Saratoga Specialist Flower Alley Heads Whitney

Saratoga Specialist Flower Alley Heads Whitney
Photo: Skip Dickstein
Flower Alley, winning the Travers, returns to Saratoga for the Whitney.
(From Saratoga dispatches)
It's hard to imagine this year's Whitney Handicap (gr. I) could top the 2005 running when the speedy Commentator held off a surging future Horse of the Year in Saint Liam. But when you look at the lineup for Saturday's renewel at 1 1/8 miles, this year's edition appears to be the race of the year so far.

The Whitney goes deeper than just a highly anticipated match between last year's Travers Stakes (gr. I) hero Flower Alley and Invasor, the winner of last year's Triple Crown in Uruguay who has been brilliant in a pair of grade I wins in America this season. Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito will run Sun King and Wanderin Boy in the Whitney and other contestants Siphon City, Survivalist, West Virginia, and Premium Tap come off handy victories.

On paper, it appears that Flower Alley and Invasor will not be far apart throughout the Whitney. Both horses are stalkers who figure to sit behind Wanderin Boy and Siphon City. They could be side-by-side all the way around the track as co-highweights toting 120 pounds.

Eugene Melnyk's Flower Alley will try to run his Saratoga record to a perfect 3-for-3 following wins last year in the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) and Travers. After faltering in the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) last fall at Belmont Park, the son of Distorted Humor rebounded with a strong second to Saint Liam in the Breeders' Cup Classic- Powered by Dodge (gr. I). He made his 4-year-old debut a winning one June 24 when he drew clear by 3 ΒΌ lengths to take the Salvator Mile (gr. III) at Monmouth.

"I think he'll run very well in the Whitney, and he should have room to improve off it being only his second start of the year," trainer Todd Pletcher said. "I thought he ran well in the Salvator Mile, and he's trained well since then."

Pletcher said he does not expect to see the best of Flower Alley in the Whitney. That race, he said, is likely to come farther down the road. After the Whitney, Pletcher has the Woodward (gr. I), which will be run at Saratoga this year Sept. 2, then the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont and the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs penciled in for Flower Alley.

"I would expect him to peak in the Woodward or after that," Pletcher said.

Flower Alley will try to become the fifth horse to win the Travers and then the Whitney in consecutive years, the last being Medaglia d'Oro in 2002 and 2003. Five horses have won the Travers and Whitney in the same year.

"He loves this track," Pletcher said. "That certainly doesn't hurt our feeling."

Pletcher has a lot of respect for Invasor, but even more for his colt as one would expect.

"I think Flower Alley is the horse to beat," Pletcher said. "Invasor is the horse for Flower Alley to beat."

John Velazquez, whose only Whitney victory came in 2002 with Left Bank for Pletcher, is the regular rider of Flower Alley.

West Virginia, who won Aqueduct's Excelsior Breeders' Cup (gr. III) will also represent the Pletcher barn.

Shadwell Stable's Invasor comes into the Whitney with a remarkable 7-for-8 record. After running the table in his first five starts in Uruguay, the Argentina-bred tasted defeat for the first time when he carried 130 pounds in the UAE Derby (UAE-II) earlier this year, spotting winner Discreet Cat nine pounds. Both his races in America for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin are grade I scores, first in the Pimlico Special and more recently in Belmont Park's Suburban Handicap.

"He's been unbelievable and he continues to do well," said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, whose spring also featured his first classic win, the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) with Jazil. "Obviously, Flower Alley will be the toughest horse that he's faced."

The only thing McLaughlin feared in the Whitney was an outside post position. He even considered sending Invasor to Del Mar for the Aug. 20 Pacific Classic (gr. I) where there is a long run into the first turn of that 10-furlong race, meaning a better chance to save ground.
McLaughlin first saw Invasor in the flesh late in December and he has been impressed ever since.

"The day he got to Florida he was a gentleman and never did anything wrong," McLaughlin said. "A lot of times you get a horse from South America, and they can be difficult to train. He's never had a bad step anywhere, and he's always been a class animal."

After the Whitney, Invasor will run in either the Woodward or Jockey Club Gold Cup. Since he was bred in Argentina, the son of Candy Stripes would have to be supplemented to the Breeders' Cup Classic, but that would not be a problem for Shadwell.

Young Fernando Jara, who teamed up with McLaughlin to win the Belmont Stakes, will be looking for his second grade I of the Saratoga meet after guiding Angara to victory in the Diana.

Zito managed to upset Saint Liam in last year's Whitney with Tracy Farmer's Commentator and will try to post another Whitney win with Farmer's Sun King and Arthur Hancock III's Wanderin Boy.

Wanderin Boy held a three-length lead in the stretch of the Pimlico Special before being passed late by Invasor. Wanderin Boy has since returned to post an easy high-class allowance win in the mud at Belmont. He figures to be the speed of the race along with Siphon City.

"I think the speed is Wanderin Boy," Zito said. "I don't think there's anyone faster than him in there."

Sun King came within a head of defeating last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) winner Silver Train in the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) at a mile, but was unable to run back to that effort when he was sent off the 1-5 favorite in an overnight stakes at Belmont and finished second. The pace scenario and short field in the Albert the Great did not really play to Sun King's favor.

"Sun King is a very, very cool horse," Zito said "I wouldn't be surprised if he came with a giant race."

Sun King and Wanderin Boy will get three and four pounds, respectively, from Flower Alley and Invasor.

Premium Tap is the colt who beat Sun King in the Albert the Great, and he enters the Whitney in the best form of his life.

Survivalist, the 2005 Gotham (gr. III) winner, is also at the top of his game having won his last three starts, including a stakes at Delaware.

Another horse in razor-sharp form is Siphon City, who dominated to win the Cornhusker Breeders' Cup Handicap at Prairie Meadows in his last start. The race for the lead into the first turn figures to match him against Wanderin Boy.

Whitney Handicap (gr. I)

Post Horse Trainer Jockey Weight
1 We Can Seek Mark Hennig Julien Leparoux 112
2 Invasor Kiaran McLaughlin Fernando Jara 120
3 Siphon City Daniel Hurtak Elvis Trujillo 116
4 Premium Tap John Kimmel Kent Desormeaux 114
5 Flower Alley Todd Pletcher John Velazquez 120
6 West Virginia Todd Pletcher Garrett Gomez 114
7 Survivalist Shug McGaughey Edgar Prado 115
8 Wanderin Boy Nick Zito Javier Castellano 116
9 Sun King Nick Zito Rafael Bejarano 117

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