September 29, 2023

Scully: 10 memorable Whitney winners

Gun Runner winning the 2017 Whitney with a horseshoe in his tail (Photo by NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photography)

One of the most recognizable races for older horses, Saturday’s Whitney S. (G1) at Saratoga will showcase a dynamite field featuring Grade 1 winners Knicks Go, Maxfield, Silver State, and Swiss Skydiver.

Here are 10 notable editions I can remember of the storied 1 1/8-mile event.

Gun Runner (2017)

Considered to be a shoe-in heading to the post, Gun Runner exited his impressive 5 1/4-length Whitney triumph with a horseshoe tangled in his tail. A longshot rival lost the shoe when sprinting to the fore after the break, briefly showing the way before being overhauled on the backstretch by Gun Runner, who went on to dominate with the extra shoe in tow. The 2017 Horse of the Year scored by 5 1/4 lengths, recording the second of five consecutive romping Grade 1 wins to conclude his career, and a shoe-toting tail made his Whitney more memorable.

Honor Code (2015)

After producing a pair of last-to-first graded wins earlier in the season, including a spectacular 3 3/4-length triumph in the Met Mile (G1), Honor Code delivered more late-running theatrics in the 2015 Whitney, nailing Liam’s Map by a neck. Liam’s Map raced admirably in defeat, opening a sizable lead in midstretch after establishing a hot and pressured pace, but he could not withstand Honor Code’s final push. After trailing in ninth, almost 20 lengths behind through the opening half-mile, Honor Code began to gobble up ground on the far turn and reached second by upper stretch. But the confirmed closer still had to rally dramatically to catch Liam’s Map, who followed with convincing tallies in the Woodward (G1) and Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1). Honor Code never won again, heading to stud after a well-beaten third in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) two starts later, and always needed the proper setup. But he was fun to watch when rolling from far off the pace.

Blame (2010)

Hierarchy in the older male division shifted following a thrilling finish in the 2010 Whitney. Blame brought a four-race win streak, taking the W.D. Schaefer (G3) and Stephen Foster H. (G1) to open the season, but he captured the latter when Battle Plan broke down in deep stretch and questions surrounded the competition he had been facing. Quality Road loomed as the overwhelming divisional leader, bet down to 3-10 favoritism following smashing wins in the Met Mile (G1), Donn H. (G1), and Hal’s Hope S. (G3), and the classy colt had things his way in the opening stages of the Whitney, dictating a moderate pace on a short lead. Blame saved ground while stalking a few lengths back, swung wide leaving the far turn, and ferociously mowed down Quality Road in the final strides. After asserting his supremacy among male rivals, Blame knocked off the mighty Zenyatta in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) two starts later, handing the legendary mare her lone defeat.

Lawyer Ron (2007)

Ten furlongs was too far for Lawyer Ron, but the stalker relished 1 1/8-mile distances, producing four wins and a second from five attempts. In the 2007 Whitney, the hard-knocking colt established a new Saratoga track record when stopping the teletimer in a sizzling 1:46.64. Lawyer Ron stalked in third until making his move off the far turn, accelerating clear by midstretch, and the chestnut drove to a 4 3/4-length decision. The champion older male was retired that fall with more than $2.7 million in earnings, and Lawyer Ron’s track mark still stands.

Invasor (2006)

An unbeaten three-year-old champion in Uruguay, Invasor finished fourth to three-year-old Discreet Cat when making his first start for Shadwell Stable and Kiaran McLaughlin in the 2006 U.A.E. Derby (G2). The Argentinian-bred four-year-old never lost again, and his nose victory in the Whitney wound up being the the closest call. After advancing to take a short lead in upper stretch, Invasor had to dig deep to repel Sun King, who appeared to have Invasor measured in the latter stages but could never get past his stubborn adversary. After the difficult race, Invasor’s connections bypassed the traditional preps for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), training up to the early November engagement off of a three-month freshening. Invasor sealed Horse of Year honors when rallying to a one-length score over Bernardini at Churchill Downs.

