If you could slap a singular label on last weekend’s blockbuster slate of Thoroughbred racing, 48 hours of upheaval would be a most adequate descriptor.
The 3-year-old division was rocked on a couple of fronts. Long-shot Laoban broke his maiden while winning the Grade II Jim Dandy Stakes, and Preakness Stakes winner Exaggerator worked an off track to perfection once more in the Grade I Haskell Invitational as Nyquist struggled home fourth. The biggest chin shot, however, came in the older female ranks when Stellar Wind handed three-time Eclipse Award winner Beholder her first loss since 2014 in the Grade I Clement. L Hirsch last Saturday.
After those whirlwind events, there shouldn’t be a whole lot of head-spinning on tap in this weekend’s notable stakes, mostly because no one heading into the starting gate has garnered enough momentum that would make any kind of stumble look shocking. The headline event is Saturday’s Grade I, $1,250,000 Whitney Stakes at Saratoga, and the fact just six horses passed the entry box for such a lucrative test says a mouthful right now about the handicap division outside of California Chrome.
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin sends out an obvious favorite in Frosted, who blew the doors off everyone with his 14 1/4-length win in the Grade I Metropolitan Handicap at Belmont on June 11. That was the first start for Frosted following his fifth-place finish behind California Chrome in the $10 million Dubai World Cup in March. While he doesn’t need to repeat his Met Mile form to win Saturday, he has never been able to put together back-to-back wins in his 16-race career, and regression after a career-best outing could make him vulnerable.
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With champion Songbird having things to herself in the 3-year-old filly ranks, Saturday’s Grade I Test Stakes offers up the chance for one sophomore distaffer to carve out a niche for herself in a female sprint division that has largely been without a clear leader for the better part of two seasons.
The top tier of the 3-year-old male ranks were mostly in action last weekend, but the Grade II West Virginia Derby offers a spot for those a notch below to pick up a nice payday and add some black-type to their résumé.
Here is your weekend cheat sheet to the biggest racing action:
Grade I, $500,000 Test Stakes at Saratoga for 3-year-old fillies going 7 furlongs
Post time: 5:02 p.m. EDT
Key contender: The Todd Pletcher-trained Off the Tracks comes into the Test on the heels of her 3 1/2-length victory in the Grade I Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont on July 2. A winner of four of six starts, the only “bad” race Off the Tracks has put in came when she was third to Go Maggie Go in the Grade II Gulfstream Park Oaks in April. (But Pletcher said he even considered that run a ‘sneaky-good’ effort.) She has form over the Saratoga surface, having won the Grade III Schuylerville Stakes last July, and is by hot sire Curlin, whose massive 2016 was further bolstered last weekend with wins by Exaggerator in the Grade I Haskell, Stellar Wind in the Grade I Clement L. Hirsch and Curalina in the Grade III Shuvee.
Others to watch: The Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Kareena is 2-for-3 after winning the 6-furlong Jersey Girl by 6 1/4 lengths on June 10. The daughter of Medaglia d’Oro will attempt to follow in the footsteps of stablemate Cavorting, who completed a Jersey Girl-Test double last year.
Grade II, $750,000 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer for 3-year-olds going 1 1/8 miles
Post time: 5:21 P.M. EDT
Key contender: Bob Baffert-trained Cupid got himself back on form after two straight off-the-board efforts with a win in the Grade II Indiana Derby at Indiana Grand on July 16. Cupid put himself on the sophomore radar with his victory in the Grade II Rebel Stakes at Oaklawn this past March, but he emerged from his 10th-place run in the Grade I Arkansas Derby with a breathing issue that kept him out of the Kentucky Derby. The son of Tapit was headstrong during his fifth-place finish in the Easy Goer Stakes on June 11 but showed a ton of gameness in the Indiana Derby when he overcame a wide post, battled for the lead early and held off The Player in deep stretch.
Others to watch: With graded-stakes winner Mo Tom scratching out of the race, Suddenbreakingnews looms as one with enough back class to make his presence felt. The son of Mineshaft has lost four straight since taking the Grade III Southwest Stakes but ran an admirable fifth in the Kentucky Derby before coming home ninth in the Belmont Stakes.
Grade I, $1,250,000 Whitney Stakes at Saratoga for 3-year-olds and up going 1 1/8 miles
Post time: 6:18 P.M. EDT
Watch: TVG, Fox Sports 2
Key contender: California Chrome is the current king of the handicap division, but Frosted owns the best performance of the year with his Met Mile win. The son of Tapit does own a Grade I win at the Whitney distance, having captured the Wood Memorial last year, and with a victory on Saturday, his connections would likely be prompted to put him on a path to the Breeders’ Cup Classic rather than the Dirt Mile in November.
Others to watch: Frosted might lack for consistency, but so do many of his contenders in the Whitney. Since capturing the Grade I Clark Handicap last November, Effinex has scored wins in the Grade II Oaklawn Handicap and Grade II Suburban Handicap — but he sandwiched losses in the Santa Anita Handicap and a non-effort in the Grade I Stephen Foster Handicap in between. On his best day, Grade I winner Noble Bird can run foes off their feet as he did in winning the Grade III Pimlico Special by 11 1/4 lengths, but he is equally prone to head-scratchers like his sixth-place run in the Met Mile last time out.