By Bob Ehalt
It’s August at Saratoga and time for some of the best races of the year.
The month-long parade of famous Grade 1 stakes starts on Saturday with the $1.2million Whitney Stakes, bringing together a field of eight for the premier dirt race of the meet for older horses.
Diversify, coming off a powerful, front-running 6 ½-length win in the Grade 2 Suburban, is the 7-5 favorite. The 5-year-old New York State-bred gelding is already a Grade 1 winner with a victory in last year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup to his credit.
“I was very concerned after the Suburban. He had run such a huge race that I thought that four weeks might be too quick,” said trainer Rick Violette. “But he kept making a liar out of me. He ate well, trained well and breezed awfully well on Sunday. His blood has a habit of spiking up and down, so we had to make sure that duck was in a row. We got back those results today. Sometimes, when your horse is doing good, you’re supposed to run.”
The mile-and-an-eighth stakes could turn into a showdown between New York State-breds as the 2-1 second choice is Mind Your Biscuit, a top sprinter who is tackling the nine-furlong distance for the first time. In his last start, Mind Your Biscuit lost by a nose in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap at a mile.
“I expect him to be much closer with Diversify (in the six post), and he’s giving us seven pounds (Diversify carries 124 pounds to 117 for Mind Your Biscuits). It’s a short run into the first turn, and if Diversify gets hung wide, he gets hung wide,” said trainer Chad Summers. “I’m as confident as I can be … Everything he’s always shown me over his entire career is that he can do it, and until he can’t, I’m not going to think he can’t.”
The field also includes Backyard Heaven (9-2), who is coming off a disappointing sixth-place finish as a 4-5 favorite in the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs in June. Prior to that, he was a 4 ½-length winner of Grade 2 Alysheba, also at Churchill Downs, for trainer Chad Brown.
“The horse is training well, it’s shaping up like a tough one,” Brown said. “He’s only run the one bad race for us at Churchill. Maybe it was the heat. We’ll draw a line through it because the horse has been training well since and hopefully he bounces back and regains the form he has.
“He’s lightly raced and has come around so fast. I feel he’s so talented. In the Alysheba, he ran fabulous in that race. If he redeems himself and comes back to a performance like that, I feel he can be a real contender in this race.”
The rest of the field includes 2017 Belmont Stakes winner Tapwrit (6-1), Dalmore (20-1), Discreet Lover (30-1), 2017 Jim Dandy winner Good Samaritan (12-1) and McCraken (15-1).
Post time is 5:46 p.m. for Whitney, which will air on NBCSN.