SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- When Kiaran McLaughlin first received Invasor into his stable, he wasn't sure what type of horse he was getting. Being a champion in Uruguay doesn't guarantee anything in North America.
Socialite Marylou Whitney shows up
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (AP) -- Socialite Marylou Whitney made a brief appearance at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday to present the winner's trophy for the 79th running of the Whitney Handicap.
Arriving on the track in a silver Mercedes-Benz, the 80-year-old Whitney made her first public appearance since suffering a mild stroke on Memorial Day. She was accompanied by her husband, John Hendrickson, and received a warm ovation from racing fans.
Often referred to as the "Grand Dame" of horse racing, Whitney is the owner of 2004 Belmont Stakes winner Birdstone. The cancellation of her Whitney ball, held annually since 1960, made national headlines earlier this year.
But now there is no doubt how good Invasor is. And he took a big step toward becoming a North American champion on Saturday with a thrilling nose victory over Sun King in the Grade 1, $750,000 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga. The crowd of 29,918 included Saratoga socialite Marylou Whitney, who made her first public appearance since suffering a stroke in May. She presented the trophy to the winning connections.
Invasor added the Whitney to a résumé that includes victories in the Pimlico Special and Suburban Handicap. He is now 8 for 9 lifetime, his only loss coming to Discreet Cat in the United Arab Emirates Derby in March.
"He's gone from Uruguay Horse of the Year to Horse of the Year in America," McLaughlin said.
And he did it in thrilling fashion.
Jockey Fernando Jara kept Invasor in midpack inside of Flower Alley while Siphon City set the pace with Wanderin Boy stalking from the outside and Premium Tap chasing from the inside.
Siphon City, under Elvis Trujillo, set fractions of 23.07 seconds, 47.21, and 1:11.38 before Wanderin Boy took the lead at the five-sixteenths pole. Invasor and Flower Alley, under John Velazquez, launched their bids at the same time, and the two brushed turning for home.
Invasor continued his sustained run and hit the front outside the eighth pole while Flower Alley tired. Sun King, under Rafael Bejarano, came with a flying finish and fell just a nose short. It was the second tough beat from three starts for Sun King, who was beaten a head by Silver Train in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap in May. Last year, Sun King's connections, owner Tracy Farmer and trainer Nick Zito, won the Whitney by a neck over Saint Liam.
Sun King finished 5 3/4 lengths ahead of West Virginia, who was followed in the order of finish by We Can Seek, Premium Tap, Wanderin Boy, Flower Alley, Siphon City and Survivalist.
Invasor, a son of Candy Stripes owned by Shadwell Stable, covered the 1 1/8 miles in 1:49.06 and returned $5.50 as the second choice.
"This is a special horse," McLaughlin said. "I was a little worried for Fernando, being 18-years-old, and this being the first time he really had a bull's-eye on his back," said McLaughlin, who teamed with Jara to win the Belmont Stakes with Jazil. "People didn't really respect Jazil or this horse before today. Today, they were looking at him, and they knew he was the horse to beat. I was worried they might trap him down on the inside. Fernando did a great job. When you have horse under you, it makes it easier."
McLaughlin said Invasor would run next in either the Woodward Stakes here on Sept. 2 or the Jockey Club Gold Cup on Oct. 7 at Belmont Park.
- additional reporting by Mike Welsch