By Nicholas Godfrey
USA: A richly endowed card at Saratoga is topped by the G1 Whitney Stakes, but arguably the most intriguing race on Saturday’s US programme is a Listed race on the other side of the country at Del Mar.
Given the coronavirus-delayed Kentucky Derby is now being staged on September 5, the Shared Belief Stakes (10.30pm BST) has the status of a proper trial with Santa Anita Derby winner Honor A.P. (John Shirreffs/Mike Smith) a strong opponent for a Bob Baffert-trained trio headed by Coolmore’s Cezanne (Flavien Prat).
A $3.65 million purchase last year as a two-year-old, the son of Curlin badly needs the Kentucky Derby qualifying points on offer here as he has none to his name so far after two minor victories. He gets a handy 6lb from his main rivals.
Los Alamitos Derby scorer Uncle Chuck (Drayden van Dyke) also features in the Baffert team – but the trainer says leading older horse McKinzie will be scratched from the G1 Bing Crosby (Sun 2,30am BST) on the same card.
Revised US Triple Crown for 2020
Tom’s D’Etat (Al Stall/Joel Rosario) bids to confirm his status as the nation’s number one older horse by completing a graded-stakes five-timer in the Whitney, the $750,000 highlight of three G1 events at Saratoga on Saturday.
Main opponents are dual G1 winner Code Of Honor (Shug McGaughey/John Velazquez), back at the scene of his Travers Stakes success after third place in the Met Mile, and Hollywood Gold Cup victor Improbable (Bob Baffert/Irad Ortiz).
Leading support act at Saratoga is champion dirt female Midnight Bisou (Steve Asmussen/Ricardo Santana), looking for her sixth G1 victory in the Personal Ensign.
Shall we talk about it?
Saratoga: Whitney Stakes G1 $750,000 1m1f, dirt, 4yo (10.42pm BST)
By My Standards: “He’s a good-minded horse and does everything the right way so we’re confident sending him up there. Tom’s d’Etat beat us last time with a great race, and we have the utmost respect for him and Code Of Honor and all of them in there. But we think our horse is improving and we’re hoping Whitney Day will be the day he brings his best.”
Bret Calhoun (trainer)
Code Of Honor: “Two turns going a mile and an eighth is what he wants to do. I think he’s always liked it up here. He trained well here as a two-year-old and ran well. He trained well here as a three-year-old and ran well. He’s been training well since we’ve come up here this year, so hopefully he runs well again.” Shug McGaughey (trainer)
Improbable: “He’s doing really well – I think he’s a much bigger and stronger horse than last year.” Bob Baffert (trainer)
Mr. Buff: “We know this place has been known as the ‘Graveyard of Favorites’ but Mr. Buff is stepping into some deep water in this race. People might look at his last race and just kind of think that he’s a little bit off form. But this horse has run commensurate numbers with all the horses in this race when he’s been running against New York-bred company. People obviously think he can’t do it against open company.” John Kimmel (trainer)
Tom’s D’Etat: “He’s a very classy horse. He’s very laid back, easy to deal with, and easy to ride in the mornings. Some horses just take to it [at Saratoga]. I can tell in the couple weeks he’s been here, his hair is great and his eye is just what you want and it seems like he knows just where he is. This will be his fourth year here and he seems to know his way around.” Al Stall (trainer)
Saratoga: Personal Ensign G1 $500,000 1m1f, dirt, 4yo f/m (8.28pm BST)
Midnight Bisou: “Anytime you run in those type of races, they’re big regardless of what you’ve done in the past. She’s training better than ever and we’re ready for it. She’s a huge fan of Belmont, but she’s run well over any surface and over any environment. Once you give her the chance to see what’s going on around her, she’s okay. I think with the changes they made at Saratoga this past season she’s training even better over there. She has a great feel for the track, from what I’ve seen.” Jeff Bloom (owner)
Point Of Honor: “I think she’s a better filly at four. I think she’s filled out and she’s a stronger filly. Her races have all been good this year, though we’re still waiting to get that first win. Midnight Bisou is the champ. If you’re trying to pick the horses to run against you wouldn’t pick her. But she’s doing well and she deserves a shot at it so we’ll see what happens.”
George Weaver (trainer)