From now through the end of the summer (at least) we are going to profile a different important horse race every week. Each race will be chosen because it is a good, exciting field that offers some betting challenges but also because it's an important step on the road to the Breeders' Cup. We're starting off this week with the Whitney Handicap from Saratoga. This race is known, among many other things, as the first race that Secretariat lost after his Triple Crown victory in 1972. It's also a big indicator of Breeders' Cup Classic success - in the last decade alone Invasor, Blame and Fort Larned have all won this race the year they also won the Classic.
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This year's field is small - just six horses were entered - but it is filled with quality and is going to give us a much better sense of how the older horse crowd is stacking up heading into the fall. With a deep-if-not-particularly-spectacular group of three year olds looking to build towards the Classic, this will give us a strong sense of whether they can be held off. The race takes place on Saturday, Aug. 6 at Saratoga and will be run at a mile and an eighth. Odds listed are track morning line odds:
Frosted (3/5): I wish Frosted was a more consistent horse. He would certainly be easier to love - especially at prices like this. When he is at his best, though, he is extremely special. The horse who couldn't beat American Pharoah, no matter how hard he tried, was very disappointing in the Dubai World Cup this year, finishing a non-threatening fifth behind California Chrome after not firing at all in the stretch. He was next seen in the Met Mile on the Belmont Stakes undercard. His win by just short of 15 lengths was easily the most impressive performance of the year to date. Absolutely stunning.
He has five career wins - four in big stakes races. The problem, though, is that he has never won twice in a row and has actually been fourth, seventh and fifth following his last three wins. I really like the horse, and I think the distance should suit him. He's the clear class of the field at his best, but at this kind of price I just don't think I can justify backing him. I have to look for someone to beat him and hope for the best.
Effinex (7/2): This horse has won the Suburban Handicap at Belmont two years in a row. Last year he came back and laid an egg in the Woodward at Saratoga. This time around he's coming back earlier to try this spot. He has issues with consistency like Frosted does, but he did finish ahead of the favorite in the Classic last year. Mike Smith has taken over as full-time rider, and the change has been a very good one. I like him quite a bit here and will likely play him in an exacta box with Comfort here - hoping Frosted really doesn't have a big day.
Comfort (8/1): I am happy to back Todd Pletcher pretty much anywhere that isn't a Triple Crown race. That is especially true in New York. This is a lightly-raced four year old making a big jump up in class. He has won his last three races, though, and has shown a lot of talent in the process. John Velazquez guides him competently, so he should get a strong trip. There are enough flaws in the proven contender that at this price I'm willing to take a risk on an unknown commodity.
Upstart (10/1): This guy was second in both the Fountain of Youth and the Florida Derby last year. There was a lot to like about him, but I ultimately didn't back him in the Kentucky Derby. That's a very good thing, too - he finished 18th. He's been largely an also-ran since - most recently third in Frosted's big win. I just don't think he's good enough to warrant consideration at this price.
Noble Bird (10/1): Last year this horse won the Stephen Foster impressively but then came right back and was just horrible in the Whitney, finishing a flattering ninth. This year he tries the Whitney again but comes in with much less momentum - he was sixth in the Met Mile last time out. Like Upstart, I just don't think he's good enough for this price.
El Kabeir (20/1): Last year after the Gotham Stakes I thought this horse was going to be one I bet on in the Kentucky Derby. He didn't even make that race. He showed so much at two and early in his three year old year, but he hasn't run a decent race since that Gotham. No thanks.
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