Cross Traffic parlayed a smooth trip to earn the initial stakes victory of his career in the 86th Whitney Invitational Handicap (G1) at Saratoga on Saturday.
Ridden by John Velazquez, Cross Traffic recorded solid fractions of :24.17 with Mucho Macho Man and Fort Larned in close pursuit. He hit the half-mile mark in :47.28 and ran three-quarters in 1:10.24.
Confronted by his pursuers on the far turn, Cross Traffic spun into the stretch with a two-length advantage, and, despite an erratic run through the lane, had enough left to repel a late challenge from Successful Dan to win by three-quarters of a length. Mucho Macho Man held on for third. Ron the Greek finished fourth.
“Being outside of Mucho Macho Man and Fort Larned – the other two speeds – we felt like we were in a good position,” said winning trainer Todd Pletcher. “It worked out really well. We got a great run into the first turn. The first quarter was key. Johnny was able to get to the position he wanted without overdoing it and kind of picked it up from there.”
Cross Traffic, who returned $9.10 for a $2 win bet as the 7-2 second choice, completed the 1 1/8 miles in 1:47.89.
“The first quarter was the most important one; we didn’t have to chase him to be there,” said Velazquez. “After that, we started picking it up every eighth of a mile, but it was a comfortable pace. It wasn’t a very fast pace, so he was doing it easy and comfortable. I felt comfortable the way he was going.”
The victory was the 4-year-old Cross Traffic’s third in five career starts, having finished second by a head in the Grade 3 Westchester in his stakes debut and second by a nose in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap, both at Belmont Park.
“It was a strongly run race throughout, and we were just hoping he could hold on the last part after the two losses we had at Belmont,” said Pletcher, who got his third Whitney as a trainer. “Those were heartbreaking losses, to run as well as he did in those two races and miss by a whisker. Turning for home, I thought we had a big shot, but I was still wanting to get there.”
The Whitney victory also earned Cross Traffic an automatic berth and an all-fees-paid entry into the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita this fall as part of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” series.
“This was a real quality-filled race,” added Pletcher, who trains the Unbridled’s Song colt for Goldmark Farm. “To beat the Breeders’ Cup winner [Fort Larned] and runner-up [Mucho Macho Man] from last year and some really good horses speaks volumes about his quality. It was great to see him [win]. He certainly deserved a Grade 1 after the Met Mile. I know we’ve had a couple of tough beats over the years, but that one kind of stands out as one of the toughest.”
NYRA photo by Courtney Heeney