08/01/2013 1:41PM

Weekend Warrior for Aug. 3: Picks for Whitney, West Virginia Derby, Seagram Cup

Barbara D. Livingston
Successful Dan should get sufficient pace to set up his closing kick in the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga.

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There are two Grade 1 races on Saturday, and they are right where you would expect to find them this time of year, at Saratoga and Del Mar. Saratoga’s main event is the $750,000 Whitney Invitational Handicap, while Del Mar’s feature is the $300,000 Clement L. Hirsch Stakes. It is also a big day at Mountaineer Racetrack, where all nine races are stakes events, topped by the Grade 2, $750,000 West Virginia Derby.

Whitney Invitational Handicap

I will admit it, I am a Fort Larned fan. He is a solid handicap horse who can be brilliant on occasion. I liked him in the Breeders’ Cup Classic last fall, and in the Stephen Foster Handicap last time out, and he was good to me, winning those races at nice prices. So you can understand when I say that I take no pleasure in going against Fort Larned on Saturday, which I’m doing because of what I view as an adverse pace scenario.

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Fort Larned is not a one-dimensional front-runner. He won last year’s Whitney after stalking the pace from close range to the far turn before breaking the race open with a quick move into the stretch. But Fort Larned is demonstrably better when he ambles on the front end. That was his approach when he won the Breeders’ Cup Classic on a speed-favoring track. And that’s what he did in the Foster, a race in which he was the controlling speed, setting a solid pace and winning off most impressively.

The thing is, Fort Larned is not the main speed in this Whitney. Cross Traffic, who breaks immediately to his outside, is. And Fort Larned also faces possible early pressure from the potentially declining Mucho Macho Man, who breaks immediately to his inside. If Fort Larned tries to go early with Cross Traffic, it will surely cost him dearly late. If Fort Larned concedes the lead to Cross Traffic, which is the more likely scenario, then Fort Larned will have to win using a rating style that isn’t his best.

I did give Cross Traffic a long look here since I project Fort Larned and Mucho Macho Man letting him go early, at least to some extent. There is no question that Cross Traffic is good enough to win. He was brutally unlucky to be narrowly beaten in the Westchester and Met Mile in his last two starts, particularly the Met Mile, in which he broke slowly and then tried to win setting a fast pace on a Memorial Day weekend when front-running winners on Belmont’s main track were rare. But I ultimately decided against Cross Traffic, for two reasons. It’s a tall order to ask even a highly talented horse like him to win the Whitney in his first start around two turns. And while there have been a couple of front-running winners going two turns on the main track so far at the Saratoga meet, it’s generally been very difficult winning on the lead in routes there.

I was completely against Successful Dan in the Foster, but I’m doing a 180 and picking him here. I didn’t like Successful Dan in the Foster because his comeback win in the Ben Ali was uninspiring, the pace scenario was unfavorable for him and his odds were low. After a dismal-looking fourth in the Foster, his price will be nice this time. More importantly, Successful Dan, who traded decisions with Fort Larned last year in the Alysheba and Cornhusker, gets a far more favorable pace setup Saturday as he is most effective as a closer. And what I also find interesting about Successful Dan, beside his two sharp works over the track, is the way trainer Charles LoPresti turned around his older barnmate Turallure earlier in the Saratoga meet. Turallure’s poor recent races made it look like he was finished as a high-level performer, but he rebounded with a near-miss in a tough allowance race last week, a race he would have won were it not for trouble. I’m anticipating a similar turnaround for Successful Dan.

West Virginia Derby

The trick to this race is to not be blinded by Overanalyze’s recent class lines. Yes, he won the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby and competed in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes. But the fact is, Overanalyze has been slow this year. Maybe he will get faster this time with blinkers on, but Overanalyze has just been too slow to take at a short price.

I’m between Departing and Say Ow. When you’re between two horses, always take the bigger price, so I’m going with Say Ow. Say Ow’s early form might have been darkened by starts on Polytrack, turf, and wet dirt. But he blossomed in his last two starts, which came going two turns on Betfair Hollywood’s Cushion Track. More than any other synthetic surface, that track is widely believed to be more like the sort of dirt track he runs on Saturday, and he ran both races in adjusted times fast enough to win this.

Departing must be respected, however. He was making a grinding run into contention on the far turn in the Preakness only to flatten out after moving near the inside, which was by far the deeper part of the track.

Seagram Cup

James Street and Alpha Bettor are hard-hitters who will take some beating in this feature at Woodbine, but I’m going with Patrioticandproud as potential value.

Patrioticandproud’s recent form is clouded by starts in unsuitable spots. Last time out, he went 12 furlongs on yielding turf. Two starts back he went one turn. Three and five starts back he ran on dirt. None of those things is his game. Patrioticandproud is best as a two-turn synthetic track horse. He improved the second half of his 3-year-old campaign last year in such races at Woodbine, showing he can compete with these, and he was a much-the-best winner at Keeneland last April the last time he raced under these conditions.