2018 Whitney Stakes Expert Picks with Odds and Betting Predictions
The Whitney Stakes is one of the great jewels of the greatest race meet in North America - the summer at Saratoga. The Grade 1 race for a $1.25 million purse is for older male horses and is run at a mile and an eighth. It comes at pretty much a perfect time for horses serious about a run to the Breeders' Cup Classic, and it has been a fertile proving ground in recent years - in the last 20 years Awesome Again, Invasor, Blame, Fort Larned and Gun Runner have all won this race and then won the Classic. And Gun Runner was the most recent of several horses in that same time who also won this race in a Horse of the Year campaign. This is a big race and almost always a very exciting one. And this year it is particularly significant, because with the retirement of Justify and some real lack of clarity elsewhere the road to the Classic is very wide-open right now. This year's Whitney has an eight-horse field, and you can make a case for at least five of them as real contenders. Here is a look, with track morning line odds:
Diversify (7/5): This horse made the Gr. 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup his first career graded stakes win last year. That's wildly impressive. He was flat in his next two but came back to win a tune-up in May, and then he won the Suburban at Belmont in early July. And it wasn't just a win - it was a massacre over a solid field. He needs to prove that he can sustain efforts at this high level, but the talent is obvious, and the form is here. Irad Ortiz Jr. is on board, which is a good thing for this spot. I was very impressed by that last race, but this price feels short of value. That creates a tough spot here as a bettor - I'm going to look to beat him even though I think he's solidly the best horse, and the most probable winner, because of the price.
Mind Your Biscuits (2/1): This is an interesting spot. This horse is one of the nation's top sprinters - he finished second in the 2016 Breeders' Cup Sprint and third last year. But obviously his connections are sensing that there is an opportunity to break into the handicap division, and this is where they want to see if he can stretch out. It's a risky spot, but better to figure it out now when he can return to the sprints before the Breeders' Cup if he needs to than to try it later when there is no exit ramp. As much as I respect the horse, I doubt him around two turns and doubt if he can close effectively in this spot. Again, I'll look to beat him largely on price.
Backyard Heaven (9/2): This inexperienced Chad Brown horse is a son of 2011 Whitney winner Tizway, so he has breeding on his side. Even though he is four, he is making just this sixth career start. He made his stakes debut on the Kentucky Oaks undercard with a very nice win in the Alysheba. But then he came back in the Stephen F. Foster and totally failed to fire, finishing sixth. Ortiz Jr. rode him in the Foster but jumped to the favorite here. That's not great, but I still see the upside here, and think he's really growing into himself. The price feels right enough, and this is where I am going to focus my attention - especially if, as I suspect, the price rises a little from where it is starting.
Tapwrit (6/1): I really hoped that this horse was going to use his Belmont win last year as a springboard to greatness, but so far I am still waiting. He didn't look great last year in the Travers in his return after the Belmont, and his two races this year - an allowance in May at Belmont and the Suburban last month - were both pretty lousy. The talent is obviously there, and at this price I will admit to be tempted, but I don't think this is the time to back him heavily just yet.
Good Samaritan (12/1): Bill Mott is one of my favorite trainers to watch because he marches to the beat of his own drum. He's being so very patient with this horse, never giving him a rest but also never hesitating to wait between races. This horse won the Jim Dandy last year, so he likes Saratoga. The distance suits him, and having Jose Ortiz on board is a positive. And he should be well suited by the race pace as a horse with a late kick. I like the horse at this price, and he'll factor into my exotics betting.
McCraken (15/1): In his first four races starting as a two-year-old in 2016 this horse was so impressive that he was a strong Derby contender - the favorite for a long stretch of time. But starting with the Blue Grass last April he has found new ways to disappoint with each outing. His connections have tried, and failed, to find a good spot for him. As impressed with him as I was early on, I have no faith he will find himself here - or quite possibly ever again.
Dalmore (30/1): He'll set the early pace, and it should be reasonably swift, but if he is good enough to hold on then it will cost me because I don't think he's a factor here at all.
Discreet Lover (30/1): The owner trains this horse and is obviously content getting small paydays in big races instead of putting him in races that the talented horse could actually win. He would rather play with the big boys then honestly assess where the horse could thrive. That frustrates me as much as anything about this sport does.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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