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Whitney Preview: Superstars Ready For Showdown At Saratoga
Knicks Go winning the Cornhusker Handicap (Credit: Coady Photography)

Whitney Preview: Superstars Ready For Showdown At Saratoga

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – It’s showdown time this Saturday at Saratoga, where the $1 million Whitney Stakes (G1) will showcase the best field of older horses that we’ve seen this season.

The Whitney also serves as a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” for the Classic, further adding to this race’s importance. Scheduled as race 10, The Whitney shares the card with four other stakes races on Saturday’s loaded day of action at The Spa.

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Pegasus World Cup (G1) winner Knicks Go will look to add to his impressive resume for red-hot trainer Brad Cox. The big gray horse has lost just once in the United States this year, finishing off the board in the Met Mile (G1) at Belmont Park 2 starts back. He returned to his winning ways last time out while completely dusting the competition in the Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap (G3). Regular jockey Joel Rosario will be aboard again when breaking from post 4.

“(The Cornhusker) gave us the confidence to try the Whitney,” Cox said. “The race solidified that the horse needs two turns, which he’ll get in the Whitney. We’re excited about getting him back in the Grade 1 ranks going around two turns.”

Facing him will be the current number one-ranked Breeders’ Cup Classic prospect Maxfield, who will look to make it 3 wins in a row. He put forth perhaps his most impressive effort yet last time out when taking the Stephen Foster Stakes (G2) – another “Win and You’re In” for the Classic – at Churchill Downs. He’ll break from post 5 with Jose Ortiz in the irons.

“This year, we’ve got a nice body of races into him which he hasn’t done before,” Walsh said. “He hasn’t really missed a beat since December. We’ve spaced his races out good and he’s had 4-6 weeks between starts. He’s still a fresh horse and that’s a good position to be in at this time of year.”

The hottest horse entered is the Steve Asmussen-trained Silver State, who’s won 6 straight. After sweeping the Oaklawn older horse stakes series, he shipped to New York last time out and won the Met Mile (G1) in impressive fashion. Ricardo Santana Jr. will be aboard once again, with the duo breaking from post 2.

“His work the other day was exactly what we asked,” Asmussen said. “(Assistant trainer Scott Blasi) said he’d give you a lot of confidence and I said, ‘The only one more confident than me or you is him.’ He’s won 6 in a row. The Whitney will establish the leader of the division. I have nothing but respect for who’s in it, but we’re very fortunate to have a horse as good as Silver State to run in it.”

The full field from the rail out: By My Standards, Silver State, Swiss Skydiver, Knicks Go, and Maxfield.

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Top Choice

#4 Knicks Go – Who’s going to run with this horse early? That’s the major question mark, and the answer will decide this race. If left alone on the lead, then he’ll be hard to catch, making him the one to beat. There doesn’t seem to be much other speed in this race, which adds to the intrigue, plus he’s earned multiple speed figures that are higher than anyone else in this group at this distance. Finally, he’s never been close to losing a two-turn race under Cox, whose barn is winning at a very high percentage at Saratoga.

“He’ll break running,” Cox said. “We’ll see how far he can take himself around there, hopefully the whole way. He’s set up for a big effort. He’s been working really well at Ellis (Park).”

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#2 Silver State – Despite riding a six-race win streak, he still doesn’t get enough respect. There’s little doubt that he’ll be the third betting choice in this race despite beating Knicks Go last time out and having defeated tougher fields than what Maxfield’s toppled. This horse won all 3 of the big stakes races for older horses at Oaklawn Park this year as well. He may not be flashy, but his consistency gives him a big shot.

#5 Maxfield – We’re going to find out what this horse is truly made of as he faces the crop’s top horses for the first time. He’s been nearly flawless in his career, losing just once, but he’s also faced mainly soft fields. However, he looked like a monster in his last 2 starts, with the best win of his career coming last time out in the Stephen Foster Stakes (G2). That sort of effort will give him every chance of winning here, but he needs to prove it against the division’s best, which makes playing him at a short price a little scary.

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Exotic Plays

#3 Swiss Skydiver – Trainer Kenny McPeek’s had terrible luck at Saratoga so far this year; his barn was quarantined to begin the meet, causing his horses to miss several scheduled starts. He was forced to enter his top female Swiss Skydiver in this tough spot, rather than the previously-intended Shuvee Stakes (G3) 2 weeks ago. She beat 3-year-old boys in last year’s Preakness Stakes (G1), though, and she’s been training well leading up to the race. Still, she’s got her work cut out for her in this one.

“She doesn’t have many quirks and she loves her routine,” McPeek said. “She’s a very happy filly. She loves to eat, train, and has been a pleasure for the people around her. We’re excited about it. The Shuvee would have been ideal, she’s been ready to run. I’ve always thought if you’re here, you run where you’re at. It’s a little bit out of the box, but she’s ready.”

Party Crashers

#1 By My Standards – We’ve seen him run well in races like this for a few years now, including last year’s Whitney Stakes (G1), where he finished second to Improbable. This year, he won the Oaklawn Mile Stakes in his seasonal debut before finishing second last time out in the Met Mile (G1) at Belmont Park. He’ll stretch back out to a distance that he’s handled well before, so that shouldn’t be a concern.

“He’s been a very consistent and good-training horse,” trainer Bret Calhoun said. “He runs well and brings it every time. We’re unfortunate to not get a Grade 1. This will be a deep and high-quality field. He has a good shot in there, but it’s obviously very, very tough. It would be great to have the Whitney on his resume. It’s good to win any race at Saratoga, much less a graded stakes and even more so the Whitney, given the reputation that race has and the weight it carries.”

Catch the latest episode of “Dr. Miranda Previews” for Dr. Miranda’s BEST BETS in the Whitney!

Throw Outs

NONE – That’s right, for the first time in nearly 10 years of doing preview articles, I see zero true throw outs in the race. It might only be a five-horse field, but all five are very good, which should make for an awesome event.

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