Relive all of the highlights from a great weekend of racing that featured the Whitney Handicap, the West Virginia Derby, the Clement L. Hirsch Stakes, and the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap.
It was another exciting weekend in the world of Thoroughbreds with big races, millions of dollars, and automatic berths into the Breeders Cup World Championship up for grabs on the East and West Coasts.
At Saratoga Race Course, we had the Grade 1 Whitney Invitational Handicap and Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap, Del Mar hosted the Grade 1 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes, and Mountaineer Race Track had the Grade 2 West Virginia Derby.
Follow along with me as we analyze the results of these races and what they could mean going forward for the rest of year.
$750,000 Whitney Invitational Handicap, Grade 1, 3-year-olds and older, 1 1/8 miles
The Whitney Invitational Handicap is always one of the focal points of the meet at Saratoga Race Course. This year it didn’t disappoint either. It ended up being run with a field of eight horses, of which three of the contestants already were Grade 1 winners.
All of the horses in this race were very worthy competitors and some of the best older horses on the East Coast. Everyone was gunning to beat the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Fort Larned. He had just won the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs in very impressive fashion after having dropped his rider earlier in the year in his return in the Gulfstream Park Handicap and then running a disappointing fifth in the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap. All signs were pointing to Fort Larned running a big race – he recorded solid workouts right before the race and looked very good physically. Mucho Macho Man was coming off of a series of good workouts as well as having finished second to Fort Larned in the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Classic. His races thus far this year had been a bit disappointing but, like I said, his workouts have been very impressive as well as he was looking great physically. Successful Dan was also another great competitor in this race. He is a half brother to 2012 Horse of the Year and 2012 Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Wise Dan and is a multiple graded stakes winner. He had to take most of 2012 off with an injury but returned to racing with an impressive victory in the Grade 3 Ben Ali Stakes at Keenland Race Course. He ran an unimpressive fourth in the Stephen Foster behind Fort Larned but had been putting in some impressive workouts on the Saratoga track. Cross Traffic was another game entry from Todd Pletcher. The combination of Todd Pletcher and John Velazquez is never to be discounted and Cross Traffic was coming out of two big second-place finishes in graded stakes. He ran second in the Westchester Stakes at Belmont Park behind Flat Out and just got caught at the wire in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap by Sahara Sky. Alpha was also an interesting entry. He had not run very impressively his last six starts but before that he had won the Jim Dandy and finished in a dead heat for the win in the Travers Stakes. Being undefeated at Saratoga in three starts is not something to overlook.
When all the horses made it to the paddock, they all looked very impressive and there was definitely electricity in the air. The paddock was packed and everyone was excited to see all of the competitors up close and in person. There was some drama however as Successful Dan flipped on the way to the track. Luckily, Julien Leparoux got off in time and that horse was not injured. The bettors took notice of this, though, and his odds quickly dropped from 3-1 to at least 6-1 before the start of the race.
CROSS TRAFFIC WINS THE 2013 WHITNEY INVITATIONAL
Cross Traffic ended up breaking very sharply and quickly took the lead with Fort Larned and Mucho Macho Man trailing close behind. Cross Traffic set off solid fractions of :24.12 and :47.28 for the first half-mile. The race stayed pretty consistent with three quarters of a mile being run in 1:10.24. Entering the far turn, all of the competitors began to press the pace to try to catch Cross Traffic. Mucho Macho Man and Fort Larned made their moves while Successful Dan made a very impressive move on the outside from about 10 lengths out. Into the stretch, Fort Larned began to fade with Mucho Macho Man trying to keep up with Cross Traffic. Successful Dan maintained his strong rally coming wide and attempting to chase down Cross Traffic. He lugged in a bit behind Mucho Macho Man, lost a couple of steps, and rallied to try to catch the leader but in the end came up three-quarters of a length short to a very impressive Cross Traffic.
In the end, Cross Traffic and the red-hot duo of John Velazquez and Todd Pletcher won in stylish fashion leading from gate to wire and collected his first Grade 1 victory.
This win was also incredibly important because the Whitney is a Breeders Cup “Win And You’re In” race meaning that Cross Traffic will automatically receive a spot in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic November 2 at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif. Also interesting is that Cross Traffic, Fort Larned, and Successful Dan all are expected to point to the $750,000 Woodward Stakes at Saratoga on August 31 for their next start, setting up a nice rematch between the three and hopefully others from the race.
$750,000 West Virginia Derby, Grade 2, 3-year-olds, 1 1/8 miles (dirt)
The West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park appeared to be another great race this year with big names Departing, Ruler of Love, and Overanalyze all competing in this year’s edition. Despite only being a Grade 2, the race featured a sizeable purse of $750,000 and had a large field of nine all competing for the top prize.
The West Virginia Derby boasted the return of Departing and Overanalyze from Triple Crown races this year. Departing had finished a disappointing sixth in this year’s Preakness Stakes but had previously won the Illinois Derby. He was coming off of several solid workouts and it looked like he would put in a solid performance here. Overanalyze won the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby earlier this year but then followed it up with a disappointing 11th place finish in the Kentucky Derby and a seventh-place finish in the Belmont Stakes. He received some time off after the Belmont and looked like he would be ready to go. We also had Ruler of Love who looked very likely to be a factor in this race. He had previously won the Kentucky Downs Juvenile Stakes and came in third in the Derby Trial Stakes at Churchill Downs behind Forty Tales.
