The Grade 2, $200,000 Charles Whittingham Stakes brings together a field of seven including the 2017 winner of this race, Ashleyluvssugar, who has not won in 11 races since his victory two years ago. Also winless in quite some time is Prime Attraction, whose last victory came in the Grade 3 Native Diver Stakes on dirt in the fall of 2017 but who missed by a neck in the Grade 2 Eddie Read Stakes at Del Mar last summer. That Del Mar race was the last time he raced on turf prior to a 12th place finish last month in the Grade 1 Turf Classic Stakes at Churchill Downs.
Entering the race in much better recent form are a pair of one-two finishers over the Santa Anita turf in an allowance race – Marckie's Water and Tizzarunner, with Ashleyluvssugar a close-up third in that race. United, who enters the race off a fourth place effort in an allowance race, is the youngest horse in the field at the age of four, getting leading jockey Prat and handled by Hall-of-Fame trainer Dick Mandella. Morse Code and Ya Gotta Wanna complete the field.
Prime Attraction drops in class off a 12th of 13 finish three weeks ago in the Turf Classic Stakes on Kentucky Derby day. Prior to that, he faded to fifth after leading early in the Santa Anita Handicap in April following four and one-half months off. In the Turf Classic, Prime Attraction pressed the pacesetters in third while three paths wide for nearly the first mile before tiring. Since returning to California, Prime Attraction put in a sparkling half-mile morning workout (47.4 seconds) which was the best of 59 on the day and which I'm taking as a sign he's in top shape. If that is the case, looking at his most recent turf effort prior to the Turf Classic,
Prime Attraction earned a career-best 119 Equibase Speed Figure last July when missing by a neck in a desperate photo finish in the Eddie Read Stakes. Jockey Kent Desormeaux, who was in the saddle for the Eddie Read, returns to ride in the Whittingham. The last time Prime Attraction raced on turf prior to the Eddie Read was in the fall of 2017 when, once again, he missed by a head in the photo, this time in the John Henry Turf Cup Stakes earning a 116 figure in the process. Both the 119 figure effort put forth last July in the Eddie Read and the 116 figure from the John Henry are better than any horse in the field has ever earned except for the 125 figure effort put in by Ashleyluvssugar when winning this race in 2017. As such, with the ground saving rail and perhaps more importantly, as the likely early leader all by himself, Prime Attraction could be tough to catch and beat in this year's Whittingham Stakes.
Marckie's Water rallied smartly from sixth of eight on the far turn to win by a half-length over the Santa Anita turf course last month, earning a 108 figure in the process. He had been off from near the end of November until near the end of January and ran poorly, so was given another two months rest. That time off did him a lot of good as Marckie's Water returned to finish third in the San Luis Rey Stakes at the distance of one mile and one-half on the turf. Cutting back to a mile and one-eighth last month, Marckie's Water improved to that 108 figure and has potential to improve in his third start off the layoff and back to the form he showed last summer at Del Mar when earning a career-best 114 figure winning at the distance of one mile and three-eighths on grass. Marckie's Water has also won at this 10 furlong distance on grass and jockey Pereira, who rode him for the first time last month, is in the saddle again, which are more signs for a top effort.
United is an improving four year old who has only raced six times, winning twice. He was away from the races from last July until February when he moved from Canada to California and into the Mandella barn. In his local debut, United ran poorly when eighth of 10. However, not only may he have needed a race following seven months off, it also appears United needed an equipment change because when blinkers were added for his next start on April 6, the gelding improved markedly to rally from seventh to win going away. In his next start, on May 4, although finishing fourth, United may have actually been more impressive as he launched a rally from last of 10 on the turn while four paths wide and was beaten just a length for the win in a blanket finish. Earning a career-best 104 figure for the effort, United has room to improve and as a son of Giant's Causeway should have no issue with the mile and one-quarter distance he is trying for the first time. As a footnote, if you watched the races last Friday at Pimlico on Black Eyed Susan Stakes day, you might have noticed the Royal and Gold colors of LNJ Foxwoods winning both stakes races they entered, with Covfefe and with Dogtag, so perhaps the owners will continue their hot streak with a win by United in the Whittingham Stakes.
The rest of the Whittingham Stakes field, with their best recent Equibase Speed Figures is Ashleyluvssugar (113), Morse Code (110), Tizzarunner (107) and Ya Gotta Wanna (112).
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