Saturday’s $1.25 million Whitney features an exciting cast of older horses and my colleague Vance Hanson provided his insight analyzing the contenders and non-contenders on Friday.
From a wagering perspective, five horses – Honor Code, Tonalist, Noble Bird, Liam’s Map and Lea (in post order) – could all take plenty of win action and I’ll be interested to see the odds on Noble Bird and Tonalist, keying the pair in multi-race wagers and playing an exacta box.
Honor Code is the 3-1 morning line favorite after rewarding supporters with a $16.20 win mutuel in the Met Mile (G1). By A.P. Indy and from the female family of Serena’s Song, the 4yo was bred to star at longer distances and probably deserves a pass for his last couple of attempts at two turns. But the fact remains he’s displayed a devastating late kick at one-turn distances, rallying dramatically in the Met Mile (G1), Gulfstream Park H. (G2) and Champagne (G1) as well as in allowance and maiden races, and has never duplicated it in three route attempts, including a one-paced Remsen (G2) victory. Honor Code figures to receive the heated/contested pace he needs to thrive and remains eligible to finally show up going long. But I’ll pass on the risky proposition at expected short odds.
Liam’s Map shows a couple of bullet works in preparation and brings a four-race win streak into his graded stakes debut. He came back this year with a sharp allowance performance on June 19 and will likely show speed with new jockey Mike Smith. It’s an advantage being drawn to the inside of Moreno, who will be looking to gun from the break, but Moreno’s broken a little flat-footed before and a slow start could greatly aid Liam’s Map. The Whitney marks Liam’s Map’s first start at 1 1/8 miles and I fear he’ll catch too much pace pressure to sustain his run against a deep field.
Lea rates as a serious win contender with his best but he’s never won a dirt stakes race outside of Gulfstream Park. He was in a prime spot turning for home in the Stephen Foster (G1) last time and arguably hung finishing a neck second, his first start since returning from a third in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-G1), and I haven’t seen the dynamite turn of foot he displayed winning the 2014 editions of the Donn H. (G1) and Hal’s Hope (G3) in any of his four starts this season. The stalker could receive an ideal trip and I won’t be surprised to see Lea turn up with his best for Bill Mott, but want to see it first from the 6yo.
V.E. Day may not be fast enough to win, but the confirmed one-run closer will get the right set-up and is 2-for-2 at Saratoga, including last year’s Travers (G1). He’s one to include underneath in vertical exotics.
Tonalist has lost two straight for Christophe Clement but ran well each time, making an early run into the hot pace in the Met Mile before finishing a clear runner-up and registering a career-best 110 BRIS Speed rating for a head second in the Suburban (G2). He gained experience last year at the Spa, finishing second in the Jim Dandy (G2) and third in the Travers, and has something to prove today. Tonalist is in strong form and favors the 1 1/8-mile distance; the Tapit colt looks ready to deliver a big effort.
Noble Bird will get first run on Tonalist and the deep closers with his tactical speed and I love the improving form he brings into the Whitney. A head second to a razor-sharp Protonico when making his stakes bow two back, he followed with a gutty win in the Stephen Foster where he wound up on the early lead by default. Noble Bird is better than he showed last time and can sit a perfect trip in the second flight before offering his best. His recent numbers fit nicely (109 and 107 Speed; 115 Late Pace) and the 4yo appears to be training forwardly over the track.
Noble Bird could wind up as the fourth or fifth choice in the wagering and I’ll play him to win in addition to the exacta box with Tonalist.
Here are some other stakes thoughts:
Champion 2yo filly Take Charge Brandi makes her first start since late January but the speedy miss will be facing pace pressure.
Irish Jasper (#1, race 8) has impressed since trainer Derek Ryan removed the blinkers three starts back, winning stakes at Aqueduct, Pimlico and Belmont Park, and the well-traveled sophomore filly brings her winning ways to Saratoga at a seven-furlong distance she relishes (2-for-2).
We may not get the 8-1 morning line price, but Irish Jasper should receive a favorable set-up for her closing kick beneath Javier Castellano. I’ll stick with the improving filly.
De La Rose
Recepta (#5, race 7) came back from a nine-month layoff with a sharp allowance tally at Keeneland and has followed with a couple of solid efforts, rallying for third in the Beaugay (G3) and fourth in the Eatontown (G3). Thought circumstances were against her both times but those efforts will have her fit, and the Toner-trained filly is eligible to put it all together against today’s rivals. She’s an attractive 6-1 on the morning line with John Velazquez.
Mabee (at Del Mar)
Fanticola attempts to stretch her speed out to 1 1/8 miles but I’ll go a different direction with Elektrum (#8, race 8), a promising 4yo filly making her second U.S. stakes attempt. She runs well off a freshening and has performed admirably in all four starts stateside despite experiencing trouble every time, recording a win, two seconds and a close fourth in the Gamely (G1) last out. John Sadler has been pointing her for this spot and I’m expecting further improvement from Elektrum.