LEXINGTON, Ky. — Hot earlier in the year but noticeably cooler of late, Whitmore was back to his best form in Friday’s $250,000 Phoenix (G2) before an announced crowd of 19,204 on a warm, sun-splashed opening day of the Keeneland fall meet.
Drawn widest in post 11 for the six-furlong dash, the oldest stakes in North America, Whitmore was forced to rate five wide down the backside while Awesome Banner led the field through fractions of :22.27 and :45.75. Under Manny Franco, the 3-1 shot rallied in the middle of pack through the stretch and just edged the long-time leader by a nose in 1:09.90 over a fast track.
The Phoenix was a “Win & You’re In” Breeders’ Cup Challenge race for the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) at Del Mar on November 4, Whitmore’s likely next port of call. Owned by Robert LaPenta, trainer Ron Moquett, and Sol Kumin’s Head of Plains Partners LLC, Whitmore returned $8.80.
“I’m going to relish this Phoenix win. The Breeders’ Cup has been our goal. So if everything’s great, we’re going,” Moquett said.
Awesome Banner, at 16-1, held second by a neck over 5-2 favorite Limousine Liberal, who had missed by a nose in last year’s Phoenix. It was another half-length back to second choice Threefiveindia.
Following Threefiveindia across the wire were Loose On the Town, Uncontested, Favorite Tale, Richard the Great, Mr Manning, It’s the Journey, and Seventh Sense.
A classic prospect early in his career after placing in the Southwest (G3), Rebel (G2), and Arkansas Derby (G1), Whitmore finished 19th of 20 in the 2016 Kentucky Derby (G1) and was subsequently kept sprinting. He’s now won eight of 10 around one turn, with two thirds.
Earning his first stakes win in the $125,000 Hot Springs at Oaklawn on March 11, he later took the Count Fleet Sprint H. (G3) and the Maryland Sprint (G3) by a half-length over 2016 Phoenix winner A. P. Indian. He entered this off a pair of third-place efforts in the True North (G2) and Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash (G3). His career record now stands at 15-8-2-3, $1,172,000.
A gelded son of Pleasantly Perfect and the Scat Daddy mare Melody’s Spirit, and was bred in Kentucky by John Liviakis.