Whitney Stakes Preview: Frosted Back After Freakish Effort

Frosted in Saratoga - May 20, 2016 - Photo: Michael Spector
Michael Spector

Godolphin Racing’s Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap hero Frosted will look to bolster his reputation as the heavyweight contender on the East Coast as he heads a talented field of six in the Grade 1, $1.25 million Whitney, the traditional focal race for older horses and co-richest race of the 148th Saratoga Race Course meet.

A Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Grade 1, $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 5 at Santa Anita Park, the 89th running of the 1 1/8-mile Whitney anchors an outstanding day of live racing Saturday that also includes the Grade 1, $500,000 Test, the Grade 3 Fasig-Tipton Waya, the $100,000 Fasig-Tipton De La Rose and the $100,000 Fasig-Tipton Lure.

Frosted will be stretching out to two turns for the first time since his jaw-dropping performance in the Met Mile on June 11 at Belmont Park, where he won by an epic 14 ¼ lengths, believed to be the largest margin of victory in the history of the storied race, a conquest that shocked even his veteran trainer.

“We didn’t know he would run so well [at a one-turn mile] until after,” said Kiaran McLaughlin, who campaigned Whitney winner Invasor to Champion Older Horse and Horse of the Year honors in 2006. “That was a ‘wow’ race. It was an unbelievable race that day.”

Prior to the Met Mile, the gray Tapit colt had raced almost exclusively around two turns since his 3-year-old year, a year that saw an otherwise talented foal crop suffer the ostensible misfortune of sharing a birth date with eventual Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. The champion proved an unmatchable opponent and finished in front of Frosted on four separate occasions, including the 2015 Grade 1 Travers.

In one of the most dramatic renderings of the “Mid-Summer Derby,” an injury to his regular jockey Joel Rosario in an earlier race necessitated a late rider change to Jose Lezcano, who sent Frosted out to make an early challenge to American Phaorah, costing the legendary “People’s Horse” his first loss of the year and Frosted a third-place finish behind Keen Ice.

Despite defeats by American Pharoah, Frosted still found time in the spotlight last year, notching wins in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial and Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby, both at 1 1/8 miles. Frosted bounced back from a seventh-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic last fall to launch his 4-year-old campaign in Dubai, winning a Group 2 route before finishing a wide fifth in the Group 1 Dubai World Cup in March – behind another Kentucky Derby winner, this time California Chrome.

“We really ran better than it looked,” McLaughlin said of the Dubai World Cup. “On Trakus, we ran a long way, not much further than California Chrome but a little further, and he was wide. We were just hung a little wide throughout. He ran a pretty good race, [he got] the second best Rag number even though we were fifth.”

McLaughlin targeted the Met Mile after Frosted’s stateside return, citing its importance as a “stallion-making” race, but noted how the horse seemed to thrive during the 11-week break since the World Cup.

“The time to the Met Mile was very important,” McLaughlin. “[He had] 70 days, he was back with Joel, back with Lasix, but the timing, I thought, was the most important thing. Last year, we were running often. So the time was key and now we have time again, about eight weeks. He doesn’t act like he needs it but it looks like he’s better with a little time.”

Already armed with an automatic berth to the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile from Frosted’s Met Mile victory, McLaughlin is already relishing another opportunity to take on California Chrome in the year-end championships.

“Should Frosted win, we’re probably staying long and run in the Breeders’ Cup Classic,” he said. “I think he’s the best horse in the older division except for California Chrome since he beat us last time. But we’re better than we were then, so I think we’re right with California Chrome. Otherwise, I think we’re the best on the East Coast and, in a ‘East Coast-West Coast’ scenario, we’ll find out in time.”

Frosted will be once again be in the hands of Joel Rosario, who has been aboard the colt since his win in the Wood Memorial. Installed as the 3-5 favorite on the morning line, Frosted will break from post 4.

Likely to lead the charge against Frosted is Tri-Bone Stable’s multiple graded stakes winner Effinex for trainer Jimmy Jerkens, attempting to build on his second straight win in the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap, having taken this year’s edition by a hard-fought neck on July 9.

In 2015, the New York-bred son of Mineshaft experienced a rollercoaster spring and summer campaign overshadowed by tenacious streak of racing trouble. Effinex found a new gear in his fall campaign, however, finishing third in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup before running second to American Pharoah in the Classic at 33-1 and shoring up his first Grade 1 victory to close out his 4-year-old season in the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs in November.

At the beginning of his 5-year-old season, his connections eyed a shot at the Dubai World Cup before ultimately opting instead for a domestic campaign that has produced victories in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap and the Suburban and a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap. Effinex’s only off-the-board finish of the year came in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster in June, where he broke awkwardly and checked in a dull sixth.

Effinex may have found his journeyman soulmate in Hall of Famer Mike Smith, however, as the duo boast a 3-1-1 record from their five pairings thus far, including wins in the Clark and Oaklawn Handicap and the second in the Classic.

Drawing post 6, Effinex has been tabbed as the 7-2 second program choice.

“It would be nice if he was a little more inside,” Jerkens said of his post. “Mike could have parked behind some of the speed horses. That always helps, but he seems to be comfortable running outside of horses and Mike thinks so too. He’s so big and strong and likes to lengthen out. I think he feels more comfortable riding him when he has plenty of room.”

Upstart, third in the Met Mile last time out, will try to turn the tables on Frosted for trainer Rick Violette Jr. and owners Ralph M. Evans and WinStar Farm.

