Whitney 2020 guide: Odds, picks and analysis

Whitney 2020 guide: Odds, picks and analysis
Photo: Coady Photography

The older male dirt division steps into the spotlight Saturday at Saratoga.

Five horses will head to the starting gates for the Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney, annually a highlight of the Spa’s summer meet. Who will join the ranks of great Whitney winners like Personal Ensign, Easy Goer, Blame and Gun Runner?

Tom’s d’Etat brings a four-race winning streak into the Whitney and is the 6-5 morning line favorite. Challenging the 7-year-old are Code of Honor (5-2), Improbable (5-2), By My Standards (9-2) and Mr. Buff (12-1).

The Whitney offers its winner a “Win and You’re In” berth to November’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. Tom’s d’Etat already stamped a ticket to that event June 27 when dominating Churchill Downs’ Stephen Foster Stakes (G2), where he finished 4¼ lengths clear of By My Standards.

Grade 1 winners Code of Honor and Improbable enter off a third-place finish July 4 in Belmont Park’s Metropolitan Handicap (G1) and a June 6 victory in Santa Anita Park’s Hollywood Gold Cup Stakes (G1), respectively. Mr. Buff has dominated New York-bred competition but seeks his first graded stakes black type.

For more handicapping information on each of the five runners, check out free PPs from our friends at Brisnet

TimeformUS’ pace projections show Mr. Buff going to an early lead, Code of Honor waiting at the back of the field and the other three runners sitting in between those two.







Whitney on TV

Saratoga Live, a production of Fox Sports and the New York Racing Association, will carry the Whitney on Fox Sports 1. Post time is scheduled for 5:46 p.m.

For a full schedule of Saratoga Live, see https://www.nyra.com/saratoga/racing/tv-schedule.

Whitney reading

Laurie Ross and Ashley Tamulonis go head-to-head handicapping the five-horse field. 

Chip Gehrke ranks By My Standards, Code of Honor and Tom’s d’Etat in the top five of the Older Dirt Male division. With a Whitney triumph, Gehrke says Tom’s d’Etat will move from No. 2 to No. 1

On this week’s HorseCenter, Matt Shifman and Brian Zipse offer a full analysis of the Whitney, and also discuss Honor A. P.’s final Kentucky Derby prep, the Shared Belief Stakes.  

Reinier Macatangay thinks trainer Shug McGaughey has Code of Honor primed to peak in the Whitney. 

NYRA’s Press Office takes a look at Tom’s d’Etat’s humble beginnings as a yearling, and speaks with By My Standards owner Chester Thomas ahead of his first Saratoga start

Whitney undercard

First post time Saturday is 1:10 p.m., with full Saratoga entries available via HRN. The card includes five stakes, four of which are graded. The H. Allen Jerkens, Personal Ensign and Whitney are all Grade 1 affairs.

Here’s a look at the undercard’s graded stakes, courtesy of the NTRA:

3:28 p.m.—$500,000 Personal Ensign Stakes (G1)

Reigning champion older dirt female Midnight Bisou, the No. 1-ranked horse on the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll, will seek a 14th graded stakes victory when she aims to defend her title in the Personal Ensign. Midnight Bisou, a dark bay 5-year-old daughter of Midnight Lute, has put together a sensational record of 21-13-5-3 with purse earnings of $7,371,520. Trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, Midnight Bisou will attempt to be the first horse to score back-to-back Personal Ensign triumphs since John C. Oxley's champion Beautiful Pleasure did so in 1999-2000. This year, Midnight Bisou has sustained her winning form, displaying an inside-closing effort in the inaugural $20 million Saudi Cup in February and last out won the Fleur de Lis (G2) at Churchill Downs by 8 ¼ lengths.

6:18 p.m.—$300,000 H. Allen Jerkens Stakes (G1)

A rematch featuring the superfecta of last month's Woody Stephens (G1) will highlight another high-caliber contest, with No Parole looking to propel his 3 ¾-length victory into more glory in Saturday's H. Allen Jerkens Memorial. No Parole, owned by Maggi Moss and Greg Tramontin, is unbeaten going one turn, registering a perfect 4-for-4 ledger in sprints. Overall, the Tom Amoss trainee has won 5-of-6 starts, including his gate-to-wire win in the seven-furlong Woody Stephens on June 20.

6:50 p.m.—$250,000 Bowling Green Stakes (G2)

Grade 1-winning veterans Channel Maker and Sadler's Joy, who together have combined to earn more than $4.7 million in purses during their lengthy careers, will attempt to put the brakes on frustrating losing streaks Saturday in the Bowling Green on the inner turf. Channel Maker has gone winless in nine starts since his neck victory in the Man o' War (G1) in May 2019 at Belmont Park, also contested at the Bowling Green distance. Most recently, he finished fourth by a length after pressing the pace into the stretch of the 1 ¼-mile Manhattan on July 4 at Belmont. Sadler's Joy earned his lone career Grade 1 victory in the 2018 Sword Dancer at Saratoga. The 7-year-old gelding capped his 2019 campaign by winning the Red Smith (G3) last November at Aqueduct, but has gone winless in four tries this year.

