SARATOGA SPRINGS — The sound effects department was on its game for the Whitney post-position draw on Tuesday evening.
Godolphin USA president Jimmy Bell was wrapping up his interview with New York Racing Association analyst Andy Serling when a rumble came from the darkening sky.
“Thank you for the thunder,” Bell said, taking it as an endorsement from above for Godolphin’s horse, Thunder Snow.
Then the sky opened up and dropped torrents of rain on the patio at Sperry’s restaurant, perhaps another symbol, of how difficult Saturday’s 92nd Whitney at Saratoga Race Course will be to win.
The field of eight is led by multiple Grade I winner McKinzie, the 7-5 morning-line favorite off a second to Mitole in the Met Mile, and two-time Dubai World Cup winner Thunder Snow and Suburban winner Preservationist are co-second choices, at 3-1.
They’ll be chasing one of the most important dirt route races for older horses in the country on Saturday. Post time is 5:49 p.m., and the race will be shown on an NBC broadcast from 5 to 6.
“It’s tremendous,” said trainer Todd Pletcher, who will saddle Vino Rosso. “Outside of maybe the Breeders’ Cup Classic, it’s probably the most prestigious race for older horses in the country.”
“I’d echo what Todd just said,” Bell said. “The Whitney has positioned itself as probably the most prestigious race for older horses, and congratulations to NYRA for putting together what to me is the strongest field we’ve seen for older horses, and rightfully so. It’s earned its prestige, and any horse trying to go stud would like to have the Whitney on its resume.”
Two 30-1 long shots, Imperative and Forewarned, will break from the rail and post No. 2, respectively.
The rest of the field, in post-position order, will be Monongahela, Thunder Snow, Vino Rosso, McKinzie,Yoshida and Preservationist.
The Bob Baffert-trained McKinzie arrived from California on Tuesday afternoon, accompanied by assistant trainer Jimmy Barnes.
After a walk to stretch his legs and a bath, McKinzie settled in to his stall on the Saratoga backstretch. Barnes said the 4-year-old colt will be on the track early Wednesday morning for a light jog.
“McKinzie shipped in very well,” Barnes said. “He seems to travel well, so that’s not really an issue with us. He seems fresh and happy right now, and he looks beautiful. Couldn’t be happier with him.”
McKinzie, who missed the Triple Crown trail last year, but made it back in time to win the Pennsylvania Derby before finishing 12th in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, has finished second three times and has won once this season, in the Grade II Alysheba at Churchill Downs.
The 5-year-old Thunder Snow shows well over $16 million in career earnings, but has yet to win in the U.S. in four tries.
“He had a very strong seven-furlong workout the other morning, which I’m sure a lot of people saw,” Bell said. “He’s full of energy, he’s carrying great weight.”
The 6-year-old Preservationist is coming off a strong victory in the Grade II Suburban at Belmont Park in his only career stakes try.
Vino Rosso, who was fifth in the Travers last year, is coming off a win in the Grade I Gold Cup at Santa Anita, and Yoshida won the Grade I Woodward at Saratoga last year.