Defending Champion Sprinter Whitmore has shown no signs of slowing down in his 8-year-old campaign. He will again look to put his ability on display, facing some of the top sprinters in the country in Saturday's 37th running of the Grade 1, $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga Race Course.
The prestigious six-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds and upward pays homage to the influential owner, breeder and racetrack operator who made a major impact on the North American thoroughbred industry in the 20th century.
Whitmore, co-owned by trainer Ron Moquett with Robert V. LaPenta and Head of Plains Partners, arrives at the Vanderbilt with $4,434,350 in the bank, and a record of 41-15-13-4, including seven graded stakes victories at four different racetracks. The gelded son of Pleasantly Perfect capped his award-winning 2020 campaign with a 3 ¼-length victory in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Sprint at Keeneland.
||Irad Ortiz, Jr.
|Saffie Joseph, Jr.
||Ricardo Santana, Jr.
|George Arnold, II
Whitmore has not found the winner's circle in 2021 but has come close in all three starts. After a game second by a neck to C Z Rocket in the Hot Springs on March 13 at Oaklawn Park, he returned to run second to his rival once more in the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint on April 10 at the Arkansas oval. Whitmore was last seen finishing a close third in the Grade 1 Churchill Downs on May 1, where he was seven-wide in upper stretch and crossed the finish line in tandem with Flagstaff and Lexitonian.
"His record says he's 0-for-3 this year, but he's 3-for-3 in effort," Moquett said. "All we can ask is for him to try. Are there some things that may have resulted in a better outcome? Probably. But at the same time, he brought his A game. You're going to win some and you're going to lose some. It's all about bringing the effort."
A winner of the 2018 Grade 1 Forego at Saratoga, Whitmore was second in last year's Vanderbilt to Volatile.
"He was going to be the favorite for the Vanderbilt during his 4-year-old year, but we had to scratch him because he pawed from the airplane in Albany to here. He would have been a short price," Moquett said. "We learned from that. He's training us on how to train him and we learned that we need to move him well in advance or, if he's going to be on a van, it's going to be ours. Someone that won't stop and just go straight through. He can't do a milk run."
Whitmore captured last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint at 18-1 odds, after running a respective eighth , second  and third  in the previous three runnings.
Despite arriving at last year's Breeders' Cup as a longshot, Moquett said he felt a strong sense of confidence in Whitmore, who was fourth in the Grade 3 Phoenix at Keeneland, a race he won in 2017, in his previous effort.
"When I ran against [2019 Breeders' Cup Sprint winner] Mitole the previous year, I thought we were going to need someone to hook him or get him out of position, but I didn't feel like that against any of the ones we were up against last year," Moquett said. "I figured we could run our best race and they could run theirs, but we could still be in front. I threw the Phoenix out. It was a speed and rail-favoring surface. We got a little far back, but he finished up well and needed the race. There were some good horses in there, but there was no [2018 Breeders' Cup Sprint winner] Roy H or Mitole. I just knew that we were sitting in a good post and had enough ability."
Fresh off a Grade 1 triumph aboard Maracuja in last Saturday's CCA Oaks, jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr. seeks an eighth triumph aboard Whitmore, whom he will ride for the 18th time from post 6.
Mr. Amore Stable's Firenze Fire also is an accomplished veteran with nine graded stakes triumphs over four different tracks, including victories in the Grade 3 Runhappy and Grade 2 True North at Belmont Park to commence his 6-year-old season. He has finished fourth in the last two editions of the Vanderbilt.
Trained by Kelly Breen, the son of Poseidon's Warrior boasts a record of 34-14-5-3 with earnings of $2,534,350, including victories in the Grade 3 General George in March 2020 at Laurel Park and the Grade 3 Gallant Bob in September 2018 at Parx Racing. His lone graded win at the Spa came during his juvenile campaign when taking the Grade 3 Sanford in July 2017. Third to Whitmore in last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint, Firenze Fire notched his only Grade 1 triumph in the 2017 Champagne at Belmont Park.
Firenze Fire was a game second last out in the Grade 2 John A. Nerud on July 4 at Belmont Park, where he battled gamely down the stretch to the inside of Mind Control, finishing a head shy of victory.
"He's on his game and doing well," said owner Ron Lombardi. "After that last race he came back to the barn that night and felt like he didn't even run, He went for a jog the next morning. At this level they're all tough races, but he's doing great."
Lombardi said the results might have been reversed had it been Firenze Fire dueling to the outside in his most recent engagement.
"If he's on the outside he probably runs that race but it's all a part of the game. It was a duel with Mind Control last time, and we just missed," Lombardi said. "That was the first time we went gate to wire which is something I've always wanted to try. Jose [Ortiz] did that with him, and it worked out."
Ortiz will return aboard Firenze Fire from post 3.