With a win in the Grade 3 Razorback Handicap to start off his 4-year-old season, Upstart will try to regain his best form at the Spa, where he recorded a pair of local wins in his juvenile season, including a length victory in the 2014 Funny Cide for New York-breds, and will again don the blinkers he raced in for the first time in the Met Mile.

“He loves the racetrack and he’s trained very well over it, so I definitely think it’s in our corner,” said Violette. “He’d gotten into the habit of flopping out of the gate; it might have cost us second in the Met Mile. I did breeze him out of the gate with blinkers on a couple of weeks ago and it went quite well. In competition like this, you just can’t be going into the turn and taking the last seat that’s available. You need to try and get whatever position you’re supposed to be in. Hopefully we break with the field and go from there.”

At 10-1 on the morning line, Upstart will be ridden from post 3 by Irad Ortiz, Jr.

Seven-time Sovereign Award-winning trainer Mark Casse will be represented by John Oxley’s Noble Bird, the lone repeat challenger from last year’s Whitney and one who figures to be the primary pace contender on Saturday.

Last year, Noble Bird seized Grade 1 glory in the Stephen Foster Handicap to highlight a 2015 campaign that recorded three wins and a second from six starts and a distant ninth-place effort in the Whitney.

Looking to regroup for his 5-year-old campaign, the Birdstone horse captured his first victory in nearly 11 months and earned a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 110 with a 11 ¼-length, front-running romp in the Grade 3 Pimlico Special Handicap on May 20. Noble Bird came back in the Met Mile, where he dueled through the opening fractions before fading to sixth.

Noble Bird, 10-1 on the morning line, will be ridden by regular jockey Julien Leparoux from post 5.

“This race should set up a lot differently for him [than last year],” said Casse, who is set to be inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame on Wednesday. “Probably for us, the post was more meaningful than anyone. I really wouldn’t want to be down inside.

A multiple graded stakes winner at 3, Zayat Stable’s El Kabeir will try for his first victory of the year for the John Terranova barn. A 4-year-old colt by Scat Daddy, El Kabeir is exiting a much-improved fourth-place effort in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster in June following a pair of seventh-place finishes against graded stakes competition earlier this year.

At 20-1 on the morning line, El Kabeir is set to break from the rail as jockey Ricardo Santana picks up the mount.

Rounding out the field for the Whitney is Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners’ Comfort, making his graded stakes debut for three-time Whitney-winning trainer Todd Pletcher. After transferring to Pletcher in the spring, the 4-year-old Indian Charlie colt finished fourth in the Grade 3 Lexington in April and has recorded triple-digit Beyers for his last two efforts, including a 3 ¼-length win in the restricted State Dinner on July 4 at Belmont.

Tabbed at 8-1 on the morning line, Comfort will be ridden by Hall of Famer John Velazquez from post 2.

Likely Winners

#4 FROSTED – Words can’t describe how good his race was in the Met Mile last time out as it was probably one of the best performances we’ve seen in the last ten years.  Now he has to live up to that big race, and honestly its not going to be easy.  The first step is proving he can be just as good around two turns because last time out at Belmont was a one turn mile.  Obviously he can run and win at two turns.  We know this since he’s won going long before, but can he be a super star going long?  Can he be good enough to win a race like the Breeders Cup Classic?  That’s what we’ll hope to find out on Saturday in this race.

Exotic Plays

#6 EFFINEX – Got  back on track last time out at Belmont when he won the Suburban Handicap, but it wasn’t the prettiest of efforts.  It was still a winning one though, and it was ten times better than how he ran the race before in the Stephen Foster.  He’s not a consistent horse, but at his best he can compete with pretty much everyone in the division.  The key for him and the rest of the field is simple…if Frosted regresses or bounces off his big effort last time out the others have a shot.  If he doesn’t…it’s lights out for everyone else.

#3 UPSTART – His 2016 has had its ups and downs after a 2015 which basically had its up and downs as well.  Consistency has never been this horses calling card, but the talent is there as he’s shown a few times.  One of those times came in the Razorback Handicap when he was a winner off a long layoff, and he also ran very well in the Met Mile where he finished third to Frosted.  However, the main problem today could be Frosted as he’s entered here off that amazing Met Mile effort.  Upstart can factor into things here underneath, but its hard to imagine him matching up with a horse like Frosted and he’s also been beat by Effinex this year too in the Oaklawn Handicap.

Party Crashers

#2 COMFORT – This horse just has the makings of a Pletcher Progression type.  Although I don’t think his talent level is high, it wouldn’t surprised me if he ran better in this one than what his past performances show on paper.  If Frosted bounces or stubs his toe somehow in this race at least Comfort will provide a nicely priced alternative.  His two races in 2016 have been extremely strong, and I don’t think Pletcher would just throw this horse to wolves unless he was doing well.  All in on Frosted but maybe play one saver ticket with this horse on it.

Throw Outs

#5 NOBLE BIRD – He might end up being the controlling speed in the race which has been dangerous at Saratoga going two turns.  However, horses like Effinex and even Upstart could keep him honest on the front end.  If he does get a really easy lead he could be tough to pass, but I don’t see it happening at all.

#1 EL KABEIR – They really need to find as easier spot for him as he’s been outclassed in many of his recent races.  This one will most likely be more of the same as the competition and distance will most likely be too much for him.

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