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2023 Whitney Stakes Preview & FREE Picks | Cody’s Wish Faces 5 At Saratoga In BC Classic Prep
Cody's Wish (Scott Serio/Eclipse Sportswire/CSM)

2023 Whitney Stakes Preview & FREE Picks | Cody’s Wish Faces 5 At Saratoga In BC Classic Prep

Aaron previews the 2023 Whitney Stakes (G1) from Saratoga, then gives his top picks & long shots from this “Win & You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Cody’s Wish rides a 6-race win streak into town, where he faces a field of 5 rivals hoping to spring a massive upset.

Can the Bill Mott trainee keep his fairytale story alive, or will he suffer his 1st defeat in 7 starts at “The Graveyard of Champions?” Tell us YOUR thoughts in the Comments section!

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The press release:

Godolphin’s multiple Grade 1-winner Cody’s Wish brings a six-race win streak into Saturday’s 96th running of the Grade 1, $1 million Whitney for older horses going nine furlongs at Saratoga Race Course.

The Whitney is a “Win And You’re In” qualifying event for the Grade 1, $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 4 at Santa Anita and headlines Saturday’s action-packed program. With five stakes consisting of purses in excess of $2.53 million, Whitney Day features two other Grade 1 events with the $600,000 Saratoga Derby Invitational for 3-year-olds going 1 3/16 miles over the Mellon turf and the $500,000 Test for 3-year-old fillies at seven furlongs over the main track. Also featured on the card is the Grade 3, $300,000 Troy for 4-year-olds and upward going 5 1/2 furlongs on the Mellon turf; and $135,000 Fasig-Tipton Lure for 4-year-olds and upward going 1 1/16 miles over turf.

The Whitney is slated as Race 10 [5:42 p.m. Eastern] on Saturday’s 12-race card. First post is 12:35 p.m.

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Cody’s Wish, who boasts a record of 13-9-1-3 and field-high earnings of $2,328,530, will attempt to add a fifth consecutive Grade 1 triumph to his ledger. After launching his run of winning form in last year’s Grade 3 Westchester at Belmont Park and Churchill Downs’ Hanshin Cup last July, Cody’s Wish defeated 2021 Champion Sprinter Jackie’s Warrior in the Forego last August at Saratoga. The bay son of Curlin passed the two-turn test when capturing the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile in November at Keeneland, defeating dual Grade 1-winner Cyberknife by a head. Six months later, he commenced his 5-year-old season with more Grade 1 glory in the seven-furlong Churchill Downs on the May 6 Kentucky Derby undercard.

The son of multiple Champion-producing stallion Curlin arrives at the Whitney from a 3 1/4-length victory in the Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan Handicap where he equaled a career-high 112 Beyer Speed Figure while besting returning rivals

Zandon and White Abarrio. He will attempt to become the first horse to sweep the Met-Mile Whitney double since fellow Godolphin color-bearer Frosted [2016].

Cody’s Wish vies for his first triumph past one mile in the Whitney, which will be his first start going nine furlongs since a third-place finish as a maiden during his 3-year-old campaign in July 2021 at Saratoga.

“We have reason to believe he could do it,” said Mott. “He’s come a long way. He was terribly green when we ran him at three in his first few races. He just didn’t know whether to go forward or that sort of thing.”

Cody’s Wish brings along a heartwarming story with him being named after Cody Dorman, who was born with the rare genetic disorder Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome and is unable to walk or communicate without utilizing a tablet. Dorman and his family visited Godolphin’s Gainsborough Farm during Keeneland’s Make-A-Wish Day in 2018, where he met a young Cody’s Wish, and the two instantly formed a strong bond.

“Every time you bring a horse over like this, you stand the risk of getting beat,” Mott said. “There’s always somebody that’s an up and coming horse and we certainly respect all the competition. This is a very good horse and hopefully for our sake, he can go on. There’s a great story that goes with him with Cody Dorman, so the whole scenario turns out to be very special.”

