The fields are huge. The races are wide open. Favorites, especially those from inside posts going short, are getting left. And there has been no trace of the traditional Saratoga speed bias.
Most races - dirt and grass - are producing cavalry charges through the lane. And, more often than not, the horse on the extreme outside is getting up - at a price.
Looking at Saturday's card, in addition to the large fields (except for the Go For Wand every race on the 11-race card has eight or more entries), a forecast for heavy rain complicates the equation even more.
Especially for the Whitney.
The field of 12 is the largest in the Whitney since 1971, and a mere four pounds separates the entire field, begging the question: why even have handicaps? Maybe in the good old days when Forego and Kelso were packing 130 pounds, weights meant something. But in these days of 118-pound highweights, as we said why bother?
That said, this Whitney is so wide open that Brass Hat, a Grade 1 winner of $1.2 million, runner-up in the Dubai World Cup, where he was later unjustly DQ'ed for a drug infraction, can be had at 20-1 overnight.
Brass Hat also is one of only two horses in the field who shows good wet form. The other is Wanderin Boy.
Then there is the Pletcher factor.
The Toddster is running three - Magna Graduate (the overnight favorite), Lawyer Ron (who needs no introduction in this space), and Fairbanks (who is picked on top at 20-1 in the Form).
Will history repeat again?
Will this be the third straight weekend when Pletcher hits one out of the park with a .220 hitter while his .330 hitter bombs?
And what about trainer Zito?
Sun King missed by a nose to world champ Invasor in this race last year, yet is dismissed at 12-1 this year. Nick also has Wanderin Boy, who, in addition to liking the wet, on his best day can get loose on the lead.
Then there is the jockey factor.
Migliore gives up a Saturday at Del Mar to make the cross-country trip to ride Fairbanks, and Albarado takes off three or four Arlington winners to ride Student Council, who looks like the rank outsider.
Then there is the post position factor.
At the paddock post position draw on Thursday morning, several Whitney trainers could be seen sweating as they awaited the draw. Maybe it was the humidity, but more likely it was the fear of landing outside.
Some nice horses had to wind up starting closer to the grandstand than to the inside rail. And, sure enough, Diamond Stripes, Dry Martini, Lawyer Ron and Awesome Twist wound up getting nine thru 12.
From an inside post, Awesome Twist, who loves Saratoga, would be a wise guy pick. But from post 12? Awesome Twist would have to be Forego to win from here.
SARATOGA IS ABOUT INFORMATION
THE DIANA STAKES - Fillies & Mares on the Turf
THE ALFRED G. VANDERBILT HANDICAP - 6 furlong Sprint
THE GO FOR WAND HANDICAP - Fillies & Mares go a mile and an eighth
THE WHITNEY HANDICAP - A field of 12 runs for the $750,00 purse
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Hey, speaking of Forego, this is the 30th anniversary of one of my most memorable Whitneys.
The morning of the race brought thunderstorms that drenched the Saratoga area, leaving the racetrack the proverbial sea of mud.
The 7-year-old Forego hated wet tracks, but was still going to be odds-on in a field of seven under topweight of 136 pounds. That's no misprint.
This was my first year on the beat for the New York Post so there I was; standing in the pouring ran outside trainer Whiteley's barn, waiting for The Man to give me a minute.
Finally, Whiteley gave me the minute.
The conversation went like this:
JP:"Mr. Whiteley, in view of the track condition, will you consider scratching Forego?"
FW: "Not a chance. People are coming from all over, and they will be very disappointed if they don't get to see Forego (run)."
And so Forego ran. With Bill Shoemaker up, he ran seventh to Nearly on Time, beaten 18 lengths. The worst race of his career.
Incidentally, Nearly on Time, who, at 103 pounds, was getting 33 pounds from Forego, was ridden to victory by Roger Velez.
But maybe Mr. Whiteley wasn't all wrong.
A month later, he ran Forego in the Woodward over a sloppy track at Belmont Park, and Forego won going away.
Now, precisely 30 years later, we may again have to deal with a wet track for the Whitney. But, unlike the '77 running, there will be no 4-5 favorite.
I would think that Flashy Bull will be the chalk.
The 4-year-old gray has come a long way since his unsuccessful Triple Crown campaign last year. He has won his last four starts for the red-hot West Point-McLaughlin combo, including a Grade 1 last time, and he gets the one-hole.
Flashy Bull shows no history of liking a wet track, but his sire, Holy Bull, sure loved the off-going.
Next door to Flashy Bull in the gate will be another gray - Papi Chullo.
I was an eye-witness back in April at Oaklawn Park when Papi Chullo was beaten 30 lengths at 19-1 by Lawyer Ron, the 1-2 favorite. That was hours after Papi's owner, Greg Norman, told my seminar audience that he loved his horse.
What a difference four months make?
Shortly after the Oaklawn"Cap, Norman sold Papi Chullo to the Winning Move Stable, and with trainer Contessa calling the shots, Papi won twice at Belmont by a combined 12 lengths, posting career-best triple-digit Beyers in the process.
In the Birdstone Stakes on Belmont Stakes Day, Papi Chullo (My Horse of the Year on the John Piesen Best Bets Service here online at www.JohnPiesen.com or toll free at 1-888-612-2283), spotted his field a dozen lengths, and won by five.
Will lightning strike twice for the IEAH folks?
That group recently purchased a half-interest in the 2-year-old filly Subtle Aly, and she won the opening-day Schuylerville. Now, just last week, the same group bought a major piece of Papi Chullo.
If you'd like a complete horse-by-horse look of each of Saturday's 4 Saratoga Stakes races, the Diana, the Vanderbilt, the Go For Wand, and the Whitney, check out my old friend Jim Hurley's stakes preview here online.
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