Dave Litfin - Litfin At Large

Dave Litfin - Litfin At Large

Litfin: Rain Could be 'X' Factor in Whitney

Dave Litfin handicaps many of the weekend's biggest stakes races.

There is terrific stakes action all over the map Aug. 5, which is Whitney Stakes (G1) Day at Saratoga Race Course and also West Virginia Derby (G3) Day at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack and Resort. Out "Where the Turf Meets the Surf," the co-features at Del Mar are the Sorrento Stakes (G2) and the Yellow Ribbon Handicap (G2T).

The 90th running of the Whitney, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1), is headed by Gun Runner  and is the focal point of a five-stakes card that also includes the Longines Test Stakes (G1) for 3-year-old fillies, as well as a trio of  races scheduled for turf—the Fasig-Tipton Waya (G3T) for older fillies and mares; the Fasig-Tipton De La Rose, also for the distaffers; and the Fasig-Tipton Lure for older males.

The weather at Del Mar should be delightful, as it almost always is. The outlook at Mountaineer is favorable as well, as storms Friday were expected to clear out and yield partly sunny skies and a high of 75 degrees. In Saratoga Springs, however, handicappers getting a head-start on things are dealing with this forecast:

Thunderstorms in the morning will give way to partly cloudy skies late. Gusty winds and small hail are possible. High 78F. Chance of rain 100%

Rain and hail are a bad daily double for turf courses, so it would appear the 1 1/2-mile Waya, one-mile De La Rose, and 1 1/16-mile Lure are in jeopardy of being switched to the main track, which would involve distance changes for all three. Best to wait on final decisions until race-day conditions are known.

Test (Saratoga, race 8, 5:10 ET): Californians have been on a major roll plundering New York stakes this year, and they loom large again here, as the first leg of a Pick 4 with a $1 million guaranteed pool goes through the trio of Chalon (#3), Faypien (#8), and American Gal (#10).

Considering she holds the distinction of being the only filly to beat subsequent three-time graded stakes winner Unique Bella, Chalon was somewhat overlooked when she shipped to Belmont Park for a romping victory in the Jersey Girl Stakes at better than 3-1. The pace was moderate to slow that day, but two races back, she dueled through lively fractions before pulling away against allowance foes on a sealed "wet-fast" surface. This is a very logical progression for her, especially since there are no previous grade 1 winners in the field.

Faypien ran third in her debut against Paradise Woods—who then won the Santa Anita Oaks (G1) by nearly a dozen lengths—and has since won three straight for Bob Baffert, capped by a gritty score in the Summertime Oaks (G2).

American Gal has been favored in all five of her starts, the first four of which were for Baffert as a 2-year-old, including a tough-trip third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) and a second to Abel Tasman in the Starlet Stakes (G1). She returned from a seven-month layoff for new trainer Simon Callaghan and overcame a stumbling start to win the Victory Ride Stakes (G3) decisively at Belmont. The outside draw is usually a plus out of the chute at Saratoga.

A - 10
B - 3, 8

Whitney (Saratoga, race 9, 5:46 ET): Gun Runner is listed at 4-5 to pick up his third grade 1 tally, and while the Candy Ride  colt is a thoroughly legitimate favorite, he potentially has two things to overcome—a wet track and competition for the early lead.

Gun Runner (#6) has been out of the money in both prior starts on sealed surfaces, a fourth in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (G2) during his 2-year-old season and a fifth in the Betfair.com Haskell Invitational Stakes (G1) last year. Moreover, his grade 1 wins in the Clark Handicap and Stephen Foster Handicap were accomplished unmolested on the lead throughout, and this matchup not only contains the speedy Tu Brutus (#4), but also Cautious Giant (#3), who is a rabbit for his stablemate War Story (#1), just as he was in the Charles Town Classic (G2) earlier this year.

On the other hand, besides a win by Tu Brutus in Chile, and one by War Story last winter in the Queens County, Gun Runner's four other opponents are a combined 0-for-22 at the Whitney's 1 1/8 miles, and that happens to be Gun Runner's best distance.

Keen Ice  (#5) has only been on a wet track once, when far behind Gun Runner in the Dubai World Cup Sponsored by Emirates Airline (G1) on a harrowed, muddy surface, but he also did not run on Lasix in that race, so the jury is still out as to how he might fare in the muck and mire. What isn't in question is that Keen Ice is dangerous when he gets some pace in front of him in a big race at Saratoga, evidenced by his shocking upset over American Pharoah  in the 2015 Travers Stakes (G1), which unfolded through a searing middle half-mile in less than 47 seconds.

Tu Brutus was a tired third in the Brooklyn Invitational Stakes (G2) as the 1-2 favorite, but reportedly emerged from the race with a gutteral pouch infection, or the equivalent of strep throat. I'm a sucker for stories like that.

A - 6
B - 5
C - 4

Sorrento (Del Mar, race 6, 4:30 PT): Seven juveniles fillies stretch out to 6 1/2 furlongs, and the three principal players look like Surrender Now (#1), Spectactor (#2), and Diamondsandpearls(#6).

At $220,000 Surrender Now fetched 22 times the stud fee of her sire Morning Line  at the Barretts March sale. She has earned back almost half of that already. She won her debut and then the Landaluce Stakes at Santa Anita Park July 2.

At $1.7 million, or 85 times the stud fee of sire Congrats , Diamondsandpearls was the sale topper at the Ocala Breeders' Sales March sale after she worked an eighth of a mile in :9.80 seconds at the under tack session. She made an auspicious debut earlier on the July 2 program at The Great Race Place, where she drew away by more than six lengths to "repay the first installment on her hefty purchase price," to paraphrase track announcer Michael Wrona.

As a homebred daughter of Jimmy Creed , Spectactor has had a more humble upbringing, but she was impressive first time out as well. She won by more than five lengths after a wide rally. Notably, the 5-6-7-8 finishers behind her all came back to win their next starts.

A - 1, 6
B - 2

Yellow Ribbon Handicap (Del Mar, race 8, 5:33 PT): Avenge (#8) is the one to catch and beat, but the 64th running of this race has something of a South American flair, because of the presence of the Brazilian-bred Juno (#4), and the Argentine-bred Pretty Girl (#6).

Juno and Pretty Girl can be rated off their races in the United States. Among the others, Cambodia (#7) gets points as a three-time winner at the Yellow Ribbon's 1 1/16 miles, a distance none of the others have won at.

Hillhouse High (#5) makes her first start since being compromised behind a slow pace in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile Stakes Presented by Longines (G2T) three months ago. 

A - 8
B - 5, 7

West Virginia Derby (Mountaineer, race 8, 5:21 ET): Perhaps the best betting race of the weekend, this wide-open renewal at 1 1/8 miles attracted a field of 11 3-year-olds that last raced at seven different tracks, headed by Lookin At Lee (#8), the runner-up in the Kentucky Derby Presented By Yum! Brands (G1), and Patch (#3), the third-place finisher in the Belmont Stakes Presented By NYRA Bets (G1).

Neither of those two figure to be involved in the early pace, which figures to be honest enough given the presence of Impressive Edge (#5) and McCormick (#11), who dueled for the lead to the stretch in the recent Iowa Derby (G3).

Of interest, likely at square prices, are Game Over (#1), who gets a trainer change to Jorge Navarro after a middle move fizzled out in the Ohio Derby (G3); and B Squared (#4), second to Battle of Midway  in the Affirmed Stakes (G3) and third in the Los Alamitos Derby (G3) in his first two dirt routes.

A - 3, 8
B - 1, 4