By Gene Kershner
Last weekend was all about the 3-year-olds, this weekend the older horses take back the national spotlight. The $750,000 Grade 1 Whitney Invitational Handicap at Saratoga has attracted a nice field of handicap horses including last year's winner and Breeders' Cup Classic champion Fort Larned who was made the 7-5 favorite by NYRA odds maker Eric Donovan.
The race has attracted some serious competition in Mucho Macho Man, Ron the Greek, Cross Traffic and Successful Dan in addition to last year's Travers champion, Alpha. The race is a Breeders' Cup Win and You're In qualifier, with the winner automatically obtaining a gate in the $5 million Classic at Santa Anita in November. The race will also serve as a springboard for a possible claim of Horse of the Year for the winner.
Some thoughts as we head into a big weekend of racing…
- Moving the Prince of Wales from its traditional Sunday date to Tuesday's twilight card at Fort Erie proved to be the right move by track management for the second jewel of the Triple Crown. Handle was up by 15 percent and management estimated the crowd at around 10,000 at the border oval.
- It was the third straight year that the Queen's Plate winner has skipped the Prince of Wales, something that would almost never happen during the American Triple Crown series. With the Canadian Triple Crown run on three different surfaces (Polytrack, dirt and turf) it's amazing that the Canadians have had a Triple Crown winner as recent as 2003, when Wando pulled it off. It's been 34 years and waiting in the U.S.
- The West Virginia Derby, Mountaineer Racetrack's biggest race, will take place over the weekend and will mark the return of Overanalyze for trainer Todd Pletcher. He'll be challenged by Departing, the Illinois Derby winner who returns from a sixth-place finish in the Preakness.
- With the soft tissue injury suffered in the Haskell by Oxbow, it's looking more and more like the Triple Crown race winners will not meet for the first time since 1982 in the mid-summer Derby, the Travers Stakes. If Verrazano should run it will still be one of the marquis races of the summer having the Derby (Orb), Belmont (Palace Malice) and Haskell (Verrazano) winners in the race. Stay tuned.
- It will be the first appearance in the Travers for the Derby winner since Street Sense won the race in 2007 edging out a game Grasshopper.
- There's still a very good chance you could see last year's American Horse of the Year Wise Dan, who could run in the Woodbine Mile as he did last year on September 15 at Woodbine.
- Amberjack, winner of the New York Derby at Finger Lakes two weeks ago will attempt to close out the Big Apple Triple on August 21 at Saratoga after winning the second leg in Canandaigua to add to his Mike Lee victory at Belmont. Should he win the Albany Stakes at the Spa he'll add a $250,000 bonus to his connection's coffers. The last time it was achieved was in 2008 when the late Tin Cup Chalice swept the three races.