The stated objective of the NYRA racing department is to make a few select Saturdays during the association's signature season at Saratoga feel like championship-caliber events. A summertime Breeders' Cup if you will.
Saturday's Grade 1 Whitney Invitational Stakes, one of the longstanding cornerstone events of the meeting and worth a hefty $1.25 million, might not be as good as the best Breeders' Cup Classic but it's better than some and every bit as good as most.
The 1 1/8-mile race features seven Grade 1 winners, a group that contains a Belmont Stakes and Jockey Club Gold Cup winner in Tonalist, Met Mile winner Honor Code, Donn Handicap winner Lea, Stephen Foster winner Noble Bird, Travers winner V. E. Day, Wood Memorial winner Wicked Strong and last year's winner Moreno. The other three are no slouches, with the dangerously improving Liam's Map and Grade 2 winner Coach Inge representing Todd Pletcher's powerful barn and Normandy Invasion trying to recapture some of the magic that saw him come within 3 ½ lengths of winning the 2013 Kentucky Derby.
Those are the 10 for the Whitney, which hasn't produced a Horse of the Year since 2006 and probably won't this year with Triple Crown winner American Pharoah a cinch for racing's highest honor regardless of how he finishes out the year.
The 88th running of the Whitney will go a long way toward determining the frontrunner for the time being in the chase for the older dirt male championship. If that category sounds new it's because it is, reconfigured for this year and keeping any older grass horses from scooping it up like they did in five of the last six years.
We took a page from our own publication for this year's Whitney preview, using the same strategy we employ for Travers Day and touched base with the connections of each entrant in the race. Here's what they had to say to Sean Clancy, Joe Clancy and Tom Law about their horse and his chances.
1. Honor Code, 3-1
Off the board once in eight starts, Honor Code stretches out another furlong from a dominating win in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap June 6. Javier Castellano allowed the son of A.P. Indy to drop back to last behind the likes of Tonalist and Wicked Strong before dropping an anvil on those two and seven others in the 1-mile stakes. Honor Code finished fifth in the Alysheba at Churchill Downs in May, the only disappointing effort on his record, he tries two turns for the first time since. Mornings have not been easy for trainer Shug McGaughey as Honor Code has balked at training.
Trainer Shug McGaughey: "Our plan was to go to the Alysheba, then back in the Stephen Foster, when he didn't run well on that track, we changed directions and went to the Metropolitan, hopefully we'll be participating in the bigger older horse races, like the Whitney...the Breeders' Cup.
"After he ran in the Metropolitan, I thought off an effort like that, it was probably a little too quick to bring him back in the Suburban and I didn't really like the mile and a quarter around a turn and a half so we elected to wait and come here and I'm satisfied with that decision.
To read the rest of the Whitney horse-by-horse preview, download Saturday's digital edition of The Saratoga Special presented by Keeneland.