Updated on 08/06/2013 9:09AM

Whitney: Cross Traffic holds off Successful Dan at Saratoga

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Barbara D. Livingston
Cross Traffic scores a front-running Whitney win under John Velazquez.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - At the three-sixteenths pole of Saturday’s 86th Whitney Invitational Handicap, Cross Traffic had turned back Fort Larned and Mucho Macho Man - the 1-2 finishers from last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic - and opened up a two-length lead.

In the middle of the track, however, Successful Dan was continuing a bid that had begun entering the far turn.

Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Cross Traffic, began to have a flashback to the Metropolitan Handicap when a hard-charging Sahara Sky flew down the center of the Belmont Park main track to nip Cross Traffic at the wire by a nose.

“Yeah, it was in my mind. I didn’t want another beat like that,” Pletcher said.

Not this time.

After wandering a path or two out from where he was in deep stretch, Cross Traffic, under John Velazquez, held off Successful Dan for a three-quarter-length victory in the Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney Invitational before a crowd of 33,148 on the day Saratoga marked its 150th anniversary of existence.

[SARATOGA 2013: Complete meet coverage, exclusive DRF videos]

“He certainly deserved a Grade 1 after the Met,” said Pletcher, who trains Cross Traffic for GoldMark Farm. “We had a couple of tough beats over the years, but that one kind of stands out as one of the toughest. Just really happy to see him finish it up.”

Successful Dan finished second by 1 1/2 lengths over Mucho Mach Man. Ron the Greek was fourth followed by Fort Larned - last year’s Whitney winner - Alpha, Csaba, and Fast Falcon.

The win - against a quality field that included winners of 21 graded stakes and more than $11 million in purse earnings - earned Cross Traffic an automatic berth into the Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita as part of the “Win and You’re In” initiative that pays all entry fees and a $10,000 travel stipend.

[BREEDERS' CUP CHALLENGE: Win and You’re In schedule and results]

The Whitney had plenty of intrigue from the time it was drawn. There was even more leaving the paddock as Successful Dan fell coming onto the track, unseating jockey Julien Leparoux.

Visually, Successful Dan did not appear to be comfortable warming up and at one point Leparoux brought the gelding over to the New York Racing Association’s examining veterinarian, Dr. Anthony Verderosa. Leparoux said he was not trying to get the horse scratched.

“I felt great about it, but I just wanted to get a second opinion,” Leparoux said. “Not at any point did I want to scratch him.”

Going into the race there was intrigue in how the pace would develop. Fort Larned was coming off a front-running tour-de-force victory in the Stephen Foster, and Cross Traffic had shown blistering early speed in a pair of one-turn mile races at Belmont.

But Fort Larned didn’t break sharply, and Cross Traffic outfooted Mucho Macho to the front, opening a 1 1/2-length lead after running a quarter-mile in 24.17 seconds.

“The first quarter was the most important. We didn’t have to chase him to be there,” Velazquez said. “After that we started picking it up every eighth of a mile, but it was a comfortable pace.”

Cross Traffic maintained a one-length lead over Fort Larned through a half-mile in 47.28 seconds and six furlongs in 1:10.24.

Approaching the quarter pole, Fort Larned and Mucho Macho Man made a run at Cross Traffic. But straightening away for home, Velazquez shook Cross Traffic up and he spurted clear.

Velazquez said Cross Traffic waits when he is by himself, and he felt that happening again Saturday.

“All by himself he waits. I had to move to the middle of the track a little bit,” Velazquez said. “The last 20 yards I felt the other horse in the middle of the tack but I never saw him.”

The other horse was Successful Dan, but his belated rally fell short.

Cross Traffic, a son of Unbridled’s Song - who died this week - covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.89 and returned $9.10 as the second choice.

Pletcher, who won his third Whitney, said that depending how Cross Traffic comes out of the race, he would consider running him back in the Grade 1 , $750,000 Woodward here on Aug. 31 and then go right to the Breeders’ Cup.

Charlie LoPresti, the trainer of Successful Dan, said he would also consider the Woodward. He didn’t use the prerace incident as an excuse.

“He ran his race. It’s unfortunate that happened, but I don’t think that took anything away from him,” LoPresti said. “He was really running at the end.”

Fort Larned, the 6-5 favorite, faded to fifth, beaten 4 1/2 lengths under Brian Hernandez. Trainer Ian Wilkes said his horse likely would have been on the lead had he not broken flat-footed.

“It was a dull effort today,” Wilkes said. “Let’s find out why. We’ll regroup. We’ll be back.”