Although the Breeders' Cup Classic is three months away, the 92nd running of the Grade 1, $1 million Whitney Stakes, a “Win & You're In” race for the Classic, is likely to hold the key to some of the main contenders in that race. Of the eight who have entered the Whitney, six are proven at the top levels of the Classic division but only one can emerge with the winner's share of the purse and the automatic free entry to the race.
McKinzie, who has earned $1.7 million in his career, may get the most attention from bettors as he's done nearly everything right while placing first or second in 10 of 11 career races. His most recent effort was a strong second in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap. Thunder Snow (IRE) has earned nearly 10 times what McKinzie has earned as this back-to-back winner of the Group 1 Dubai World Cup has banked $16 million to date. Thunder Snow returned from Dubai to finish third in the Metropolitan, a neck behind runner-up McKinzie.
Vino Rosso won the Grade 1 Gold Cup at Santa Anita in his most recent race to prove he belongs at the level, while Preservationist won the Grade 2 Suburban Stakes last month in convincing fashion by four and one-half lengths. Yoshida (JPN), who won the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes at Saratoga last summer, finished sixth in the Dubai World Cup behind Thunder Snow earlier this year and in his most recent race closed from last of 12 to get sixth in the Grade 2 Stephen Foster Stakes.
Imperative has banked more than $3 million in his long career, including the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic in 2017, but has won just one race since then. Monongahela earned the biggest win of his career in his most recent race when victorious in the Grade 3 Philip H. Iselin Stakes and attempts to step up his game even further in the Whitney. Forewarned runs in a graded stakes for the first time and although he appears overmatched, it must be mentioned his owner/trainer, Uriah St. Lewis, saddled Discreet Lover to win the 2018 Jockey Club Gold Cup at odds of 44 to 1.
In this year's Whitney Stakes, I think Yoshida (JPN) can post the upset win just as he did last year when victorious in the Woodward Stakes over the track. In the Woodward, Yoshida was making his 11th career start but first on dirt. Rallying from 10th of 14 in the early stages, Yoshida was relentless in the early stretch drive and won convincingly in a strong field to earn a career-best 116 Equibase Speed Figure.
Two months later in the Breeders' Cup Classic, Yoshida put in another big rally as he was 13th of 14 with a quarter mile to go, but the rally fell just a bit short as he finished fourth. Still, he was just a neck from Thunder Snow and beaten under two lengths for the win. I think the key to Yoshida returning to winning form is the jockey change to Joel Rosario, who had never ridden the horse prior to the Woodward last year and who has not ridden the horse in four races since then. Additionally, as amazing as Hall-of-Fame trainer Bill Mott's career has been, his recent record of consistency in these types of races must be pointed out. According to research from STATS Race Lens, over the past two years, Mott has won with 16 of 66 starters in dirt route stakes and 53% of those horses have finished in the money. Better yet, the flat bet profit on betting those 66 horses to win is 75%, the equivalent of $3.50 for every $2 wagered.
Making his second start since returning from a trip half way across the world to run in the Dubai World Cup in March, I feel Yoshida can repeat his effort at Saratoga last year and earn a trip to the Classic for the second year in a row.
McKinzie is a tough competitor who has only finished worse than second one time in 11 races, that poor effort coming in last year's Breeders' Cup Classic. Since then, McKinzie has won the Malibu Stakes and the Alysheba Stakes while placing in three other graded stakes, most recently in the Metropolitan Mile with a strong 117 figure. In the Metropolitan, McKinzie and jockey Mike Smith found themselves in significant traffic starting with about one-quarter mile to run and until one-sixteenth of a mile to run. When they did find a clear path to run, McKinzie extended his stride and was cutting into the winner's margin to the wire. As such, McKinzie should be considered a very strong contender to win the Whitney.
Vino Rosso is an improving four year old who tied his career-best figure of 114 winning the Gold Cup at Santa Anita at the end of May. Not seen since then, Vino Rosso has been in steady training for this race at Saratoga. Winner of the 2018 Wood Memorial Stakes at the distance of the Whitney, Vino Rosso may only need to step up his game the slightest bit to be very competitive in this race, which is certainly possible as he's a four year old and still not fully mature.
Thunder Snow does not have the probability to win, in my opinion, of the three previously mentioned horses, but he could easily run well enough to be part of the exacta or trifecta as he's been in his last five races. Three of those races were in the U.S. and the two that weren't were both wins in the Dubai World Cup. Thunder Snow missed by a head last fall in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and in his most recent race, following this year's World Cup, he finished third in the Metropolitan Handicap, a neck behind McKinzie. Having earned a 117 figure in the Metropolitan, Thunder Snow once again proved competitive in top company and could be so again in the Whitney.
The rest of the Whitney field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures, is Forewarned (101), Imperative (104), Monongahela (113) and Preservationist (111).
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