbers, it still runs very deep in talent. That is usually the case when there is this much money up for grabs. The following is a closer look at the three horses that make up my trifecta play for Saturday's main event at Saratoga.
2016 Whitney Handicap- Saratoga Race Course
Summer horse racing and Saratoga have gone hand-in-hand for quite a long time and this Saturday's Whitney Handicap is a shining example of the type of high-quality events that are staged at this fabled track. This Grade 1 stakes race for three-year-olds and up will be contested on the dirt track at Saratoga over a distance of 1 1/8 miles and the total prize purse up for grabs is $1.25 million.
Of the six horses currently listed as probable for Saturday's main event, the one at the top of many horse racing bettor's list would be Frosted and I would have to agree. Trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, this four-year-old Kentucky-bred colt comes into this race ranked No. 5 by Horse Racing Nation with a lofty rating of 8.85. He is also coming off a recent victory in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap (Met Mile) at Belmont on June 11. This was his third race this season and second victory after finishing first in the Grade 2 Al Maktoum Challenge in Dubai in early February. He went on to finish fifth in a very talented field in this year's Grade 1 Dubai World Cup behind the likes of California Chrome and Hoppertunity.
Some of the biggest highlights of his very successful racing career include a fourth-place finish in last year's Kentucky Derby followed by a third-place run in the Grade 1 Travers Stakes at Saratoga last August.
My second choice in this year's Whitney would be trainer Richard Violette's Upstart. This four-year-old New York-bred horse brings a certain home-track advantage into this race after starting his career with a pair of victories at Saratoga as a juvenile. More recently, he placed third in the Met Mile his last time out with Anchor Down filling the place position. Upstart started this racing season with a big victory in the Grade 3 Razorback Stakes at Oaklawn Park before fading to fifth in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap on April 16 over a distance of 1 1/8 miles.
He comes into this race ranked No. 52 by HRN with a rating of 7.87. As a pedigree of Flatter, he has a progeny that can be traced all the way back to Seattle Slew.
Rounding out my top three horses for this race would be Noble Bird. Trained by Mark Casse, this five-year-old Kentucky-bred horse will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing sixth-place finish in the Met Mile after winning this year's Grade 3 Pimlico Special on May 20 over a distance of 1 3/16 miles. He did run in last year's Whitney, which was won by Honor Code and finished a distant ninth, but I actually believe that this horse is getting better with age. His biggest career victory was in last year's Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs over a distance of 1 1/8 miles so it appears that a slightly longer run than a mile suits his racing style.
HRN has Noble Bird ranked No. 122 on its current list and he has a rating of 7.67, which is fourth best in the current projected field for Saturday's race. Make sure you check betting odds for Noble at you sportsbook of choice.