Breeders' Cup Classic winner Fort Larned leads a field of eight in Saturday's Grade 1 Whitney Invitational Handicap at Saratoga (Post time 5:45 p.m. Eastern/TV: NBC). Fort Larned's had a bit of a strange year since his triumph at Santa Anita last November: jockey Brian Hernandez was tossed from saddle in Fort Larned's 2013 debut at Gulfstream Park, he ran a well-beaten fifth in the G2-Oaklan Handicap in mid-April, and he easily wired the field in the G1-Stephen Foster Handicap in his most recent start at Churchill Downs. Fortunately for Fort Larned and his connections, his early season mishaps didn't prevent him from rounding into form as the year progressed.
Unlike his race in the Foster, Fort Larned won't have the lead handed to him on a silver platter as Todd Pletcher's Cross Traffic has displayed plenty of early foot all four of his lifetime starts and will likely try to exert some pressure on the favorite in the early stages.
Other horses joining Fort Larned in the Whitney are:
- Successful Dan was on a bit of a nice run of form until he turned in a bit of a clunker in the Stephen Foster last time out. He was bumped around a bit that day and should return with a much better performance in this spot if he's able to negotiate a cleaner trip.
- Mucho Macho Man was second to Fort Larned in the Classic but has had an ever worse 2013 than Fort Larned. In his seasonal debut he was pulled up in the Sunshine Millions Classic and a return race in an ungraded event at Belmont didn't provide the "get right" moment the connections were looking for as Mucho Macho Man finished third as the odds-on favorite. He needs to get his form moving in the right direction quickly if he's looking for a good fall campaign.
- Ron the Greek is back for another shot at the Whitney after finishing second to Fort Larned in last year's version. I find it difficult to have a lot of enthusiasm for Ron the Greek given the extremely inconsistent performance lines - he'll run big in a race like the Santa Anita Handicap and then be a complete no-show a few races later. He's run second a couple of times at Saratoga so I suppose he's due for a good run over a track he seems to like.
- As for Alpha, a dead-heat winner of the Travers last summer, his form has gone down the drain ever since he finished sixth in the Pennsylvania Derby last September. I'm not sure there's any way to sugarcoat his last four races but at least he's undefeated at the Spa, right?
I think this race really comes down to the early race tactics of Fort Larned and whether or not Successful Dan can sit chilly a few lengths off a good pace in the early stages. If Fort Larned is able to get a nice, comfortable run, I think it's unlikely he'll be defeated. If Cross Traffic can make Fort Larned work a bit (and have to exert himself in the process), Successful Dan could be a nice sport for a big bounce-back performance. Or perhaps Cross Traffic goes to the lead and makes Fort Larned chase him around the track?
Who do you like in the Whitney?
Below are the entries, post positions and morning line odds for Saturday's Whitney Invitational Handicap.:
|1||Successful Dan||J. Leparoux||C. LoPresti||12/1|
|2||Mucho Macho Man||E. Prado||K. Ritvo||6/1|
|3||Fort Larned||B. Hernandez, Jr.||I. Wilkes||7/5|
||J. Velazquez||T. Pletcher||5/2|
|5||Ron the Greek||J. Lezcano||W. Mott||6/1|
|6||Alpha||J. Rosario||K. McLaughlin||10/1|
|7||Casaba||L. Saez||P. Gleaves||20/1|
|8||Fast Falcon||J. Alvarado||N. Zito||15/1|