Whitney preview

From the NYRA Press Office:

A field comprised of five millionaires will make up a talented group of older horses assembled for the 93rd running of Saturday's Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney going 1 1/8 miles at Saratoga Race Course.

Whitney Day will feature three Grade 1 events, led by the historic Whitney, with an automatic berth to the Breeders' Cup Classic on November 7 at Keeneland on the line. The card is bolstered by the Grade 1, $500,000 Personal Ensign presented by NYRA Bets, a "Win and You're In" qualifier for the Breeders' Cup Distaff in November; and the Grade 1, $300,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial presented by Runhappy for 3-year-olds sprinting seven furlongs. The stakes-laden card also includes the Grade 2, $250,000 Bowling Green for 4-year-olds and up on the turf and the $200,000 Caress, a 5 ½-furlong turf sprint for older fillies and mares. The card will be broadcast on Saratoga Live beginning at 1 p.m. Eastern on FOX Sports and MSG Networks.

The Whitney pays homage to one of the Spa's most influential families, who for generations have had a profound effect on horse racing in upstate New York. The prominent Whitney family's involvement in thoroughbred racing began with Jockey Club co-founder William Collins Whitney, who began owning thoroughbreds in 1898. His son Harry Payne Whitney campaigned horses under the moniker of Greentree Stables, who hold the record for most victories in the family's namesake race with six winners. Horses owned by members of the Whitney family have gone on to win every major horse race in North America, including all three American Classics.

This year's edition of the Whitney will feature W.S. Farish's two-time Grade 1-winner Code of Honor, who arrives off a late-closing third in the Grade 1 Runhappy Met Mile, where the 4-year-old chestnut son of Noble Mission settled at the rear of the field off a leisurely pace, went five wide around the turn and closed to finish 1 ½ lengths to frontrunning winner Vekoma.

Last year, Code of Honor captured four graded stakes victories, including triumphs in the Grade 1 Runhappy Travers en route to a win in the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park.

Code of Honor, trained by Hall of Famer and three-time Whitney-winner Shug McGaughey, will attempt to become the first horse to capture the Travers, Jockey Club Gold Cup and Whitney in a career since Easy Goer. The Hall of Fame horse, who was also conditioned by McGaughey, accomplished the feat in one calendar year in 1989. 

McGaughey said Code of Honor has proven capable of winning at one turn, but the horse is more suited for two turns.

"Two turns going a mile and an eighth is what he wants to do," said McGaughey, whose other Whitney victors include champions Personal Ensign (1988) and Honor Code (2015). "I do think that last year, the [Grade 3] Dwyer [going one turn at Belmont Park] was one of his better races. But now that he's gotten older, and gotten stretched out, two turns going a mile and an eighth to a mile and a quarter is where he'll run his better races."

Prior to the Runhappy Met Mile, Code of Honor made his seasonal bow a winning one, when taking the Grade 3 Westchester on June 6 at Belmont Park by a half-length.

With an overall record of 12-6-2-2, Code of Honor brags the highest earnings in the field with $2,473,320.

Code of Honor will attempt to maintain an unbeaten record at Saratoga. A year prior to winning the Runhappy Travers, he was a gate-to-wire maiden winner at the Spa during his 2-year-old campaign.

"He's always liked it up here and liked training over the track. But it's a different main track up here now than it was in the Travers. How much different, I'm not sure," said McGaughey. "I think that Code of Honor has always liked it up here. He trained well here as a 2-year-old and ran well. He trained well here as a 3-year-old and ran well. He's been training well since we've come up here this year, so hopefully he runs well again."

Breaking from post 3, Code of Honor will be ridden by jockey John Velazquez, who will attempt to tie fellow Hall of Famers Pat Day and Jerry Bailey with the most wins in the race with five.

Trainer Al Stall, Jr. saddled subsequent Breeders' Cup Classic winner and Champion Older Horse Blame to victory in the 2010 Whitney off a four-race win streak. This year, the conditioner sends out red-hot Tom's d'Etat, who also arrives at the race off similar form with four straight wins.

Owned by Gayle Benson's G M B Racing, the 7-year-old son of Smart Strike enters the Whitney off graded stakes triumphs in the Grade 2 Fayette on October 26 at Keeneland, the Grade 1 Clark on November 29 at Churchill Downs and the Grade 2 Stephen Foster on June 27 at Churchill Downs.

Coincidentally, these were three of the same four races that Blame had won heading into his Whitney victory.

"There's no substitute for class and they both have it," Stall, Jr. said. "He's a very classy horse. He's very laid back, easy to deal with, and easy to ride in the mornings."

Tom's d'Etat leads all Whitney entrants with three victories at the Spa. As a 3-year-old, he broke his maiden at third asking by four lengths and won an allowance optional claiming event by nine lengths the following year. Last season, he was a one-length winner of the Alydar.

