Cross Traffic celebrates in style

August, 3, 2013
On the day they celebrated the 150th birthday of America's oldest and grandest racetrack, it was the determined horse best-known for "minor setbacks" and tough beats that took home the sweetest chunk of cake.

Prior to Saturday's $750,000 Whitney Invitational, Cross Traffic was best known for running his heart out in both the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap and Grade 3 Westchester and coming away with the heartbreak of runner-up losses by a nose and a head, respectively.

Yet in the 86th edition of the Whitney, a stretchout from a flat mile to a two-turn mile-and-an-eighth distance allowed Cross Traffic to reverse his luck and post a three-quarters of a length victory in Saratoga's premier race for older horses.

And with that newfound spot in the winner's circle, Cross Traffic also tossed a somewhat unexpected name into the race for an Eclipse Award. While most horses that do not race until they are four usually wind up in claiming races, this particular late bloomer, who only started his career this past Jan. 24, is suddenly a horse to watch as the important fall races loom on the horizon.

"It probably has him right at the top," trainer Todd Pletcher said about Cross Traffic's rising stature in the older male division. "This was a quality-filled race. To beat the Breeders' Cup winner and runner-up from last year and some really good horses speaks volumes about his quality. "

To win a race like this with a horse who was a maiden at four is rare. It was great to see.

-- Todd Pletcher, Cross Traffic's trainer
The aforementioned Breeders' Cup winner -- and defending Whitney champ was Fort Larned and the runner-up Mucho Macho Man, who were just fifth and third, respectively, on a day that finally belonged to the resolute Cross Traffic.

"We wanted to run him here last August but we had some minor issues with him," said Pletcher, who is on quite a roll, having saddled the winners of the $600,000 Jim Dandy, $1 million Haskell and $750,000 Whitney since last Saturday. "To win a race like this with a horse who was a maiden at four is rare. It was great to see."

Watching Cross Traffic's last two races were particularly hard on Pletcher and owners GoldMark Farm. Pletcher, who has suffered no shortage of rough losses in a stellar career that will one day land him in the Hall of Fame, called Cross Traffic's defeat in the Met Mile as the one that stands out as the "toughest" of his career.

This time, Cross Traffic took it relatively easy on everyone. He set the pace under pressure from first Mucho Macho Man and then the $1.35-to-1 favorite Fort Larned. At the quarter pole, he put away Fort Larned and turned into the stretch with a clear lead that stood at two lengths with a furlong remaining. That wasn't completely new territory for the 7-2 second-choice ($9.10), but this time he held off a late bid from Successful Dan to cover the nine furlongs in 1:47.89 and grab the Grade 1 honors that so narrowly eluded him in May at Belmont Park.

"Turning for home I thought we had a big shot, but I wanted to get there,"

Pletcher said. "I know he tends to wander around when he's in front and I didn't want anyone to surprise him."

On Saturday, though, the only surprise was on the seven horses chasing Pletcher's colt. On a milestone day at Saratoga, Cross Traffic finally put some painful history behind him. This time there was simply no catching him.

• Bob Ehalt grew up a few furlongs from Belmont Park and has followed horse racing as a fan, turf writer or owner since 1971.
• Has won three Associated Press Sports Editors awards and was the recipient of the '09 Breeders' Cup media award for outstanding social media.



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