WHITNEY INVITATIONAL HANDICAP | PURSE: $750,000 | 3-YEAR-OLDS & UP | GRADE 1 | 1 1/8 MILES
GoldMark Farm's Cross Traffic sprung a wire-to-wire victory in the $750,000 Whitney Invitational Handicap at Saratoga Race Course Aug. 3, kicking away to victory at odds of 7-2 while 2012 winner Fort Larned finished fifth.
The 4-year-old son of Unbridled's Song earned his first stakes score by three-quarters of a length and also picked up an automatic berth into the Nov. 2 Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park; the Whitney is a Breeders' Cup Challenge "Win and You're In" event. Trainer Todd Pletcher said a start in the Aug. 31 Woodward Stakes would be his next target.
Ridden by Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez, Cross Traffic took the lead going into the first turn and held a 1 ½-length advantage over Mucho Macho Man through a quarter in :24.17, then went a quick :47.28 while Fort Larned stepped up a length behind. Fort Larned appeared poised to make his move exiting the backstretch while Mucho Macho Man loomed on the outside as well, but Cross Traffic slipped away coming down off the turn after posting three-quarters in 1:10.24.
The gray/roan runner galloped away through a mile in 1:34.80 and won the 1 ⅛-mile Whitney in 1:47.89 on a fast track before a hearty crowd of 33,148. Successful Dan, who flipped leaving the paddock, nevertheless finished second with a strong late outside run. Mucho Macho Man was 1 ½ lengths back in third, while Ron the Greek nosed Fort Larned for fourth.
Trainer Ian Wilkes blamed a slow start for Fort Larned's loss.
"He just walked out of the gates," Wilkes said of the 5-year-old son of E Dubai, who last time out posted a sparkling 6 ¼-length victory in the June 15 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs. "It wasn't the start we were looking for. He got away bad. He got a good trip on the outside he's run over this track before; there's no excuse there. It was one of those days. We'll fight another day."
Fort Larned used the 2012 Whitney as a stepping-stone to victory in the Breeders' Cup Classic last year. Mucho Macho Man ran second in the Classic after sitting out the Whitney but running second by a neck in the Woodward.
"This was a real quality-filled race," Pletcher said. "To beat the Breeders' Cup [Classic] winner and runner-up from last year and some really good horses speaks volumes about his quality."
Cross Traffic, who did not start until January of this year, was making just his fifth outing and collected his third victory. He came off a runner-up finish by a nose behind Sahara Sky in the May 27 Metropolitan Handicap, having finished second by a head to Flat Out in the April 27 Westchester Stakes, both at Belmont Park.
"The plan was to let him run to the first turn," Pletcher said. "It worked out really well the first quarter was key. Johnny was able to get the position he wanted without overdoing it, and kind of picked it up from there. It was a strongly run race throughout, and we were just hoping he could hold on the last part after the two losses we had at Belmont. Those were heart-breaking losses, to run as well as he did in those two races and miss by a whisker."
The winner returned $9.10, $5.40, and $4.40 while Successful Dan paid $5.90 and $4.90 and Mucho Macho Man brought $5.20. After Ron the Greek and Fort Larned came Alpha, Csaba, and Fast Falcon.
Trainer Charlie LoPresti said the Woodward could also be a possible target for Successful Dan, who was approved to race after a vet check following the incident leaving the paddock.
"Once I get back to the barn and check him out and if he's OK, it's definitely a possibility," LoPresti said. "He ran his race the way I thought he'd run. It's unfortunate [he flipped], but I don't think that took anything away from him. He was really running at the end."
Cross Traffic, bred in Kentucky by Gerald Ford's Diamond A Racing Corp. out of the Cure the Blues mare Stop Traffic, was a $300,000 purchase from the Taylor Made Sales Agency consignment at the 2010 Fasig-Tipton New York select yearling sale. The Whitney purse increased his total earnings to $681,300.