Cash is King and LC Racing's Mischevious Alex proved a force to be reckoned with following decisive graded stakes victories earlier this year, and cuts back to six furlongs after running third in the Grade 1 Met Mile last out on June 5 at Belmont Park.
The Saffie Joseph, Jr.-trained 4-year-old son of Into Mischief displayed excellence in his first three starts this season, defeating optional claiming company on January 10 at Gulfstream Park en route to a victory in the Grade 3 Gulfstream Park Sprint on February 13. A winner of the Grade 3 Gotham in March 2020 at Aqueduct, he returned to the Big A with vigor in capturing the Grade 1 Carter in April by 5 ½ lengths under a hand ride by Irad Ortiz, Jr., garnering a 109 Beyer Speed Figure.
"He is training for this as well as he did for the Carter," Joseph, Jr. said. "I thought he had a real good work here a couple weeks back. He's going over with a really good chance. I think six to seven is his best distance. This race is six and the next one will be seven. I think that's most suitable."
Ortiz, Jr. will return to irons from post 2.
Calumet Farm's Lexitonian will seek to make amends following a lackluster sixth in the Grade 1 Met Mile for trainer Jack Sisterson.
The 5-year-old chestnut son of Speightstown, who won the 2004 Vanderbilt, was previously a game second finishing a nose in front of Whitmore in the Grade 1 Churchill Downs.
Lexitonian, who scratched at the gate in last year's Vanderbilt, finished second by a nose to Collusion Illusion one week later in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby at Del Mar. During his sophomore season, he won the Grade 3 Chick Lang at Pimlico at 17-1.
"He has so much heart. He's never a flashy work horse or in running," Sisterson said. "He may come off the bridle, but whoever is riding him knows he responds to pressure and that's just the way he likes to be ridden. Ideally, his best running style is being forwardly placed in a dog fight. He really shows his true colors when asked to be set down and that's how he'll be ridden. He'll be forwardly placed. We'll be aggressive out of the gate and put him in the race and see who wants to come and catch us."
Jockey Jose Lezcano rides from post 1.
Miles Ahead made the grade last out in the Grade 3 Smile Sprint on July 3 at Gulfstream Park and will try to sustain momentum when racing outside of Florida for the first time.
The dark bay or brown son of Competitive Edge, previously trained by Florida-based conditioner Eddie Plesa, Jr., makes his debut for the barn of Rusty Arnold and boasts a consistent 16-8-2-1 record.
Jockey Luis Saez will ride from post 7.
Trainer Mike Maker will saddle up-and-comer Special Reserve, who has displayed newfound abilities in his last two efforts. Never off the board in five starts this year, the son of Midshipman, owned by Paradise Farms Corp and David Staudacher, won the Grade 3 Maryland Sprint on May 15 at Pimlico ahead of a score in the Iowa Sprint on July 3 at Prairie Meadows, where he recorded a career-best 101 Beyer.
Breaking from post 9, Special Reserve will be ridden by jockey Joel Rosario.
Completing the field for the Vanderbilt are 2018 Grade 3 Swale-winner Strike Power [post 4, Tyler Gaffalione], Three Technique [post 5, Manny Franco] and Montauk Traffic [post 8, Eric Cancel].
Voted "The Man Who Did Most for Racing" four times, Vanderbilt operated the prominent Sagamore Farm in Maryland for multiple decades and campaigned Hall of Famers Discovery, Bed o' Roses and Native Dancer. As a racetrack operator, Vanderbilt owned Pimlico Race Course and arranged the famous match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral in 1938. He also was president of Belmont Park and served as chairman of the NYRA board from 1971-75.
The Vanderbilt is slated as Race 8 on Saturday's 11-race card, which offers a first post of 1:05 p.m. Eastern.
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Whitmore Preps for Grade 1 A.G. Vanderbilt
Reigning Champion Sprinter Whitmore registered his final serious breeze Friday in preparation for the Grade 1, $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap on July 31 at Saratoga Race Course.
The 8-year-old gelding, who won the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Sprint in November at Keeneland, went a half-mile in 48.78 seconds over a fast main track at the Spa, 12 days after travelling the same distance in a swift 47.21 seconds.
Trained by Ron Moquett, Whitmore has amassed more than $4.4 million in lifetime earnings through a record of 41-15-13-4, which includes seven graded stakes victories at four different racetracks. Prior to the Breeders' Cup Sprint, his only other Grade 1 victory took place in the 2018 Forego at Saratoga, where he defeated subsequent Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile and Pegasus World Cup winner City of Light.
Whitmore was second in last year's Vanderbilt, finishing 1 1/4 lengths to Volatile ahead of a distant seventh in the Forego over a sloppy track.
