Whitmore returns to the Spa in today’s Alfred G. Vanderbilt
by Brian Bohl
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Six-time graded stakes-winner Whitmore will return to historic Saratoga Race Course for the first time since winning the 2018 Grade 1 Forego when the veteran son of Pleasantly Perfect looks to notch his third consecutive victory in the Grade 1, $250,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt today.
Owned by Robert LaPenta, Southern Springs Stables and Head of Plains Partners, Whitmore has been a model of consistency in a career that started with a debut win in the fall of 2015. The 7-year-old is 14-10-3 with earnings of more than $3.14 million in 34 starts for trainer Ron Moquett. He came to prominence on the 2016 Kentucky Derby trail, where he ran second in both the Grade 3 Southwest and the Grade 2 Rebel while finishing third in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby before a 19th-place performance in that year’s Run for the Roses.
As he’s gotten older, Whitmore has earned repeated trips to the winners’ circle and has come close on other occasions, such as his runner-up effort to Roy H in the 2018 Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint, and third behind champion male sprinter Mitole and Shancelot in last year’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita.
Whitmore enters the Vanderbilt off back-to-back wins in the Hot Springs [which he captured for the fourth consecutive time] and a three-quarter length score last out in the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint in April at Oaklawn Park. Moquett said the layoff’s benefit could be more pronounced near the end of the campaign with what he hopes is another Breeders’ Cup appearance, scheduled for November in Keeneland.
“I don’t think it’s as beneficial for this race as the rest of the year,” he said. “It’ll show up that we gave him a breather around October or November. He’s doing good, now. He looks happy.”
Competing at the Vanderbilt’s six-furlong distance, Whitmore is 12-6-2 in 21 career starts, with his only off-the-board finish coming when eighth in the 2017 Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Del Mar. He will carry the co-highweight of 123 pounds.
“Options are limited for a sprinter in North America this year due to the COVID-19 and all the changes, so we’re adjusting. We always wanted to compete in this race with him,” Moquett said.
Whitmore’s 2018 Forego win featured him besting City of Light, who would come back to win the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and the Grade 1 Pegasus the following January.
“It was a great race and one my favorite races of all time,” Moquett said. “I’d really would like to win the Vanderbilt now. There’s a ton of quality horses running in it, so it’s going to be a tough, but fun, race.”
Joel Rosario, aboard during Whitmore’s runner-up finish in the Grade 2 Phoenix in October at Keeneland, as well as his seventh-place effort in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile in December at Aqueduct Racetrack, will return to ride from post 2.
“I try to stick with familiarity with him as much as I can, and Joel is a quality rider,” Moquett said.
Mr. Amore Stable’s Firenze Fire has four wins in his last five starts dating to November. Off a nearly four-month layoff, and with Kelly Breen taking over the training duties, the 5-year-old son of Poseidon’s Warrior ran fourth in the Grade 1 Carter, a seven-furlong sprint on Belmont Park’s main track on June 6, before roaring back three weeks later to win the Grade 2 True North on June 27.
After registering his 10th career stakes win, Firenze Fire, who ran fifth in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint, will get another crack at the Vanderbilt after running fourth in last year’s edition won by Imperial Hint. He will carry 122 pounds.
Irad Ortiz, Jr. has won his last three starts aboard the veteran with $1.93 million in earnings, having piloted him to the True North score as well a four-length win in the Grade 3 in February at Laurel Park and the Fabulous Strike in November at Penn National. He will exit from post 3.
“We got Irad back, everything is doing well,” Breen said. “We just need things to keep going smooth. I believe the distance will suit him really well. He’s doing as well as he was into his last race.”
Volatile has shown the form that made him a big-priced purchase for the 2017 Keeneland September Yearling Sale, winning four of his first five career starts. Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen saw the Violence colt win two of his three starts as a sophomore. After a 7 ½-length win against allowance company started his 4-year-old year on April 24 at Oaklawn, the $850,000 purchase was moved up to stakes company for the first time, where he dominated the six-horse field for an eight-length win in the Aristides at the Vanderbilt distance on June 6 at Churchill Downs, garnering a 112 Beyer Speed Figure.
Owned by Phoenix Thoroughbred Partners and Three Chimneys Farm, Volatile will make both his Saratoga and graded stakes debut, carrying 121 pounds from post 4 with Ricardo Santana, Jr. retaining the mount for the fifth straight start.
Red Oak Stable and Madaket Stables’ Mind Control has the potential to post a Grade 1 win as both a juvenile, 3-year-old and now a 4-year-old if he can win the Vanderbilt for trainer Gregg Sacco.
Both of the Stay Thristy colt’s Grade 1 scores have come at Saratoga, starting with the seven-furlong Hopeful in 2018 and last year when he edged Hog Creek Hustle by a nose in the H. Allen Jerkens on Runhappy Travers Day. After starting 2020 with back-to-back Grade 3 wins at Aqueduct in the Toboggan and Tom Fool, respectively, Mind Control returned off a three-month layoff to run sixth in the Grade 1 Runhappy Carter.
Sacco will ship him up from his base a Monmouth Park to the friendly confines of Saratoga. Drawing the outermost post 5 carrying the co-highweight of 123 pounds, Mind Control will look to reach a special accomplishments for his connections, including the Brunetti family and Sol Kumin.
“He’s 2-for-2 there, so he does have an affinity for Saratoga and we’re excited to get him back there and hope he performs well,” Sacco said. “To go for Grade 1 wins at 2, 3 and 4 would be special for him and our team and the Brunettis and Sol Kumin. It’s very exciting to bring him back, but we expect a very tough race and we’re just hoping Mind Control gives us his top performance.”
Hall of Famer and three-time Vanderbilt-winning jockey John Velazquez will be in the irons.
Calumet Farm’s Lexitonian, winner of the 2019 Grade 3 Chick Lang at Pimlico, will be making his first Grade 1 appearance since running 10th in the 2019 Woody Stephens at Belmont.
Trained by Jack Sisterson, Lexitonian defeated optional claimers last out on May 29 at Churchill and will cut back from seven furlongs. The 4-year-old Speightstown colt will carry 116 pounds, drawing post 1 with Tyler Gaffalione aboard.
The 36th running of the Vanderbilt is slated as Race 10 on today’s 11-race card, which will also offer the Grade 2, $200,000 Ballston Spa for older fillies and mares on the turf in Race 3. First post is 1:10 p.m.