WHITNEY HANDICAP | PURSE: $1,500,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS & UP | GRADE 1 | 1 1/8 MILES
Eric Guillot attended the post-position draw for the $1,500,000 Whitney Invitational Handicap wearing a shirt that said "I Got Haters Everywhere," but those who bet Moreno loved the Cajun trainer after his speedster stole the show Aug. 2 at Saratoga Race Course.
Southern Equine Stables' 10-1 shot went wire-to-wire in the 1 ⅛-mile Whitney, easily holding off Itsmyluckyday and Will Take Charge to finish in 1 ¼ lengths ahead under jockey Junior Alvarado.
Last summer at Saratoga, the Ghostzapper gelding ran third in the Jim Dandy behind 2013 Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice and Will Take Charge, then attempted to carry his speed in the Travers Stakes before getting caught by eventual 3-year-old champion Will Take Charge by a nose.
Following the Travers, Guillot accused jockey Luis Saez of using a buzzer on Will Take Charge. An extensive investigation into the trainer's claim by New York regulators and New York State Police revealed no such use.
This time Moreno was clear at all points, clicking through a quarter in :23.67 seconds and a half in :47.50 seconds while 2012 Travers winner Golden Ticket and 3-5 favorite Palace Malice gave chase. Itsmyluckyday was also forwardly placed behind three-quarters in 1:11.31, but as the field turned for home it became clear that the closers were not going to get to Moreno.
The eventual winner held safe while running a 1:35.41 mile, finishing in 1:48.05 on a fast track.
Moreno returned $22, $9, and $6.60 while Itsmyluckyday paid $7.90 and $4.60 at odds of 7-1. Will Take Charge was sent off at 4-1 and brought $4.60, three lengths ahead of 48-1 shot Prayer for Relief in fourth. Palace Malice finished sixth under Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez in the group of nine older runners.
"He never showed any interest; [during the race] he didn't pay attention," Velazquez said, adding that the Dogwood Stable runner warmed up fine prior to the Whitney, giving no indication of an issue before the start.
Moreno, who carried 117 pounds, won for the first time since taking the 2013 Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park last July, and came into the Whitney off a runner-up finish in the July 5 Suburban Handicap. He was bred in Kentucky by Southern Equine out of the A.P. Indy mare Danceinthesunlight, and improved his record to 3-6-3 from 20 starts.
Four-year-old Moreno earned an automatic berth in the field for the Nov. 1 Breeders' Cup Classic as part of the Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" series. Last year he ran 10th of 11 in the Classic, contesting for the lead but fading. He emerged from the race with a fractured splint, and had five months off before Guillot brought him back to the races to run fourth off the layup in the April 19 Charles Town Classic Stakes.