A Kentucky homebred, Cody’s Wish is out of the Tapit mare Dance Card who also produced graded stakes winner Endorsed. He is a direct descendant of influential matriarch La Troienne.

Junior Alvarado, who captured the 2014 Whitney aboard Moreno, has been aboard Cody’s Wish since capturing last year’s Westchester and retains the mount aboard the 1-2 morning line favorite from post 6.

“He hasn’t been a great horse in the starting gate, so it’s probably not a bad thing for him to be on the outside – he doesn’t have to wait around in there long,” Mott said. “He’s gotten just a little anxious in there and he gets a little strong-headed sometimes in the gate. It’s better to be out there, I think.”

Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher will saddle Whisper Hill Farm’s Kentucky homebred Charge It, who was a last-out winner of the Grade 2 Suburban on July 8 at Belmont Park. The 4-year-old Tapit gray colt was in command throughout most of the 10-furlong journey, building on his advantage en route to a 4 3/4-length score while garnering a 106 Beyer. 

Pletcher, who campaigned previous Whitney victors Left Bank [2002], Lawyer Ron [2007], Cross Traffic [2013] and Life Is Good [2022], said the Suburban was Charge It’s most professional race yet.

“He broke alertly, rated kindly and took over when Johnny asked him to. He got into a good rhythm and stayed focused,” Pletcher said. “He’s starting to put everything together consistently. It’s a very tall order to go up against the best older horses in training, but we’re happy with the way that he’s coming into it. He’s a horse that when you watch him train, you think he can do about anything.”

Charge It, the 5-1 morning line third choice, will leave from post 2 in rein to Hall of Famer John Velazquez, who piloted Pletcher’s first three Whitney winners to victory as well as Commentator in 2008.

Jeff Drown’s Grade 1 winner Zandon will attempt to turn the tables on Cody’s Wish after finishing a late-closing second in the Met Mile for four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown. The son of Upstart, who finished third in the 2016 Whitney, seeks his first trip to the winner’s circle since capturing the Grade 1 Blue Grass last April at Keeneland, but has finished on the board in 6-of-7 starts since that effort. He rounded out the trifecta in last year’s Grade 1 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs and Grade 1 Travers at Saratoga and also finished second in the Grade 1 Pennsylvania Derby at Parx Racing.

Brown praised the 4-year-old dark bay for his ability to adapt to different racetracks. 

“He’s performed well at several tracks and luckily he’s handled this track well,” Brown said. “He’s just an all-around top-quality horse and I have a lot of respect for the horse. I hope he has his day to put his head in front. I know he has come up short in some really big races, but he has so much heart and tries so hard and he has so much ability that I just feel he will have his day. Hopefully, it’s Saturday.”

Bred in Kentucky by Brereton C. Jones, the $170,000 Keeneland September Yearling Sale purchase is out of the Creative Cause mare Memories Prevail, who is a half-sister to dual graded stakes-winner Cairo Memories.

Joel Rosario, a two-time Whitney winning rider, will ride Zandon from post 1. He is the 9-2 morning line second choice.

Trainer Dale Romans will seek his first Whitney triumph since Roses in May [2004] when he sends out West Point Thoroughbreds and Albaugh Family Stable’s Giant Game [post 3, Luis Saez, 20-1]. The 4-year-old dark bay showed newfound frontrunning dimensions in a victory two starts back in a 1 3/16-mile allowance on May 11 at Churchill Downs and parlayed that style into a three-quarter length triumph in the nine-furlong Grade 3 Cornhusker on July 8 at Prairie Meadows.

Like Giant Game, Roses in May also entered the Whitney from a Cornhusker conquest.

“History repeats itself, and we’re trying to do it again,” Romans said.

Giant Game was highly regarded during his juvenile season, which included a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Del Mar at 21-1 odds. He finished eighth in both of his starts at 3 in Gulfstream Park’s Grade 3 Holy Bull last February and Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby last March before a 10-month respite.

