SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (AP) Now the richest event in Saratoga Race Course's 146-year history, the Grade 1 $1.5 million Whitney Stakes will have a familiar cast of characters for its 87th renewal on Saturday.
Four of the top five finishers from last year's $1 million Travers Stakes comprise nearly half of the nine older horses set to contest the 1 1/8-mile Whitney, including winner Will Take Charge and runner-up Moreno, who were separated by a nose at the wire.
They are joined by Palace Malice and Romansh, who ran fourth and fifth, respectively, in the 2013 Travers. Golden Ticket, co-winner of the Travers with Alpha in 2012, is also entered.
''Everybody dogs this business about soundness, but it's pretty impressive a year later to have four handicap horses out of five come back from the Travers,'' said Moreno's trainer Eric Guillot. ''I'm excited. It's a big race. It's Saratoga. How can you not be excited about a race of this caliber?''
The even-money program favorite from post five for the Whitney is Palace Malice, whose trainer and jockey, Todd Pletcher and John Velazquez, teamed up to capture last year's Whitney with Cross Traffic. Pletcher and Velazquez also joined forces to win the Whitney in 2002 and 2007, while Velazquez added another victory in 2008.
Owned by Dogwood Stable, Palace Malice is 4-for-4 this year, having posted wins in the Grade 2 Gulfstream Park, Grade 2 New Orleans, Grade 3 Westchester and Grade 1 Metropolitan handicaps, the latter on June 7.
In an up-and-down 2013 campaign, the 4-year-old son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin balanced victories in the Belmont Stakes and Jim Dandy with losses in the Travers, Jockey Club Gold Cup and Breeders' Cup Classic.
''As a 3-year-old we kept feeling like this is a very talented horse that has the ability to win some of these big races,'' Pletcher said. ''When you make statements that you think a horse is good and it took him a little while to prove it, there's some added satisfaction for that.''
Will Take Charge beat out Palace Malice for the Eclipse Award as champion 3-year-old male in 2013 off wins in the Travers, Pennsylvania Derby and Clark Handicap and a runner-up finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic. Second choice at 4-1, he will break from post one under jockey Luis Saez.
The field, from the rail out, is Will Take Charge, Prayer for Relief, Moreno, Itsmyluckyday, Palace Malice, Departing, Romansh, Golden Ticket and Last Gunfighter.