The Whitney Stakes (G1) this year will be extra special.

Marylou Whitney, the Queen of Saratoga, passed a little over a week ago. Her absence from the winner’s circle – where she presented the trophy to the winning connections every year – will leave a hole in the Whitney proceedings. Her vacancy will be felt throughout the community for years to come.

Marylou will always be with us. She will live on and be remembered.

Marylou loved a good race, so in her honor, the whole Whitney Festival weekend is stacked. Stakes upon stakes over the three days will satisfy all lovers of the game.

Over $4.3 million will be doled out between the 11 stakes races, giving owners, trainers, and jockeys plenty of opportunities to fund their operations, and offering bettors the chance to score big.

With so many big races, bettors have to pick their spots. Rather than betting them all, a focused approach of playing strong opinions is crucial to success.

The Racing Dudes will be releasing a special Inside Track to the Whitney Wagering Guide this week with all of the picks, plays, and tickets for Saturday, along with Friday’s Saratoga Oaks and Sunday’s Saratoga Derby, so make sure to get that when it’s available. For now, let’s get our mind right by scanning through Friday’s entries and formulate a plan of attack for the upcoming weekend.

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Race 9: $750,000 Saratoga Oaks Invitational

1) Olendon, 6/1 (Chad Brown)

2) Happen, 4/1 (Aidan O’Brien)

3) Coral Beach, 12/1 (O’Brien)

4) Kelsey’s Cross, 12/1 (Patrick Biancone)

5) Concrete Rose, 2/5 (Rusty Arnold)

6) Her Royal Highness, 15/1 (Graham Motion)

The newly-invented Saratoga Oaks follows the well-established Belmont Oaks (G1) as the second leg of a series coined “The Turf Tiara” for 3-year-old fillies. The series will end at Belmont Park on September 7 in the $750,000 Jockey Club Oaks Invitational.

The question here is, can anyone beat Concrete Rose? The Belmont Oaks winner goes for the second leg of the inaugural Turf Tiara for trainer Rusty Arnold. This is the first time that Concrete Rose will run 1 3/16 miles, but there is no reason to believe that she won’t excel at the distance, as she won the 1 1/4-mile Belmont Oaks and is thrice undefeated in 2019 against the best in the division.

In a NYRA press release, Arnold said, “Right now, she is (the best 3-year-old turf filly in the country), but we’re halfway through the year and hope we continue on. She won at 5 1/2 furlongs, a mile and 1/4, and in the middle, so it’s not an issue. I think the mile and 3/16 is well within her ability.”

The big unknown will be how Happen runs after shipping in from Europe for trainer Aidan O’Brien, who hasn’t brought many horses to Saratoga in the past few years. When he did so last year, Mendelssohn ran a big second in the Travers Stakes (G1), and O’Brien has had turf success at Belmont Park in the past, so winning in New York is not a concern. As reported by Dave Grening of Daily Racing Form, top European jockey Ryan Moore was named to ride Happen, but he will not be able to come for the race and will be replaced by Wayne Lordan.

O’Brien will also bring Coral Beach back to the states after running seventh in the Belmont Oaks. Lordan was named to ride Coral Beach, but he will be replaced by John Velazquez.

When it comes to winning big turf races in New York, there are none better than Chad Brown. He entered Olendon in her second US start after finishing a disappointing eighth in the Belmont Oaks. She had not yet fully adjusted to running counter-clockwise in this country, as she almost jumped the rail turning for home. Before that, her last start (in France) resulted in a Group 1 runner-up finish, so she has talent that may emerge thanks to more time in the Brown barn. She adds Lasix and blinkers for the first time, and Brown hits with winners at 24% and 25% rates, respectively, with those moves.

The compact field of six is rounded out by longshots Kelsey’s Cross and Her Royal Highness.

Concrete Rose up close and personal on her way into the Churchill Downs winner’s circle after her win in the Edgewood (Photo: Michael Spector)

Race 8: $100,000 Alydar

1) Wooderson (Todd Pletcher)

2) Tom’s d’Etat (Al Stall)

3) Tour de Force (Rudy Rodriguez)

4) Golden Brown (Patrick McBurney)

5) American Tattoo (Pletcher)

6) Carlino (Hennig)

7) Backyard Heaven (Chad Brown)

8) Candygram (Jimmy Jerkens)

9) You’re to Blame (Pletcher)

Previously run on the Sunday after the Whitney, the Alydar is a route race for older males that have not won an open stakes race this year, so they might be just a cut below the Whitney contenders going the same 1 1/8-mile distance. This is usually a good prep for connections looking to get a horse ready for the Woodward Stakes (G1) at the end of the meet.

Tom’s d’Etat was a possible for the Whitney after running third in the Stephen Foster Stakes (G2) at Churchill Downs, but Stall opted for the path of least resistance. With two wins in two Saratoga starts, Tom’s d’Etat has shown a liking for The Spa, including running his career-high Brisnet speed rating of 107 in a 2017 optional claimer.

“He’s continued to train well coming out of the Stephen Foster,” Stall said in a NYRA press release. “I’m looking forward to running him back here at Saratoga, where he’s had previous success breaking his maiden and also winning an allowance race. We considered running in the Whitney, but I wanted to give him some class relief and wanted to give us a good chance at winning a race before deciding where we’ll point him next. He’s doing great and I think he really relishes it up here.”

Earlier this month, Candygram finished ahead of Grade 2 winner Backyard Heaven by 3 3/4 lengths in the State Dinner Stakes at Belmont Park, where they finished second and third; both will be live here. Pletcher will look to get his second stakes win of meet with any of his three entries. Overall, it looks like there’s a ton of speed signed on for this year’s Alydar.

Backyard Heaven in the Alysheba winner’s circle (Photo: Michael Spector)

Race 7: $200,000 National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame (G2)

1) Sombeyay (Todd Pletcher)

2) Swamp Rat (Phil Gleaves)

3) English Bee (Graham Motion)

4) Award Winner (Brian Lynch)

5) Casa Creed (Bill Mott)

6) Limonite (Steve Asmussen)

7) Global Access (Michael Trombetta)

8) Moon Colony (Mark Casse)

Because the Saratoga Derby will run for the first time on Sunday, the Hall of Fame has been pushed back to a one-mile turf contest, and it will be held on the Friday before the Whitney.

The Penn Mile Stakes (G2) winner Moon Colony headlines the field as he cuts back from the Belmont Derby (G1), where he set the pace before fading to finish ninth. This distance suits him much better than the 1 1/4-mile Belmont Derby, as his trainer Mark Casse told NYRA: “I think the cut back to a mile will be good for him. Unfortunately, in his last start, he got hooked up with the Aidan O’Brien horse that was next to him yelling and screaming. That hurt his chances last time, but he’s already well-proven at a mile, so I think that the Hall of Fame suits him quite nicely.”

Moon Colony beat Casa Creed by 1 1/4 lengths in the Penn Mile, so they’ll get a rematch here. Limonite, who attempted the Kentucky Derby trail earlier this year, will try turf for the first time.

Moon Colony winning the Penn Mile (Credit: B&D Photography)

On to the Whitney

This is only the start of the big Whitney weekend. The Racing Dudes will have a Whitney preview coming out on Thursday, along with other vital information.

Feel free to follow me on Twitter @SaratogaSlim to keep up-to-date with all of the Saratoga news, articles, and updates on the Racing Dudes’ Inside Track to the Whitney, coming soon.