Additionally, Tom's d'Etat also boasts the most wins at the distance, having won six times going nine furlongs, three of which were at the Spa.

"Some horses just take to it," Stall, Jr. said. "I can tell in the couple weeks he's been here, his hair is great and his eye is just what you want and it seems like he knows just where he is. He's been here at 3, 4 and 6. He took off just one year and this will be his fourth year here and he seems to know his way around."

His only defeat at Saratoga was in last year's Grade 1 Woodward, where he was a close but troubled fourth finishing 1 ¾ lengths to Preservationist.

"We had an awful trip in that race, but he fired his best shot that day," Stall Jr. said.

At the ripe age of 7, Stall, Jr. said Tom's d'Etat is better than ever.

"We see no signs of him going the other direction on us, especially from a mental standpoint," Stall, Jr said. "He's one of the last great progenies of Smart Strike. We just feel fortunate to be in this situation all the way around. To be in this spot, to run in these types of races, run in these Grade 1s and more importantly, we're happy that he has a super nice place to go to when his racing career is over [WinStar Farm]."

Bred in Kentucky by SF Bloodstock, Tom's d'Etat is out the Giant's Causeway broodmare Julia Tuttle whose dam Candy Cane is a full sister to undefeated Grade 1 winner and multiple champion-producing sire Candy Ride.

Tom's d'Etat has never lost in five starts with jockey Joel Rosario aboard and will attempt to keep an unscathed record intact from post 5 as the 6-5 morning line favorite.

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert will saddle Improbable in attempt to be the first trainer to notch back-to-back wins in the Whitney since Scotty Schulhofer with Colonial Affair and Unaccounted For in 1994-95.

Owned by WinStar Farm, China Horse Club and SF Racing, the 4-year-old City Zip chestnut won the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup at Santa Anita last out by 3 ¼ lengths, producing a career-best 105 Beyer.

"He's doing really well," said Baffert, who won last year's Whitney with McKinzie. "I think he's a much bigger and stronger horse than last year."

Jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., who was aboard 2018 Whitney winner Diversify, will pilot Improbable from post 2.

Allied Racing Stable's By My Standards will attempt to turn the tables on Tom's d'Etat after finishing second in the Stephen Foster.

Trained by Bret Calhoun, the three-time graded stakes winning son of Goldencents began his 2020 campaign with three victories, including Grade 2 scores in the New Orleans Classic at Fair Grounds and Oaklawn Handicap, en route to the Stephen Foster.

During his sophomore campaign, By My Standards won the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby At Fair Grounds before a twelfth-place finish in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby - his only off-the-board finish in ten starts.

"He's a good-minded horse and does everything the right way. He's a very smart horse and he's proved that he'll handle [shipping in], so we're confident sending him up there," Calhoun said. "Tom's d'Etat beat us last time with a great race, and we have the utmost respect for him and Code of Honor and all of them in there. But we think our horse is improving and we're hoping Whitney Day will be the day he brings his best."

All three of By My Standards' graded stakes wins were at the nine-furlong distance.

"That's another key. With a Grade 1, and a mile-and-an-eighth, and how he's training; they are all reasons why we're coming," Calhoun said.

By My Standards will exit from post 1 under Jose Ortiz.

Rounding out the field is Chester and May Broman's eight-time stakes-winning New York-bred millionaire Mr. Buff, who attempts his first graded stakes victory for trainer John Kimmel.

Likely to show early speed, Mr. Buff will be looking for his first win since a runaway 20-length score in the Haynesfield on February 22 at Aqueduct.

"We know this place has been known as the "Graveyard of Favorites," but Mr. Buff is stepping into some deep water in this race," Kimmel said. "People might look at his last race and just kind of think that he's a little bit off form. But this horse has run commensurate numbers with all the horses in this race when he's been running against New York-bred company. People obviously think he can't do it against open company."

Mr. Buff arrives at the Whitney off a distant fifth in the Grade 2 Suburban on July 4 at Belmont Park.

"This horse in his last race actually had a little bone bruise in his foot," Kimmel said. "We went into it thinking he was OK, but I definitely think it bothered him. The blacksmith after that race cut out a little area and he had a little area of blood and some damage and since we have re-shod him, he has been a very happy horse here. He's had two very nice breezes over the racetrack."

Mr. Buff will leave from post 4 under jockey Junior Alvarado, who was the pilot aboard 2014 Whitney winner Moreno.

The Whitney, one of the most important races in the North American handicap division, has been won by subsequent Champion Older Horses Gun Runner (2017), Honor Code (2015), Blame (2010), Lawyer Ron (2007), Invasor (2006), Left Bank (2002), Lemon Drop Kid (2000), Victory Gallop (1999), Criminal Type (1990) and Slew o' Gold (1984). Prominent Whitney victors during the early years of the race include all-time greats Equipoise (1932), Discovery (1934-36), War Admiral (1938), Stymie (1946), Tom Fool (1953), Carry Back (1962), Kelso (1961, 1963, 1965), Dr. Fager (1968) and Alydar (1978).

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