By David Grening
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – At the three-sixteenths pole of Saturday’s 86th Whitney Invitational Handicap, Cross Traffic had turned back Fort Larned and Mucho Macho Man – the 1-2 finishers from last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic – and opened up a two-length lead.
In the middle of the track, however, Successful Dan was continuing a bid that had begun entering the far turn.
Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Cross Traffic, began to have a flashback to the Metropolitan Handicap when a hard-charging Sahara Sky flew down the center of the Belmont Park main track to nip Cross Traffic at the wire by a nose.
“Yeah, it was in my mind. I didn’t want another beat like that,” Pletcher said.
Not this time.
After wandering a path or two out from where he was in deep stretch, Cross Traffic, under John Velazquez, held off Successful Dan for a three-quarter-length victory in the Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney Invitational before a crowd of 33,148 on the day Saratoga marked its 150th anniversary of existence.
“He certainly deserved a Grade 1 after the Met,” said Pletcher, who trains Cross Traffic for GoldMark Farm. “We had a couple of tough beats over the years, but that one kind of stands out as one of the toughest. Just really happy to see him finish it up.”
Successful Dan finished second by 1 1/2 lengths over Mucho Mach Man. Ron the Greek was fourth followed by Fort Larned – last year’s Whitney winner – Alpha, Csaba, and Fast Falcon.
The win – against a quality field that included winners of 21 graded stakes and more than $11 million in purse earnings – earned Cross Traffic an automatic berth into the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita as part of the “Win and You’re In” initiative that pays all entry fees and a $10,000 travel stipend.
The Whitney had plenty of intrigue from the time it was drawn. There was even more leaving the paddock as Successful Dan fell coming onto the track, unseating jockey Julien Leparoux.
Visually, Successful Dan did not appear to be comfortable warming up and at one point Leparoux brought the gelding over to the New York Racing Association’s examining veterinarian, Dr. Anthony Verderosa. Leparoux said he was not trying to get the horse scratched.
“I felt great about it, but I just wanted to get a second opinion,” Leparoux said. “Not at any point did I want to scratch him.”