SARATOGA SPRINGS — With only five horses in the field for Saturday’s Grade I, $1 million Whitney at Saratoga Race Course, trainer Brad Cox didn’t expect whatever post position was drawn would have much effect at all on his strategy for Knicks Go.
That plan? It’s go, go, go.
“That’s his weapon, is his speed,” Cox said after Knicks Go drew the No. 4 post for Saturday’s race. “We’re going to try to utilize it.”
Knicks Go, who roared back into form July 2 with a dominating win in the Grade III Cornhusker at Prairie Meadows following back-to-back off efforts in the Saudi Cup and the Met Mile, was set as the 6-5 favorite for Saturday’s 94th running of the Whitney when post positions were drawn Wednesday morning at Saratoga’s new Marylou Whitney Pavilion.
It’s a short field, but a star-studded one, with Knicks Go joined by three other Grade I winners — 8-5 second choice Maxfield, Silver State and star filly Swiss Skydiver — with 2020 Whitney runner-up By My Standards rounding out the starting gate for the 1 1/8-mile race.
“It’s a five-horse field with four Grade I winners and another that’s knocked on the door several times,” Cox said. “It’s a very good group of horses.”
The winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, Knicks Go will be ridden by regular jockey Joel Rosario in the Whitney.
After reeling off four straight victories in 2020 following his move to Cox’s stable, Knicks Go finished fourth in both the Saudi Cup and Belmont’s Met Mile, where the 5-year-old son of Paynter was bested by both Silver State and By My Standards.
That race was around one turn, and after getting back on track around two turns in last month’s Cornhusker, Cox enters the Whitney brimming with confidence about Knicks Go’s current form.
“There’s always a little bit of a concern with a bounce, but he’s gotten five weeks,” he said. “He’s trained well, he’s shipped up [from Ellis Park], he looks phenomenal. I’m optimistic that he’s going to run his race, and he’ll need to.”
Breaking just inside Knicks Go will be Swiss Skydiver, who is looking to become the first filly to win the Whitney since Hall of Famer Personal Ensign in 1988.
Trained by Kenny McPeek, the 4-year-old Swiss Skydiver has run against male opposition twice before — including her victory in the 2020 Preakness — and will be back in action less than a week after McPeek’s barn came out of a 21-day quarantine put in place July 11 when a horse trained by Jorge Abreu Jr. and housed in one of the stalls there tested positive for Equine Herpesvirus-1.
Swiss Skydiver, listed as the fourth choice on the morning line at 6-1, will break from the No. 3 post while being ridden for the first time by Irad Ortiz Jr.
“The way the ball has bounced the last month and everything, we really wanted to get her back into the game,” McPeek said. “Unfortunately, the quarantine issue slowed us down a little bit, but she’s doing super. We’ve taken on the colts before, but certainly not older colts this established and as talented as this group is.”
Inside of Swiss Skydiver is Silver State, who enters the Whitney on a five-race win streak, most recently beating By My Standards by a length in the Met Mile on June 5 at Belmont Park.
Ricardo Santana Jr. will ride the 4-year-old colt, the third choice on the morning line at 4-1, for trainer Steve Asmussen.
“The two draw is ideal for him,” Asmussen said. “Nothing but respect for the rest of them. There’s not a throw out in the race. Whoever wins it is going to have to have things go their way to show their best. I think how the racetrack is playing, and the weather, is always a factor at Saratoga.
“I would like the horse to be away from there cleanly — clean enough to make them adjust to him — and go from there.”
Second choice Maxfield will break from the outside post under Jose Ortiz, who piloted the 4-year-old to back-to-back Grade II wins in the Alysheba and Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs.
Trainer Brendan Walsh saw no problems with being on the outside in the short field.
“That’s a good draw for us,” Walsh told the New York Racing Association. “We’ll be happy with that. He’s generally been toward the outside anyway in his races, so it’s fine.”
By My Standards, the only horse in the race without a Grade I victory, was the runner-up in the Met Mile and finished second to Improbable in the 2020 Whitney. The 5-year-old will start from the No. 1 post under jockey Gabriel Saez for trainer Bret Calhoun, and was listed as the longest shot in the field at 10-1.
Asmussen will have to wait at least one more day to try and equal Dale Baird’s record for wins by a North American thoroughbred trainer. Coming into the day with a chance to tie the record of 9,445, neither of Asmussen’s starters won Wednesday, keeping him two short of Baird.
Asmussen doesn’t have any horses entered Thursday, but will saddle two horses Friday — one at Saratoga, one at Ellis Park.
Mechanicville native Chad Brown also continued his approach toward a career milestone. Entering Wednesday four wins shy of 2,000 for his career, both of Brown’s entries — Cousin Andrew in the second race and L’Imperator in the ninth — won on the card, giving the trainer 1,998 wins.
Brown will have to wait until at least Friday to reach 2,000, as he has only one entry Thursday.
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