By Mike Farrell
The recent brisk and cooler mornings in the Northeast are a clear signal the calendar is about to change. We are rapidly hurtling toward September, and autumn appears poised for an early entrance.
It also means only two weekends remain at Saratoga where the meet concludes on Labor Day.
The penultimate Saturday of the Spa season offers a mixed bag of stakes headed by a pair of Grade 1s for older runners: the Forego for sprinters and the Sword Dancer for turf marathoners.
The Forego, named for the eight-time Eclipse Award winner, drew a high-profile field for the 7-furlong dash. Any discussion of the race logically begins with Whitmore (7-2 on the morning line), the tough-as-nails warhorse who has already posted 14 wins and earned $3.2 million while battling the likes of City of Light, Roy H and Mitole. He was second to Volatile earlier this meet in the A.G. Vanderbilt (G1).
Whitmore takes a backseat to no one on the class scale. Now 7, he shows no sign of slowing down.
“He likes to run,” trainer and co-owner Ron Moquett said. “I’ve had some horses that you can tell aren’t interested in racing after a while but the horse always makes the decision of what they do in our barn. So, we ask the questions and with Whitmore he’s always answered that he wants to go have fun and run.”
Whitmore captured this race in 2018 and will again be looking for his preferred stalking trip with Luis Saez aboard.
From post 2, Whitmore should be in an excellent tactical position behind whoever dictates the pace. He couldn’t reel in Volatile last time out, but then, there are few horses out there who can.
While we don’t expect a big price on Whitmore, we do anticipate another quality effort from the veteran campaigner.
Mind Control (6-1) and Firenze Fire (8-1), third and fourth respectively in the Vanderbilt, are back for another try.
Our value special in the Forego is Funny Guy (9-2) who is 2-for-2 at Saratoga. Granted, both wins came against restricted New York-bred company.
The upside is that Funny Guy has come back much sharper and quicker as a 4-year-old. He is unbeaten in two races this season with rapidly improving speed figures.
Racing is a numbers game and trainer Jack Sisterson is covering the bases with three runners for Calumet Farm: Everfast (30-1), Lexitonian (10-1) and True Timber (20-1).
$500,000 SWORD DANCER
Pedro Cara (10-1), the freshest face in this 1 1/2-mile route, is also the most intriguing.
If you take solace in familiar names, the Sword Dancer offers plenty with a lineup that includes Highland Sky (12-1), Aquaphobia (4-1), Channel Maker (6-1), Cross Border (3-1) and Sadler’s Joy (5-2).
Taking a deeper dive into the handicapping pool, we came up with Pedro Cara, making his debut for trainer Graham Motion, and only his second U.S. start.
His lone local appearance was last September, a tough-luck loss by a scant nose in the $1 million Jockey Club Derby at Belmont Park.
Since then, he has run twice in Qatar with a win in the Qatar Derby (G2) and a third in the Amir Trophy (G1).
One of most attractive aspects is the 4-year-old’s record at this distance: 2-2-1 in six tries with the victories coming in France and Spain. The globe-trotting gelding has been training down at Fair Hill in Maryland for his first start since February.
“I think he’s a gritty little horse,” Motion said. “He’s not very big but he’s tough. There’s not a real standout in this division so he fits in well with this group of horses.”
Let’s give a shoutout to Cross Border who will try to snare a third stakes win at this meet. He absolutely loves this turf course with a perfect 5-for-5 mark at Saratoga.
The winner gets an automatic berth in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) on Nov. 7 at Keeneland.
$150,000 AMSTERDAM (G2)
This is a curious spot for Basin (7-2), making his debut for trainer Todd Pletcher after being transferred from the Steve Asmussen barn.
He is cutting back to 6 furlongs after stretching out for the Triple Crown trail. His best moment of the season was a distant second behind Charlatan in a division of the Arkansas Derby (G1). Basin was later awarded first money when Charlatan was disqualified for a medication infraction.
He has yet to be first under the finish line in four races this year and hasn’t been close to the winner in any of those races. So now he regroups in a sprint, back at the track where he captured the Hopeful Stakes (G1) at 7 furlongs in the slop last September.
You can certainly bet Asmussen would love to beat Basin with Yaupon (8-5), who is 2-for-2 heading into his stakes debut.
$100,000 SARANAC (G3)
Don Juan Kitten (4-1), a sharp allowance winner here last month, returns to stakes company in this one-mile turf contest for 3-year-olds to face more seasoned rivals including Jersey Derby winner Vanzzy (7-2).