“It was never anything serious. He just had some nagging things that kept him off track,” Romans said. “He’s finally back training and running on a regular basis. I think we’re going to see even better out of him. He looks really good. He came in and jogged great. He looks like he’s ready to roll.”

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From the final crop of prolific stallion Giant’s Causeway, Giant Game is out of the multiple stakes-placed More Than Ready mare Game for More, and is a half-brother to dual graded stakes-winner Isotherm. He was a $500,000 purchase at the 2020 Fasig-Tipton Select Yearling Sale.

C2 Racing Stable and Antonio Pagnano’s White Abarrio [post 5, Irad Ortiz, Jr. 6-1] ran a career-high 106 Beyer when third to Cody’s Wish in the Met Mile in his first start for trainer Rick Dutrow, Jr.

The 4-year-old gray son of Race Day was previously a 4 1/2-length winner of a one-turn mile allowance on March 4 at Gulfstream Park over next out winners Weyburn and Collaborate. White Abarrio boasts a prominent win going the Whitney distance in last year’s Grade 1 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, which came before finishing 16th in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby.

Bred in Kentucky by Spendthrift Farm, White Abarrio is out of the Into Mischief mare Catching Diamonds, who is a half-sister to multiple Group 3-winner Cool Cowboy.

Legendary Hall of Fame horseman D. Wayne Lukas will pursue his first Whitney victory since saddling Criminal Type in 1990 when sending out Willis Horton Racing’s Last Samurai [post 4, Flavien Prat, 15-1].

The 5-year-old Malibu Moon chestnut won last year’s Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap while being trained by Dallas Stewart and captured this year’s Grade 3 Razorback in February and Grade 3 Essex in March, both at Oaklawn Park, for Lukas. He enters from a fourth-place finish in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster on July 1 at Ellis Park.

Through a record of 27-6-5-4, Last Samurai has banked $2,178,614 in lifetime earnings. Bred in Kentucky by Stonestreet Thoroughbred Holdings, Last Samurai was bought for $175,000 at the 2020 OBS March 2-Year-Olds in Training Sale. He is out of the graded stakes placed First Samurai mare Lady Samuri.

The Whitney has been won by several subsequent Champion Older Horses:

  • Knicks Go (2021)
  • Improbable (2020)
  • Gun Runner (2017)
  • Honor Code (2015)
  • Blame (2010)
  • Lawyer Ron (2007)
  • Invasor (2006)
  • Left Bank (2002)
  • Lemon Drop Kid (2000)
  • Victory Gallop (1999)
  • Criminal Type (1990)
  • Slew o’ Gold (1984)

Prominent Whitney victors during the early years of the race include all-time greats Equipoise (1932), Discovery (1934-36), War Admiral (1938), Stymie (1946), Tom Fool (1953), Carry Back (1962), Kelso (1961, 1963, 1965), Dr. Fager (1968) and Alydar (1978).

The Whitney is one of Saratoga’s marquee events and pays homage to one of the Spa’s most influential families, who for generations has had a profound effect on horse racing in upstate New York and nationwide. The prominent Whitney family’s involvement in thoroughbred racing began with Jockey Club co-founder William Collins Whitney, who began owning thoroughbreds in 1898.

John Hay “Jock” Whitney and Helen Hay Whitney campaigned horses under the moniker of Greentree Stables, who hold the record for most victories in the family’s namesake race with six winners. Harry Payne “H.P.” Whitney won the 1930 Whitney with Whichone, while his son Cornelius Vanderbilt “C.V.” Whitney owned Whitney winners Equipoise [1932], Counterpoint [1952], State Dinner [1980] and Silver Buck [1982]. Horses owned by members of the Whitney family have gone on to win nearly every major horse race in North America, including all three American classics. Marylou Whitney carried on the legacy until her passing in 2019.