A heavyweight battle will take place on Saturday at Saratoga. A sensational field of eight will go postward to contest the $1 million Whitney Stakes (G1), which features four of the top handicap runners in training. The Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) “Win & You’re In” event is run at 1 1/8 miles and promises to be one to remember.
Trainer Bob Baffert has had an enormous amount of success over the years when shipping horses to The Spa, and I think history will repeat itself in the Whitney. Multiple Grade 1 victor McKinzie is the 7-5 morning-line choice in a robust field and he gets top billing in this storied contest.
A son of Street Sense, the four-year-old colt has been at or near the top of his division since his juvenile campaign, and he has been first or second in each of his four races in 2019, as well. The future stallion is as versatile and honest as they come, and he will make good in his Saratoga debut.
Here is what I envision on Saturday. Baffert and jockey Mike Smith earned two of their biggest local tallies with back-to-back victories in the Travers Stakes (G1), in 2016 with Arrogate and 2017 with West Coast. On each occasion, the plan that was executed was to put those respective runners on the front end and take the race to the opposition from the start. And on each occasion the tactic was a golden one.
The Whitney field lacks a confirmed front-runner and I fully expect to see Smith urge McKinzie early on to take advantage going into the first turn. The bay colt has excellent positional speed and his swift morning drills leading up to this endeavor indicate to me that he is ready to roll.
McKinzie was a sharp runner-up in the Met Mile (G1) most recently despite encountering a sluggish break and traffic through the stretch. That will not be the case in the Whitney. Running in a one-turn mile at Belmont Park most recently was an ideal prep for this one, as the colt will be sharper and the early tempo will be much more realistic going nine furlongs.
Showing early speed and saving ground is often a winning recipe for route racing on the main surface at Saratoga. And McKinzie will put those ingredients to use en route to Whitney Stakes glory as the Best Bet of the Weekend.