The Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Stakes gives you the venerable Whitmore, the ubiquitous Firenze Fire, and the dynamic Mischevious Alex. Enough sprinting talent to throw in a trifecta box at, say, the Breeders’ Cup Sprint this fall at Del Mar.
Except that, a few hours after Saratoga turns that trio and six others loose in the six-furlong Vanderbilt, Del Mar sends standout West Coast sprinters CZ Rocket and Collusion Illusion out in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby.
Call this weekend of Grade 1 sprints on both coasts Sprinterspalooza. But the Vanderbilt is the race with the reigning Eclipse Award-winning sprinter: 4/1 third-favorite Whitmore.
You know him as the 8-year-old gelding who captured last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint at 18/1. Whitmore is 0-for-3 this year, with two seconds and a third. That third came last out in the Grade 1 Churchill Downs on the Kentucky Derby undercard. There, Whitmore finished a head behind Flagstaff and fellow Vanderbilt competitor Lexitonian (20/1).
Whitmore is always a factor at this distance
“His record says he’s 0-for-3 this year, but he’s 3-for-3 in effort,” trainer Ron Moquett told the New York Racing Association. “All we can ask is for him to try. Are there some thngs 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.”
Whitmore won 13 of his 15 career victories at six furlongs. He won the Grade 1 Forego at the Spa and finished second in this race last year. So even as temperamental as he is, Whitmore and his late-finishing style is always a factor, and always a necessary presence on your tickets.
So is 2/1 favorite Mischevious Alex. He comes into the Vanderbilt off a third in the Met Mile on the Belmont Stakes undercard. Don’t sweat that for two reasons: winner Silver State and runner-up By My Standards are better milers, and Mischevious Alex closed hard to finish only 1 ¼ lengths back.
Mischevious Alex caused trouble for foes
There’s another reason not to sweat that. Three, actually — the three victories Mischevious Alex brought into that Met Mile. Those three wins, a Gulfstream Park allowance, the Grade 3 Gulfstream Park Sprint Stakes (both six furlongs), and the Grade 1 Carter Handicap (seven furlongs) all came at more comfortable distances.
As the 4/5 favorite, Mischevious Alex was certainly comfortable in the Carter, romping to a 5 ½-length victory that produced a 109 Beyer Speed Figure. Xpressbet columnist and Del Mar morning-line author Jon White said that’s tied with Essential Quality in the Belmont for the second-fastest Beyer by a Thoroughbred in 2021. It trails only Knicks Go’s 113 for his 10 ¼-length dismantling of the Cornhusker Handicap field on July 2.
“He is training for this as well as he did for the Carter,” trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. said. “I thought he had a real good work a couple weeks back. He’s going over with a really good chance. I think six to seven (furlongs) is his best distance. This race is six and the next one will be seven. I think that’s most suitable.”
Firenze Fire hasn’t burned up the Vanderbilt
Making Saratoga suitable again is 3/1 second-favorite Firenze Fire’s challenge. He’s 0-for-6 at the Spa since winning the 2017 Sanford Stakes. This includes a pair of fourth-place finishes in the Vanderbilt in the past two years.
Like Whitmore, Firenze Fire has been around this side of forever. The 6-year-old son of Poseidon’s Warrior is 14-5-3 in 34 career starts. He brings fine form back to Saratoga, winning two of his three 2021 starts: the Grade 2 True North and the Grade 3 Runhappy. Those, along with his runner-up in the Nerud Stakes to Mind Control, came at Belmont Park.
In his last six starts, dating to his victory in last September’s Grade 2 Vosburgh, Firenze Fire is 3-2-1.
“He’s on his game and doing well,” owner Ron Lombardi said. “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.”
Grade 1 Vanderbilt/Saratoga
Morning Line (Jockey/Trainer)
- Lexitonian, 20/1 (Jose Lezcano/Jack Sisterson)
- Mischevious Alex, 2/1 (Irad Ortiz Jr./Saffie Joseph Jr.)
- Firenze Fire, 3/1 (Jose Ortiz/Kelly Breen)
- Strike Power, 15/1 (Tyler Gaffalione/Steve Asmussen)
- Three Technique, 15/1 (Manny Franco/Jeremiah Englehart)
- Whitmore, 4/1 (Ricardo Santana Jr./Ron Moquett)
- Miles Ahead, 12/1 (Luis Saez/Rusty Arnold)
- Montauk Traffic, 15/1 (Eric Cancel/Linda Rice)
- Special Reserve, 9/2 (Joel Rosario/Mike Maker)
Keep an eye on two others horses as well — the aforementioned Lexitonian and Special Reserve (9/2). Trained by upset-maestro Jack Sisterson, Lexitonian scratched out of last year’s Vanderbilt after going berserk in the gate. He came back a week later and 3,000 miles west to finish second to Collusion Illusion in the Bing Crosby.
Special Reserve is one of those under-the-radar horses who could win and not raise too many eyebrows. The 5-year-old gelding captured four of his last five races, including the Iowa Sprint earlier this month, and the Maryland Sprint on the Preakness undercard. He earned a 113 Equibase Speed Figure in the Iowa and a 114 in the Maryland. Joel Rosario taking the reins is another sign a breakout is possible.
The pick: Mischevious Alex. You’re putting this seriously talented sprinter back in his six-furlong wheelhouse with Irad Ortiz Jr. at the controls. Even at 2/1, this carries value. But keep an eye on Special Reserve and the ever-present Whitmore. Their late speed will make this one of the better sprint events you’ll see this side of the Breeders’ Cup.