08/05/2013 10:34AM

Cross Traffic, and Other Thoughts

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Given how brutally unlucky he was to narrowly miss in two stakes at the Belmont Park spring/summer meet, especially in the Grade 1 Met Mile when, after breaking last of nine, he set a fast pace and yet still was beaten only a mere nose, it was indeed justice served that Cross Traffic snared his big one in Saturday’s Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga.

But more than that, Cross Traffic was a worthy Whitney winner. Yes, runner up Successful Dan took a spill on his way to the post parade, the effects of which are impossible to quantify. But even acknowledging that the incident couldn’t have helped, Successful Dan had a clear shot to catch Cross Traffic, and didn’t. Despite running particularly strong second and third quarter miles of 23.11 and 22.96 to maintain a one length lead, Cross Traffic dug deep late in his first venture in a race beyond one turn and held determinedly.

The best horse won, and that’s coming from someone who backed Successful Dan.

However, whether Cross Traffic will be the best horse when this crew gets together again is another matter. Right now, it looks like Cross Traffic, Successful Dan, perhaps Mucho Macho Man (who ran much better than I thought he would or could finishing third in the Whitney), and Fort Larned, who finished fifth in the Whitney as the 6-5 favorite, might all come back in Saratoga’s Woodward on Aug. 31. In this age of infrequent equine participation, it would be really cool if they all did. Add in the possibility of Paynter coming from Del Mar, and the Woodward could be a real treat. It could also be a very differently run race than the Whitney.

Cross Traffic’s opening quarter mile Saturday was 24.17. It’s important to remember that that opening quarter wasn’t as profoundly slow as it might first appear because it included the run around the first turn. But it was by no means a fast opening quarter, and that is because Fort Larned did not break sharply, and actually had four horses in front of him in the initial strides. Fort Larned did work his way up to third going into the first turn. But even though going head and head with Cross Traffic was likely never in the plans,  it wasn’t until the backstretch that Fort Larned applied the kind of pace presence pressure to Cross Traffic that he figured to from the outset.

Fort Larned is a far better horse than he showed in the Whitney. But the Whitney was also further proof that Fort Larned is much more effective when he’s allowed to run freely early than when he rates. It seems clear that Fort Larned will find it tough beating Cross Traffic when conceding him the lead. So Fort Larned’s best chance to win next time is to go after Cross Traffic early like he really means it, and let the chips fall where they may.

That would make the Woodward a much different race than the Whitney, one that would be fascinating to see. Let’s just hope the potential Woodward field holds together.

Two other quick notes:

The male sprint division is a jumble. Sunday’s Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga could have provided some clarification. Instead, Gentlemen’s Bet and Delaunay dueled each other into defeat, and Justin Phillip came and picked up the pieces. I don’t want to knock Justin Phillip. He’s just the sort of hard hitter who doesn’t get the full appreciation he deserves. But it does say something that the Vanderbilt was Justin Phillip’s 29th career start, and his first Grade 1 victory.

I would like to own Departing. This gelding’s runaway win over admittedly suspect opposition in Saturday’s West Virginia Derby put him over the $1 million mark in earnings, and he hasn’t even seen turf yet, a surface the son of War Front would seem to be made for.