Grade 1-winners McKinzie, Thunder Snow, Vino Rosso and Yoshida square off in a contentious renewal of the Grade 1, $1 million Whitney on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.
The 92nd running of the 1 1/8-mile Whitney, to be broadcast nationwide on NBC from 5-6 p.m. Eastern, is a “Win and You're In” qualifier for the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Classic on November 2 at Santa Anita Park.
Karl Watson, Michael Pegram, and Paul Weitman's McKinzie will look to give Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert his first Whitney win. The 4-year-old Street Sense colt was elevated to victory in Grade 1 Los Alamitos Futurity as a juvenile, and added Grade 1-scores in the Pennsylvania Derby at Parx and the Malibu at Santa Anita last year.
Instilled as the 7-5 morning-line favorite in the eight-horse field, McKinzie drew post 6.
McKinzie, who romped to victory in the Grade 2 Alysheba on May 3 at Churchill Downs, has finished second in three of his four starts this campaign, including narrow defeats in the Grade 2 San Pasqual and Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap in April.
Last out, in the Grade 1 Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap, McKinzie endured a troubled trip before rallying to finish second, defeated less than a length, by Mitole on Belmont Stakes Day, June 8.
Baffert said McKinzie, who breezed four furlongs in 48 seconds flat on Monday at Del Mar, will need a better trip to win the Whitney.
“He breezed here yesterday and we thought it went really well,” said Baffert. “We're excited and really looking forward to running in this race. He's trained forwardly since the Met Mile and he's come out of that race really well. It's unfortunate we didn't get the trip we really wanted there, but now going a mile and eighth hopefully will give him a little more time to work out a better trip.”
Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, who will guide McKinzie, won the Whitney in 1993 aboard Brunswick.
Baffert saddled Sarava to a fourth-place finish in the 2004 Whitney and said he is hopeful McKinzie can provide him a first win in the historic race.
“It's certainly a prestigious race and it would mean a lot to have it on McKinzie's resume,” said Baffert. “It looks like a very good competitive field, so we're hoping we can run our race and get a little bit of racing luck as well.
“It's certainly exciting,” added Baffert. “I've only run in the race once previously, and that was with a horse we were just hoping we could finish in the money with. It's nice to come in here among this good field with a shot at winning it.”
Godolphin's Thunder Snow is the richest thoroughbred in training with $16,511,476 in purse earnings. The multiple Group 1-winner has captured the last two editions of the Group 1 Dubai World Cup and returns to New York in search of a first win in North America. His previous starts in the U.S. include a troubled effort in the 2017 Grade 1 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs; a second in the 2018 Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont; a third in the 2018 Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill; and a third, last out on June 8, in the Metropolitan Handicap.
Christophe Soumillon has the call on the 5-year-old son of Helmet from post 4 at 3-1 odds.
Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable's Vino Rosso, trained by Todd Pletcher, broke through at the top flight last out in the Grade 1 Gold Cup at Santa Anita. The 4-year-old Curlin chestnut made the grade in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial last year to punch his ticket to the Kentucky Derby, where he finished ninth.
Vino Rosso has won two of three starts this campaign, including a win in the Stymie at Aqueduct Racetrack in his seasonal debut.
Hall of Famer John Velazquez retains the mount on Vino Rosso from post 5 at 6-1 odds. He has won the Whitney on four occasions – Left Bank (2002), Lawyer Ron (2007), Commentator (2008), Cross Traffic (2013) – and will look to join Pat Day and Jerry Bailey for the most wins in the prestigious race with a victory on Saturday.
China Horse Club International, WinStar Farm, and Head of Plains Partners' Yoshida, trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, is a Grade 1 winner on dirt and turf. The versatile Japanese-bred son of Heart's Cry captured the Turf Classic at Churchill Downs to kick off his 2018 campaign, ahead of a score in the Grade 1 Woodward when making his dirt debut at Saratoga.
The well-traveled Yoshida, who finished sixth in the Dubai World Cup in March, arrives at the Whitney from a sixth-place effort in the Grade 2 Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs.
Jose Ortiz, in search of his first Whitney win, retains the mount from post 7 at 10-1.
Centennials Farms' Preservationist, trained by Jimmy Jerkens, boasts the field's highest last-out Beyer Speed Figure, garnering a 109 for his 4 ½-length score in the Grade 2 Suburban on July 6 at Belmont. The 6-year-old son of Arch has won five of eight career starts and enters the Whitney on a three-race win streak.
Junior Alvarado, who won the Whitney with Moreno in 2014, has the call from post 8 at 3-1.
Michael Dubb, Bethlehem Stables and Gary Aisquith's Monongahela romped to a four-length score last out on June 22 in the Grade 3 Philip Iselin at Monmouth Park. The 5-year-old Pennsylvania-bred son of K One King was transferred to the care of trainer Jason Servis for his 2019 campaign, finishing second on February 16 at Laurel Park in the John B. Campbell, ahead of another strong second in the Grade 3 Excelsior at Aqueduct.
Jose Lezcano, aboard for the Iselin score, will leave in search of his first Whitney win from post 3 at 12-1.
Forewarned, trained and owned by the Trin-Brook Stables of Uriah St. Lewis, boasts a record of six wins and four seconds from 17 career starts. The Ohio-bred son of Flat Out captured the Cleveland Gold Cup last year at Thistledown in a productive three-win campaign. Forewarned, who finished fourth in the Bernardini in March at Aqueduct, will be piloted by Dylan Davis from post 2. He is 30-1 on the morning line.
Loooch Racing Stables, Inc. and Imaginary Stables' multiple graded-stakes winner Imperative will make his 50th career start in the Whitney. The 9-year-old Bernardini gelding, who boasts $,277,810 in purse earnings, captured the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic in 2014 and 2017.
Imperative, listed at 30-1 and breaking from the rail in the Whitney, won an allowance event on June 10 at Thistledown and enters the Whitney from a sixth-place effort on July 6 in the Carl Hanford Memorial at Delaware.
First post on Saturday's card is 1 p.m. with the Whitney field set to burst from the gate at 5:49 p.m.
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