Left Bank (2002)

Facing a solid field that included Dubai World Cup (G1) winner Street Cry and defending champion Lido Palace, Left Bank tracked a solid pace before surging to a commanding lead in upper stretch of the 2002 Whitney. The chestnut easily held for a 1 1/4-length decision, showing outstanding versatility after competing exclusively at one-turn distances the past two seasons, and he notched his fourth graded win from the last five starts. Left Bank had me excited about his potential moving forward, but the Whitney unfortunately turned out to be the final start for the ill-fated horse, who died from colic less than a month later. He was named the champion older male.

Victory Gallop (1999)

Generating goosebumps for this observer, the 1999 Whitney proved captivating. The titanic slugfest exacted a toll upon the gallant warriors, as Victory Gallop never raced again and Behrens began to tail off with three straight defeats as the favorite, and the aftermath may dim its glow with racing historians. But it remains one of the classic editions in my estimation. Victory Gallop was exiting a scintillating five-length victory in the Stephen Foster (G1) at Churchill Downs, and he was poised to keep rolling that season, one that ended with Cat Thief upsetting an inauspicious edition of the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at 19-1. The four-year-old encountered a razor-sharp Behrens, who was exiting consecutive wins in the Gulfstream Park H. (G1), Oaklawn H. (G1), Massachusetts H. (G2), and Suburban H. (G2). Behrens got the jump on his rival, striking the front with a sharp turn of foot into the stretch, but Victory Gallop had launched a remarkable move past foes on the far turn, closing fast into contention as he straightened for home. A spine-tingling duel to the wire ensued, and Victory Gallop prevailed by the slimmest of margins.

Criminal Type (1990)

Wrapping up an incredible four-race streak, Criminal Type controlled the tempo throughout in the 1990 Whitney, and the stylish wire-to-wire tally turned out to be the final salvo in his Horse of the Year campaign. Trained by D. Wayne Lukas, the flashy son of Alydar opened 1990 with a pair of Grade 2 victories in California. After finishing second to Ruhlmann in the San Anita H. (G1) and San Bernardino (G2), Criminal Type exacted a measure of revenge when capturing the Pimlico Special (G1) by a neck over that rival. The chestnut followed with a gutty score in the Met Mile (G1), narrowly edging Housebuster and Easy Goer, and Criminal Type entered the Whitney off of an outstanding head win over Sunday Silence in the 1 1/4-mile Hollywood Gold Cup (G1). He exited his next start, an unplaced effort in the Woodward (G1), with a career-ending injury.

Personal Ensign (1988)

Only two male rivals, including eventual sprint champion Gulch, showed up to face Personal Ensign in the 1988 Whitney, and the unbeaten mare went about her business in a professional manner, edging away to a 1 1/2-length decision as the odds-on favorite. The Hall of Famer rallied dramatically from off the pace in her swan song that fall, getting up in the last jump to beat Winning Colors in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), and it’s easy to forget her tactical speed – Personal Ensign recorded five of her 13 career wins in frontrunning fashion. She raced within striking range from the start of the Whitney, and Personal Ensign is the last female to win the prestigious race.

Lady’s Secret (1986)

The Hall of Famer won 10-of-15 starts, including eight Grade 1s, during her 1986 Horse of the Year campaign, and Lady’s Secret lone win over males came in the Whitney. Pat Day kept the classy daughter of Secretariat well off the rail the entire way on the sloppy track, and Lady’s Secret made it look easy leading wire-to-wire, scoring in hand by 4 1/2 lengths. After a third in the Iselin (G1) and a second in the Woodward (G1), the D. Wayne Lukas-trained gray switched back to filly and mare competition, concluding the season with romping wins in the Maskette (G), Ruffian (G1), Beldame (G1), and Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1).