Talking Track: The Whitney
Saturday's Saratoga racing card featured the 84th running of the Whitney Invitational. This mile and an eighth race is probably the second biggest race (next to the Travers) Saratoga has to offer, though the Jim Dandy and the Alabama may have something to say about that. Patrons of the ponies who made the trip up on this mildly moist Saturday were not disappointed in what was one of the hardest races I've ever had to handicap. A race that would eventually be won by Tizway.
Saturday's feature followed the first grade one stakes race of the day, The Test, which was dominantly won by the spectacular filly Turbulent Descent. Her straight up throttling of the field set the bar and gave the Whitney something to live up to. One thing that was clear, however, was that the Whitney would not be as easily won as The Test. Trying to handicap this handicap race (see what I did there?) was like trying to pick between Huey Lewis and Hall and Oates. You're not sure which you like better, but you feel good about it no matter how you go. Either way, any horse you bet, you just hoped that at the end of the day you could be singing "Rich Girl." Seriously, how good is Hall and Oates?
What made the race so hard to handicap? Well, probably the fact that each of these horses had raced in, if not performed well in, a serious graded stakes race. All horses in this year's edition of the Whitney, except one, had raced in a 500 thousand dollar stakes race, and all of them had raced in at least a 300 thousand dollar stakes race. Can you possibly fathom how hard that is to break down? Even press members and people in the know had no clue. If I had all of next week to break down this race, I still wouldn't know what to bet...and I know the results!
This kind of mystery is what helped make the race so exciting. That and the thousands of people who surrounded the paddock and packed the rail for this race. It was an intense, almost Travers-like crowd at Saratoga on Saturday. There was no room to be found at the rail to catch a glimpse of the race.
Just before race time I was finally able to settle on an exacta box with the 5 horse Tizway and the 6 Mission Impazible. These two horses, to me, paired great results with great past races more than anyone else in the race. The closer we got to post, the more I liked the 5-6. Though admittedly, I played a bunch more bets because I wasn't 100% confident in anything. This stuff is hard! Tizway went off as the favorite at a stunning 4-1 - incredibly long odds for a favorite. Just another piece of evidence in support of how strong this field was.
The race broke well with Tizway at the front before wisely giving up the lead. Friend or Foe would take the lead and the opening furlongs would click by in slow, if not apathetic, fractions. The rain, which had stopped just before the Whitney began, had apparently taken its toll and slowed the track. After an uneventful back stretch they hit the top of the turn with Rajiv Maragh holding Tizway third on the outside. Other horses would start to make their move, though it was Tizway who drew attention. The horse would use the turn to glide past leaders Morning Line and Friend or Foe. At the top of the stretch Tizway had the lead, and he hadn't even been urged.
When he finally was urged, Tizway ran away from the field. Flat Out would muster a weak challenge, but he, and the field, was no match for H. James Bond's horse. Tizway would win the Whitney by three lengths. The win, in such eye opening fashion, was a bit of a surprise. Everyone knew Tizway was a serious horse, but many handicappers had questions regarding the horse's stamina. Not anymore. Of the horse, Trainer H. James Bond said "He has an endless supply of oxygen. He's just a special horse...he's a super horse."
It was an emotional scene in the Winner's Circle. Bond, while an accomplished trainer, hadn't tasted this kind of glory in too long. Reflecting on what the race meant, Bond jokingly said it was special because "I've drank a lot of beer and not a lot of champagne lately." Well, he drank champagne Saturday Night, especially after winning in his home town. "I'm a Saratoga boy," he said, mentioning it as another reason why this race meant so much. Jockey Rajiv Maragh echoed these sentiments, confessing in the Winner's Circle that this was one of the biggest races of his career when he said "This is one of the biggest races of my career."... Huh. Imagine that. The emotional scene in the Winner's Circle ended with a bit of humor, however, when after graciously answering fifteen or so minutes of questions, Bond broke off interviews by saying with a laugh, "I have a horse in the next race, so I need to go."
What's next for Tizway we can't be sure, but he seems to have his eyes set on the fall races of the Jockey Gold Club and the Breeders' Cup Classic, where he'll be sure to figure near the top. An impressive performance today for Tizway, who took on an incredibly competitive field and showed little effort in domination. Congratulations to H. James Bond, Rajiv Maragh and owner William L. Clifton Jr. Tizway, winner of the 84th running of the Whitney Invitational.