The 1m 1f Grade 1 Whitney Stakes at Saratoga this Saturday is the latest “win and you’re in” races for the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series. Code Of Honor ran well in defeat last time out and now steps back up in trip.
Trained by Claude McGaughey III, the four-year-old Noble Mission colt won the Travers Stakes here just less than a year ago. He came with a sustained run in the final furlong and only needed driving out to win by three lengths.
Code Of Honor was then awarded the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park by the stewards. They deemed enough interference had taken place between him and Vino Rosso, who was first past the the post, to reverse placings.
While that rival gained revenge at the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Code Of Honor has looked as good as ever this year. He prevailed in the mud in a Grade 3 on reappearance by half-a-length, giving 4lb away to the runner-up.
Code Of Honor also shaped well on a faster surface over a mile in the Metropolitan Handicap last time out. That trip may be a little on the sharp side for him now, but he kept on in the final furlong to be third.
He was only beaten 1 1/2 lengths and giving weight away to both the winner, Vekoma, and runner-up. Code Of Honor is now racing off level terms with his two main market rivals.
The extra furlong here suits him and regular jockey John Velazquez is once again on board. Code Of Honor can thus resume winning ways in the Whitney Stakes on a track where he has top form.
With a spot in the Breeders’ Cup Classic on the line, this is a competitive race. Impressive Hollywood Gold Cup winner Improbable progressed from his return to action with success at Santa Anita.
Trained by last year’s winning handler Bob Baffert, this four-year-old City Zip colt was a precocious juvenile who find life tougher last season. Improbable was just a length behind Improbable in the Kentucky Derby and won a Listed race at Del Mar later in the campaign.
After being held half-a-length by the re-opposing Tom’s D’Etat in that grade on reappearance, he came on in leaps and bounds for that. Improbable finally fulfilled the potential he showed as a juvenile with Hollywood Gold Cup glory.
He won easing down, so was value for more than the 3 1/4 lengths winning margin. The fifth home, Midcourt, ran an absolute screamer when next in action and making Maximum Security pull out all the stops in the San Diego Handicap.
That run gives Improbable claims of reversing form with Tom’s D’Etat. The oldest in the Whitney Stakes field aged seven, he has won his last four but could only finish fourth on his last start over course and distance.
Although lightly-raced for his age, Albert Stall Jr’s charge may be vulnerable despite his winning sequence. Those victories include the Grade 1 Clark Stakes over this trip at Churchill Downs last fall.
Tom’s D’Etat has also scored a couple of Grade 2 successes. It is easy to see why bookies make him favorite, but he plenty short enough against horses with time on their side.
Only five winners of the Whitney Stakes in the last 70 years have been older than five. While Tom’s D’Etat commands respect, there are reasons to take him on here.
He should confirm form with By My Standards from last time out, though, and still hit the frame. It is hard to see anything else being involved in the finish.