"He went very well this morning," Moquett said. "I told the rider I wanted 48 or 49 and he did it, and did it the right way so I'm very pleased. He's training well, doing well, and I like the way he's running. I couldn't be more pleased with how everything is right now. He likes the surface at Saratoga. It's a good track and it seems like he's settled right in."
Whitmore has finished in the money in all three starts this year, beginning with a close second by a neck to C Z Rocket in the Hot Springs at Oaklawn, a race he won from 2017-20. Following another second beaten two lengths in the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint at the Arkansas oval in April, Whitmore was third by a head in the Grade 1 Churchill Downs on May 1.
Whitmore has won at six different racetracks dating back to November 2015 at Churchill Downs, capturing his debut by 7 ¼ lengths en route to three graded stakes placings at Oaklawn Park while on the Kentucky Derby trail.
While Whitmore is still going strong, most of his previous competitors from 2016 have gone off to the breeding shed. He finished second to 2021 freshman sire Cupid in the Grade 2 Rebel at Oaklawn Park two starts prior to finishing 19th in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby, which was won by Nyquist - last year's leading first crop stallion.
"The funny thing is, I have a colt by Cupid, and Whitmore ran against Cupid in the Rebel as a 3-year-old," Moquett said. "We're so grateful that he's with us and we're always amazed at the outpouring of affection and support for the horse. It's great to see how many people like and cheer for him."
Moquett said Whitmore thrives at Oaklawn, where has posted nine wins, but has the ability to take his game on the road.
"He likes Oaklawn because that's where we're at when he comes back off his break. He always does well then," Moquett said. "I know he likes Keeneland and Churchill and Saratoga. I don't know which one he likes the best, but he likes a fast track."
Moquett said a repeat win in the Breeders' Cup Sprint is the main objective with the possibility of using the Grade 2, $250,000 Phoenix on October 8 at Keeneland as a springboard. Whitmore captured the 2017 Phoenix by a nose over Awesome Banner.
Jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr. has piloted Whitmore 17 times, including his last three starts, and will have the call for the Vanderbilt. He piloted last year's winner Volatile.
Grade 1, $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt
Probable: Firenze Fire (Kelly Breen), Lexitonian (Jack Sisterson), Miles Ahead (Rusty Arnold), Mischevious Alex (Saffie Joseph, Jr.), Strike Power (Steve Asmussen), Three Technique (Jeremiah Englehart), Whitmore (Ron Moquett)
Possible: Chance It (Saffie Joseph, Jr.)
Three Technique on target for G1 Vanderbilt
August Dawn Farm's Three Technique returned to graded stakes company last out with a strong third-place showing in the Grade 2 John A. Nerud going seven furlongs on Belmont Park's Independence Day card. After garnering a 95 Beyer Speed Figure for finishing 1 3/4 lengths back to winner Mind Control, trainer Jeremiah Englehart said Three Technique will target another high-caliber sprint in the six-furlong Grade 1, $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap on July 31 at Saratoga.
The 4-year-old son of Mr Speaker ran twice at Saratoga last year, running 10th in the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens and sixth in the Grade 3 Saranac. But after closing 2020 with a pair of mile contests against optional claimers at Belmont and Aqueduct Racetrack, respectively, Englehart said they decided to focus on sprinting for 2021, which resulted in Three Technique's first career graded stakes black type last out in a "Win and You're In" qualifier to the Breeders' Cup. The Vanderbilt will be drawn on Wednesday, July 28.
"We've made the commitment to see how he handles sprinting and concentrate on the races that fit that category for him," Englehart said. "He's always trained fairly well up here. Since he came in during the spring, he's been training forwardly and doing very well."
Lexitonian Eyes A.G Vanderbilt Handicap
Trainer Jack Sisterson will see a trio of Calumet Farm-owned stakes contenders look to make an impact at Saratoga in the next two weeks, with Tango Tango Tango, Channel Cat and Lexitonian each slated for respective graded stakes contests through August 7.
Lexitonian ran second in the seven-furlong Grade 1 Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day May 1, finishing a head back to Flagstaff, before encountering a troubled trip in a sixth-place Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap effort on Belmont Stakes Day the next month going one turn on Big Sandy. Lexitonian will cut back to six furlongs this Saturday in the Grade 1, $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap for 3-year-olds and up.
"He's 110 percent ready to go. It's all about which Lexitonian shows up," Sisterson said with a laugh. "He's run races that can compete with anyone and then he throws in a clunker now and then. I think a mile is his best distance, so we're cutting him back a little, but if he runs his best race, he'll be right there at the wire. He's shown us training-wise that he's going into next week's race in great shape."
Lexitonian's previous race at Saratoga was a fifth-place finish in last year's Grade 1 Forego at seven furlongs over a sloppy track. The 5-year-old son of Speightstown will have jockey Jose Lezcano back in the irons.