The handicap division has taken its lumps this year for not being especially deep, but its competitive nature has led to one of the more intriguing recent editions of the Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney Handicap, which drew a large field of 11.
The 1 1/8-mile Whitney, which shares top billing with the Grade 1 Test Aug. 6 at Saratoga, includes grade I winners Giant Oak, Morning Line, Rail Trip, and Tizway, but it was Flat Out who was made the lukewarm 4-1 morning-line favorite off of his dominating Grade 2 Suburban Handicap victory July 2. Mission Impazible and Apart, second and third, respectively, in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap, are also major contenders.
The Whitney, a "Win and You're In" event for the Breeders' Cup Classic, will go to post at 5:44 p.m. EDT.
Preston Stables' Flat Out won the Suburban Handicap by 6 1/2 widening lengths for his first graded stakes victory. Trained by Scooter Dickey, the Florida-bred son of Flatter has worked twice since that win at Monmouth Park and shipped to Saratoga Aug. 2. He will break from post 1 under Alex Solis.
"The post position doesn't make any difference to him," Dickey said. "I like my chances and the horse is doing well. He arrived there yesterday and went around the track this morning."
Flat Out finished sixth in the Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs in his previous start.
The fifth-place finisher of the Stephen Foster, Giant Oak, was made the 5-1 second choice on the morning line. The 5-year-old son of Giant's Causeway has not won since consecutive grade I triumphs in the Clark Handicap and Donn Handicap over the late fall and winter. An earner of more than $1.3 million from 27 lifetime starts, Giant Oak will try to come with his typical rallying style under Shaun Bridgmohan. He will carry top weight of 119 pounds.
Tizway, Mission Impazible, and Apart are all at 6-1 on the morning line.
William Clifton Jr.'s Tizway had his breakout race in the May 30 Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) last out, triumphing by 2 3/4 lengths at Belmont. He had been graded stakes places in his previous two starts and won the Grade 2 Kelso Handicap last October. The son of Tiznow broke his maiden at 1 1/8 miles in 2008 but has done his best running at one mile and will have to be at his best to defeat this group.
"It's a great, great field. This is about as good as it gets," said Tizway's trainer, H. James Bond. "He's training up to this race as good or better than he came up to the Met (Mile). We gave him a few easy weeks after that. He's been training at Oklahoma; he seems to thrive on it. He's got a great post. He's pretty ratable. He's sound now, and I'm able to train him every day. Rajiv (Maragh) and I both believe he'll get the distance."
Twin Creeks Racing Stables' Mission Impazible missed notching his first grade I win by a neck in the Stephen Foster, as he was caught by Pool Play near the wire. He won the New Orleans Handicap (gr. II) earlier this year and has hit the board in nine of 11 lifetime starts. Trainer Todd Pletcher has won the Whitney twice with Left Bank and Lawyer Ron, both in track record time. Pletcher finished second last year when his Quality Road was nailed by Blame at the wire.
Adele Dischneider's Apart was beaten only 1 1/2 lengths in the Stephen Foster, one start after he prevailed by a neck in the Grade 3 William Donald Schaeffer at Pimlico. He's hit the board in all five starts this season but has just the one win to show for it. As a 3-year-old, Apart was a two-time graded stakes winner.
"Apart has made a few mistakes," said Al Stall Jr., who saddled Blame to victory in 2010. "He's a little spotty in his running. He's there, he backs up, he comes on again. We feel if he ever just puts it together, which he is supposed to do with age and maturity if you look at his pedigree, he'll be right there in one of these big ones."
Morning Line won the seven-furlong Carter Handicap two starts back before finishing fifth in the July 2 Salvator Mile (Grade 3) at Monmouth. He won a 1 1/8-mile allowance at Saratoga by 11 lengths last year before going on to take the Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby at the same distance. Zito won the Whitney in 2005 and 2008 with Commentator.
"He has to be in the race early," Zito said. "Johnny (Velazquez) will put him into the race and get a good spot. Fitness-wise, he is very fit. I have no excuse fitness-wise. It's only a month ago he ran. He's had two great works since then. We'll see what happens. I thought he would be 4-1, 5-1, or 6-1. It just shows you how deep the field is and how strong it is, obviously, for a horse of his magnitude to be 10-1."
Rail Trip, winner of the Hollywood Gold Cup in 2009 when based in California, has made his last two starts in New York. Those efforts included a narrow miss to Whitney entrant Friend Or Foe in his most recent race, the June 5 Easy Goer Stakes.
"I'm hoping he'll move forward off (the Easy Goer)," said Samantha Siegel of Jay Em Ess Stable. "He had to make the pace all by himself and he got a little tired. Rick (Dutrow) is very pleased with him. If Rick is happy, I'm happy."
Completing the lineup is Rodman, the third-place finisher in the Suburban; Duke of Mischief, who was fourth in the Stephen Foster; and Headache, winner of the Cornhusker Handicap in June.