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Whitney International Handicap preview

After a glorious week at Goodwood and Galway, the spotlight heads abroad with one of the rare feature handicaps in the US - the Whitney. Held at the picturesque Saratoga racecourse in upstate New York, this race has drawn a quality field yet again. Jon da Silva, @creamontop chimes in with the preview.

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Whitney International Handicap Dirt 9 Furlongs - 2245 BST

This race has nothing to do with with Whitney Houston although the horses will be on drugs. Amazingly without a grinning Kate Doll Americans have not yet got around to taking long held race names and replacing them with celebrities and reality show types.

Last week the 3 year olds Palace Malice and especially Verrazano knocked on the Breeder's Cup Classic door. The latter seeing out nine furlongs on a dead track for a 129 TF rating and 116 Beyer (I am told this is like a 133 TF or one more than Novellist!). This week some of the best older horses bring it.

Racing Post ratings have these eight within five pounds with three joint top rated - I don't think it's as close. Confession time I have backed Fort Larned for the Breeder's Cup Classic repeat but that is a very different track and race scenario. Quoting Hills prices as they are the only ones on the Oddschecker page at present.

Successful Dan Closer 8/1
Successful he has been but a bit like having a Multi Millionaire Brother it all seems bravado when your half brother is Wise Dan. Closer who has beaten likely favourite and Breeder's Cup winner Fort Larned. However seems injury prone and after a quiet win on synthetics flopped behind Fort Larned in the Stephen Foster coincidentally (ironically if you work for Sky Sports) the race Wise Dan lost last year. Fort Larned also beat Successful Dan last year after losing to him. That was Successful Dan's last run of the year in June. Injured horse who might be suited if there is a pace meltdown so needs two things to go his way.

Mucho Macho Man Stalker 7/1
Another horse whose name seems a tad defensive. Often finds one better in a finish and no Grade 1 win - wildly unfair description of course. Was 1/2 length behind Fort Larned at every call in the Breeder's Cup including where they hand out the prizes. Gets 3 pounds here and a race likely to be true run so you get the message, chance. Another who needs to return to form after pulling up in Florida in January. Ordinary third in a mere allowance six weeks ago.

Fort Larned Pace 11/8
After failing to complete and being beaten ran near his best in an all the way Stephen Foster romp. Led at every call like the Breeder's Cup Classic win. Gives weight all round. Won this last year without leading the whole way. Would appear to have to run in the van this time as well. This is a short price with MMM weighted to beat him and the lead questionable and the pace duel possible. However he is very good. Most good runs off a recent run and has had seven weeks off - won the Foster off a break. They call Saratoga the Graveyard of Champions and I think we have enough if not to lay Fort Larned to look elsewhere.

Cross Traffic Real Pace 3/1
Lost his last two races by being dragged into too fast a pace. Only his fifth start so we probably should be making hard and fast judgements. Nonetheless an exciting horse in a year which is starting to get tingly. Grade 1 winner in waiting. Only gets five pounds here from the best. With the threat of a burn up and tackling nine furlongs for the first time I prefer to look elsewhere.

Ron The Greek Closer 8/1
The least out of form closer into what threatens to be a pace burn up. Beaten 10 lengths last time by a dominant Fort Larned. He was the one who beat Wise Dan last year closing from 10 behind. If you back him and they don't go mad up front you probably won't hear his name mentioned! However logic is there. Seven pound pull for under 1.25 lengths on last year's running with Fort Larned.

Alpha Stalker 14/1
Grade 1 winner merits respect...... Won the Jim Dandy and Travers last year but faced nothing of the quality of the top horses here. Timeform ratings give him a ton to find. Not really been running well after Dubai. Obviously not impossible and some angles could make him an Each Way.

Csaba Stalker 16/1
Has run some big figures at Calder but with competition up front and better horses they will likely look hollow. Has not tried 9 furlongs since winning 14 lengths in a race off the turf at Calder (i.e. race intended for turf run on dirt hence form not exactly top notch). The least forlorn of the three outsiders for me. Albeit beaten in an ordinary race last time. Won both recent times he stalked a fast pace on Brisnet figures but at nowhere near this class.

Fast Falcon Stalker 16/1
One win in 15 suggests Not So Fast Falcon. Third to Belmont King Flat Out last time but even eight pounds does not seem enough.

Conclusion
If Mucho Macho Man was in better form I would tip him to pick up the pieces after Cross Traffic and Fort Larned had swapped paint. Similarly if Successful Dan was in better form and getting younger (no they can't do that).

However 2nd to Fort Larned (and 7 pounds better off for the pounds schillings and pence brigade) in this last year and with a chance of a pace meltdown I feel 8/1 Ron The Greek to be worth a 1 pointer accepting after 4 furlongs with moderate pace you don't have to worry about your bet anymore it's lost. (For a 0.001 pointer I might put 5 cents on the Black Swan with Yellow spots Csaba exacta).

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