Cross Traffic Capable of Defeating Fort Larned in Whitney


Cross Traffic wins Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap. (Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire)
By Ellis Starr – National Racing Analyst for Equibase
The 86th running of the Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney Invitational Handicap not only features last year's Whitney and Breeders' Cup Classic winner Fort Larned, the field also contains 2012 Whitney runner-up Ron the Greek and up-and-coming stakes star Cross Traffic among a field of eight. In addition to the $450,000 winner's share of the purse comes an automatic berth in this year's Breeders' Cup Classic and bragging rights as the top horse in the division … for now. Fort Larned returned to the exemplary form shown last year when victorious in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster Handicap when last seen, so he may be the one the rest have to beat to win. Lightly raced Cross Traffic enters the race off a narrow defeat by a nose in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap and should be the one Fort Larned will have to deal with from the start as he has been first or second in the early stages in all four career starts to date. Ron the Greek started his 2013 campaign nicely with a win in the Sunshine Millions Classic Stakes in January but has only managed minor placings in three races since, including a third-place finish in the Foster in his most recent effort. Alpha won both the Grade 1 Travers (in a dead heat) and Grade 2 Jim Dandy last year at Saratoga but has not been the same horse with five consecutive unplaced finishes since then. Mucho Macho Man was beaten just a half-length by Fort Larned in last year's Breeders’ Cup Classic but may have his work cut out for him as his recent effort when third in a non-graded stakes appears below par. Successful Dan won the Grade 3 Ben Ali Stakes in April to start his year then was a non-threatening fourth behind both Fort Larned and Ron the Greek in the Foster, so Successful Dan could be another good for a minor award at best. Csaba, who won the Grade 3 Hal's Hope Stakes in January, failed in his only grade 1 stakes attempt (the Donn Handicap) but tries again to see if he fits at this level. Fast Falcon rounds out the field, having run in four Grade 1 races in his career to date with his best finish coming when beaten a neck in the 2012 Travers behind Alpha and Golden Ticket.
Cross Traffic started his career a bit later than most - as a 4-year-old in January 2013 - winning the first two races of his career rather easily. In his third career start, the Westchester Stakes in April, Cross Traffic showed tremendous ability. Leading from the start, he was beaten at the finish line by a head by the much more seasoned multiple stakes winner Flat Out, earning a career-best 129  Equibase Speed Figure in the process. With that 129 figure being the same as Fort Larned earned winning the Stephen Foster Handicap in June, and having been beaten only by a nose in the Metropolitan Mile in his most recent start, Cross Traffic has proven he belongs at this Grade 1 level. Getting a five-pound weight break versus Fort Larned in the Whitney (117 versus 122), Cross Traffic could post the mild upset and continue forward into this year's Breeders' Cup Classic in November.

Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire
Fort Larned won five of nine races in 2012 with his two biggest wins coming in last year's Whitney and then three months later in the Breeders' Cup Classic. After an unfortunate setback in his first start of the year when stumbling at the start and losing his jockey, Fort Larned recovered his stakes-winning form with a strong victory in the Stephen Foster Handicap, in which he led from start to finish for a career-best 129 Equibase Speed Figure. Fort Larned entered this race last year off a win as he does again this year and as such he should be a formidable foe from start to finish. He probably will rate in second position in the early stages behind the speedy Cross Traffic, and expect him to engage that one with about an eighth of a mile to go for a stirring stretch drive.
Ron the Greek usually comes from last or nearly so, a style that can be problematic on occasion if there is not enough early pace to run at. A multiple Grade 1 stakes winner in his career, Ron the Greek earned a career-best 123 Equibase Speed Figure when second in the Whitney last year and duplicated that effort when winning the Sunshine Millions Classic this past January. Since then, he has managed no better than a pair of third-place finishes in three races, but when he’s in the mood he can be a force to be reckoned with. If Fort Larned and Cross Traffic hook up on a battle for the early lead, Ron the Greek could rally to win this race.
The rest of the Whitney field (with their best representative Equibase Speed Figure): Alpha (113), Csaba (116), Fast Falcon (120), Mucho Macho Man (121) and Successful Dan (115).
My Selections:
Cross Traffic
Fort Larned
Ron the Greek
$750,000 Whitney Invitational Handicap
Saturday, Saratoga Race Course, Race 10, post time 5:45 p.m. EDT
3-year-olds and older, 1 1/8 miles (dirt)








Successful Dan

Julien Leparoux


Charles LoPresti



Mucho Macho Man

Edgar Prado


Kathy Ritvo



Fort Larned

Brian Hernandez


Ian Wilkes



Cross Traffic

John Velazquez


Todd Pletcher



Ron the Greek

Jose Lezcano


Bill Mott




Joel Rosario


Kiaran McLaughlin




Luis Saez


Philip Gleaves



Fast Falcon

Junior Alvarado


Nick Zito