Whitney features seven Grade 1 winners

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August 5th, 2015

Metropolitan H. (G1) winner Honor Code has been installed as the slight 3-1 morning line favorite in a deep rendition of Saturday’s $1.25 million Whitney (G1) at Saratoga.

The 10-horse field also features Grade 1 winners Lea, Moreno, Noble Bird, Tonalist, V.E. Day and Wicked Strong.

Honor Code will need to overcome the innermost post position and prove himself at two turns in the 1 1/8-mile event. A four-year-old son of A.P. Indy, the dark bay colt sandwiched a fifth in the two-turn Alysheba (G2) between victories in the Gulfstream Park H. (G2) and Met Mile around a single bend this season. And Honor Code dropped his lone two-turn start last season, winning only at a sprint distance. Javier Castellano rides for Shug McGauhey.

Classic winner Tonalist is the 4-1 second choice from post 2. Runner-up in the Suburban (G2) and Met Mile in his last two outings, the four-year-old colt is certainly a top contender with his best but has failed to win a stakes race outside of Belmont Park, producing four graded tallies downstate. Last year, the Christophe Clement trainee finished second in the Jim Dandy (G2) and third in the Travers (G1) at Saratoga. John Velazquez has the assignment.

Lea, who drew post 7, returned from a lengthy layoff earlier this year with a victory in the Hal’s Hope (G3) but has dropped his last three outings. He’s performed respectably, recording seconds in the Stephen Foster (G1) and Donn H. (G1) and a third in the Dubai World Cup (UAE-G1), and trainer Bill Mott is expecting the six-year-old’s best on Saturday. Lea has won twice previously at Saratoga but both came on turf in 2012. Joel Rosario will be up on the early 9-2 third choice.

We’ve grown familiar with most of the contestants over the last few years, but Noble Bird is a relative newcomer to this level of competition. A maiden winner at Del Mar in his 2014 finale, the four-year-old won a pair of conditioned allowances at Oaklawn Park and Keeneland before finishing a neck second in his stakes bow, the May 1 Alysheba at Churchill Downs. He continued to move forward last time for Mark Casse, defeating Lea by a neck in the Stephen Foster, and the improving Birdstone colt will look to make a major statement here. Listed at 5-1, Noble Bird is dangerous from post 3 with Shaun Bridgmohan.

Liam’s Map, a June 19 allowance scorer at Belmont Park in his 2015 opener, will bring a four-race win streak into his graded debut for Todd Pletcher. The lightly-raced four-year-old captured the listed Harlan’s Holiday last December in his lone previous stakes foray and the Whitney represents a major class test for the gray colt. Mike Smith picks up the mount on the 6-1 fifth choice.

V.E. Day, last year’s Travers (G1) winner, will make his first start since a neck second in the Brooklyn H. (G2) on the Belmont Stakes undercard. His affinity for the track could be an advantage, but the chestnut has dropped four straight since last year’s Travers. He’s one of two runners for trainer Jimmy Jerkens, who also sends out Wicked Strong. The latter captured last year’s Jim Dandy and finished a nose second in the Travers, but he was last seen posting a runner-up in the grassy Forbidden Apple on July 11 and has lost six straight.

Pletcher will also send out Coach Inge, who edged V.E. Day in the Brooklyn and exits a third in the Suburban. Moreno exits a disappointing eighth in the June 27 Gold Cup at Santa Anita (G1), but the five-year-old gelding has run well at Saratoga previously, winning last year’s Whitney. He also finished second in last year’s Woodward (G1) and the 2013 Travers. Normandy Invasion rounds out the field and appears overmatched following a second in the July 18 Carl Hanford Memorial at Delaware Park.