Racing Roundtable: Whitney, Blue Stripe, and War Like Goddess

August 9th, 2022

In this week's edition of the Racing Roundtable, James Scully, Kellie Reilly, and Vance Hanson recap the Whitney and address the future of two star mares.

What did we learn from the Whitney (G1)?

James Scully: Life Is Good showed his terrific turn of foot from the starting gate, and speed can play favorably at Keeneland in the fall, but the Whitney reinforced concerns surrounding the 1 1/4-mile trip of the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1). He had everything his own way on the lead until Happy Saver, who has now lost six consecutive stakes appearances since 2020, threw a scare into the odds-on favorite, rallying along the slowest part of the track (inside) to nearly draw even in the stretch. Life Is Good repelled the challenge, and earned a whopping 113 Brisnet Speed rating, but it wasn't easy. A world-class miler may be able to get 10 furlongs under the right circumstances, but the Classic distance doesn't appear optimal for Life Is Good.

Kellie Reilly: I don't think we learned as much as we might have thought going into the Whitney. Life Is Good ran his typically brilliant race right out of the gate, while the clash with Olympiad never materialized once that rival ran below form. Also, the scratch of Americanrevolution left a what-if, considering how much he moves up on an off track. Life Is Good showed up, and that was the race. It's a barometer of his performance that not only did he deliver a career-high 113 Brisnet Speed rating, on a demanding surface, but so did runner-up Happy Saver (a career-best 110) and third-placer Hot Rod Charlie (equaling his 110 career top). Still, Life Is Good wasn't exactly asking for more ground at the end of 1 1/8 miles. Anyone looking for reassurance about carrying his speed 1 1/4 miles in the Breeders' Cup Classic is still looking, although to be fair, Keeneland will likelier play quicker (and more to his strengths) than Saratoga. Happy Saver could be the Whitney alum most eligible to improve on the step up in distance.

Vance Hanson: A track labeled good, and which had been sealed shortly before, perhaps wasn't the most ideal conditions to bring out the best of everyone in the field. Life is Good looked the best going into the race, and proved so, but he ran so hard and fast that I'm beginning to question whether he has the temperament to pull off a win over 1 1/4 miles. He's still a brilliant colt, but it was his least persuasive performance of the year thus far. Happy Saver ran his best race in a long time, though he's still winless in stakes company since the 2020 Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1). Hot Rod Charlie ran his usual race to get a slice, just not the biggest, while Olympiad was clearly below par. It's debatable whether the latter would have made an impact against the winner, but he's surely capable of better.

How does Blue Stripe stack up now in the older female division?

JS: Blue Stripe is making fine progress for Marcelo Polanco, registering her second graded stakes win from four U.S. starts on Saturday, but she outfinished Desert Dawn and an over-the-top Shedaresthedevil. The four-year-old filly earned her first triple-digit Brisnet Speed (102) recording the 1 3/4-length decision, and remains eligible to keep improving, but Blue Stripe still has something to prove against deeper competition.

KR: The acid test will come against divisional heavyweights Clairiere and Malathaat, but Blue Stripe propelled herself into the conversation with her Clement L. Hirsch breakthrough. The Argentine import is acclimating much faster than her half-sister, 2019 Breeders' Cup Distaff (G1) winner Blue Prize, who peaked in her third stateside campaign. Blue Stripe has improved with every start for Marcelo Polanco, not just from a Speed rating perspective, but tactically as well. In her past two, she had looked a bit outfooted on the far turn before getting up eventually in the Santa Margarita (G2) and placing in the Santa Maria (G2). In the Hirsch, however, a much sharper Blue Stripe quickened on the turn to collar 4-5 defending champion Shedaresthedevil, and drew off as easily the best. Shedaresthedevil's 100 Speed figure suggests that she ran her race, albeit in third, underscoring the merit of Blue Stripe. That was just Blue Stripe's 10th lifetime start, so she has upside.

VH: While Blue Stripe has developed into a far more credible Breeders' Cup candidate than she was a year ago, she still appears several lengths inferior on paper to the likes of Clairiere and Malathaat. Also, her win over Shedaresthedevil in the Clement Hirsch isn't as impressive an achievement as it would have been in the past, given that rival's slight decline in form this season. On the plus side, a strong pace in the Breeders' Cup Distaff at Keeneland will afford her every opportunity to prove her worth against the division's heavyweights, though how she'll handle racing outside Southern California for the first time since her importation is anyone's guess.

Do you believe War Like Goddess will be effective facing males later this season?

JS: She's a better fit at 1 1/2 miles, or longer, so the move makes sense to me. War Like Goddess could go through the motions, perhaps defending her title in the 1 3/8-mile Flower Bowl (G2) before coming up short in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1), which will be contested at 1 3/16 miles this fall, but what's the point? It's not a deep group of American-based turf marathoners, and the classy War Like Goddess has nothing to lose challenging males at a 1 1/2-mile trip that suits her.

KR: The turf male division has lacked a standout this season, and War Like Goddess has the exceptional turn of foot to threaten the usual cast of characters. As ever in discussing major turf races, a lot depends upon the international brigade. Even so, War Like Goddess is better off aiming high in the Breeders' Cup Turf than shortening up for a 1 3/16-mile Filly & Mare Turf at Keeneland. The only unplaced effort of her life came at that distance at Gulfstream Park, and her gutting near-miss in last November's 1 3/8-mile Filly & Mare Turf still rankles. Her trip got her beaten at Del Mar that day, and cost her the Eclipse Award (unfairly, in my view; I still voted for her as champion turf female). Running back in that race is likely risking another heartbreaker, although in different circumstances. But War Like Goddess is 2-for-2 over 1 1/2 miles at Keeneland, the conditions of the Turf. Her collateral form through Loves Only You, the Japanese globetrotter who denied her in the 2021 Filly & Mare Turf, implies she fits at the top level versus males.

VH: Although I can understand connections' viewpoint that cutting back to 1 3/16 miles for the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf would not play to her strengths, I believe that race would still afford War Like Goddess her best opportunity to win both a Breeders' Cup race and an Eclipse Award. And I say that as a supporter of hers at the ballot box last season despite her narrow loss in the Breeders' Cup, in which she had no visible excuse other than perhaps commencing her bid a touch early. Given she still couldn't pull out the win then leaves me skeptical that she would be effective against males this time around, even over a distance more in her wheelhouse. There is little margin for error in such a loaded division, especially if Regal Glory were to transcend it with success against male milers in the coming months.