DEPARTING CRUISED HOME IN THE WEST VIRGINIA DERBY
Ruler of Love broke sharply in the race and set quick early fractions of :23.45, :47.37, and 1:11.72 through three-quarters of a mile while being closely followed by Ledokol and Overanalyze. Departing broke midpack and stayed there the majority of the race until entering the far turn, where the gelding made his move on the outside. Coming around the turn, Departing accelerated without urging and pulled a length clear of pacesetter Ruler of Love. Into the stretch, it was all Departing as he coasted to an 8¾-length win. Overanalyze ended up finishing a disappointing third and the final time of the race was 1:51.47. This ended up being a statement race from Departing, showing he deserves to be in the discussion with some of the better 3-year-old males in the country, maybe not the top tier but just below some of the best. Trainer Al Stall said after the race that he probably would point Departing to either the Pennsylvania Derby, Indiana Derby, or Super Derby for his next start.
$300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes, Grade 1, fillies and mares, 3 years old and older, 1 1/16 miles (all-weather track)
The Clement L. Hirsch Stakes is one of the premier filly and mare races during the Del Mar meet. This year it looked to be another exciting edition with a strong field of nine all trying to win an automatic berth into the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic.
The field for this year’s Clement L. Hirsch Stakes shaped up very nicely with nine fillies and mares stepping up to the gate to try to get the win. Jerry Hollendorfer saddled a third of the field with his three entries Lady of Fifty, Via Villagio, and Sister Kate. Lady of Fifty was coming off of several big performances after running third in the Grade 1 Vanity Handicap at Betfair Hollywood Park and second in the Grade 2 Marjorie L. Everett Handicap at Hollywood. The highlight of her career though was winning the Grade 2 Bayakoa Handicap at Hollywood in December 2012 - her first graded stakes win. Byrama, for Simon Callaghan, was a very strong contender in this race. She previously finished second in the A Gleam Handicap at Hollywood after getting her first graded stakes win in the Grade 1 Vanity Handicap at Hollywood. Great Hot was coming off of a fourth-place finish in the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Stakes after winning the Grade 2 Santa Maria Stakes at Santa Anita. She ran in this race last year and came in a disappointing eighth.
Sister Kate broke sharply to start the race and took the lead quickly with Great Hot just behind. They went the first quarter-mile in :23.41 and Lady of Fifty was left toward the back of the pack. Sister Kate maintained her quick pace by running a half-mile in :47.06 and then three-quarters of a mile in 1:11.36. The field caught up to this quick pace and, coming into the stretch, Byrama made her move on the rail. Lady of Fifty rallied on the far outside though and was able to put everyone else away winning by 1 ½ lengths at final odds of 10-1.
LADY OF FIFTY RETURNS TO THE WINNER'S CIRCLE AFTER HER VICTORY
This was a great performance by Lady of Fifty. She earned her first Grade 1 victory, the winner’s share of the $300,000 purse, and an automatic berth into the $2-million Breeders’ Cup Ladies’ Classic because this race was a Breeders Cup “Win And You’re In” event.
$400,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap, Grade 1, 3-year-olds and older, 6 furlongs (dirt)
The Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap finished up the stakes slate for the weekend at Saratoga and was the second Grade 1 race of the weekend. Only five horses were entered in this race but all had great resumes and all had a good chance at winning.
All of these horses had proved themselves as accomplished sprinters. Bahamian Squall had recently won his first graded stakes when he took down the Grade 2 Smile Sprint Handicap at Calder Race Course. In that race, he beat 2012 Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Trinniberg by 1 ¾ lengths. Gentlemen’s Bet was morning-line second choice at 9-5 after having won the Iowa Sprint Handicap. He boasted a record of five wins from six career starts, only having come in third in the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn Park. Delaunay was the morning-line favorite at 8-5 after earning his first graded stakes win in the $400,000 Churchill Downs Stakes, a Grade 2 race on Kentucky Derby day. Justin Phillip entered the Vanderbilt off a fourth in the Smile Sprint at Calder and before that finished second in the Grade 2 True North Handicap at Belmont. The race prior to that, though, he won the $250,000 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap at Oaklawn Park by three-quarters of a length.
JUSTIN PHILLIP ENDED THE WEEKEND WITH A WIN IN THE ALFRED G. VANDERBILT
All the horses looked great in the paddock at Saratoga and the odds seemed to stay relatively stable and all of the entrants appeared to have a good chance to get a win. The field broke sharply with Gentlemen’s Bet and Delaunay racing to the lead and battling each other throughout most of the race. They rattled off quick fractions of :22 and :44.46 through a half-mile and :56.24 for five furlongs. Caixa Electronica had won an allowance race at Saratoga about a week ago and trailed the field by about 15 lengths at one point in the race. As the field entered the stretch in an all out drive to get to the finish line, John Valazquez and Justin Phillip made their move from the outside and caught the tiring pacesetters just after the eighth pole. Justin Phillip crossed the wire two lengths ahead of Bahamian Squall, who just edged out Gentlemen’s Bet for second.
The final time of the race was 1:08.59. Justin Phillip proved he deserved to be in discussion with the top sprinters in the country after getting his third graded stakes victory and first Grade 1 victory for Zayat Stables.
Justin Phillip will be a serious contender in sprints the rest of the year and a threat for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in November.