Cross Traffic secured himself a spot in the Breeders' Cup Classic when he won the Aug. 3 Whitney Invitational Handicap (Photos courtesy Eclipse Sportswire).
A week after his breed-changing sire Unbridled’s Song passed away, Cross Traffic put himself in line to enhance his sire’s legacy when he won the Whitney Invitational Handicap.
Not only did the flashy gray colt move into the racing spotlight with the win, he also earned an automatic berth to the Breeders’ Cup Classic by beating a talented field — an impressive feat for a 4-year-old only making his fifth start.
Cross Traffic is one of those rare, well-bred horses who didn’t race at either two or three but made his debut at four. Assorted minor injuries kept the colt off the track for both seasons, but instead of giving up and retiring him, Cross Traffic was granted all the time he needed by owner GoldMark Farm.
Trained by Todd Pletcher, Cross Traffic won his debut at 6 ½ furlongs in January by 1 ¾ lengths. Admittedly, it wasn’t the most talented field, but he did earn an Equibase Speed Figure of 94, his only figure outside of the triple digits.
He showed his true potential in his next start, an optional claiming race, when he won by 7 ½ lengths over multiple graded stakes-placed Fast Falcon. That win was proof enough of the horse’s talent for Pletcher, who moved him up to graded stakes company in his next start.
This is where Cross Traffic’s career went a little downhill but through no fault of his own. He faced multiple Grade 1 winner Flat Out in the Westchester Stakes at Belmont Park and showed more than any of his wins could have suggested with his effort. Flat Out was undefeated at Belmont going into the race and was only able to beat Cross Traffic by a head, something that hinted at how much talent Cross Traffic possessed.
Cross Traffic suffered another heartbreaking loss in the Metropolitan Handicap, this time to Sahara Sky. Sahara Sky had won two graded stakes events in California and finished second in a New York Grade 1 so he was also a worthy foe. Going two yards more than the Westchester, Cross Traffic was only beaten by a nose this time.
CROSS TRAFFIC (inside) LOST BY A HEARTBREAKING NOSE IN THE METROPOLITAN HANDICAP
While two close losses are tough, there were definitely some clear positives to take from them. Cross Traffic was the leader in both races and showed that he could hold his speed even as the distances got longer. He also received his highest Equibase figure yet with a 129 in the Westchester when he lost to Flat Out. He then beat that horse when Flat Out finished third in the Met Mile.
The negative to the Whitney is that while he finally got his graded stakes win, he looked tired in the stretch. In the final sixteenth or so, Cross Traffic was swerving back and forth, which makes me question what caused the erratic stretch run.
It needs to be remembered that even though he is older, Cross Traffic still only has five starts under his saddle so greenness is a possibility. The fatigue factor could be answered on Aug. 31 if Cross Traffic goes to the Woodward Stakes, run at the same distance. But the biggest question will come in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, a race that his connections are almost certainly targeting, as it is run at 1 ¼ miles, a distance he most likely will not run at before the race.
But even with some questions still remaining about the colt, Todd Pletcher was high on Cross Traffic after the win.
"This was a real quality-filled race. To beat the  Breeders' Cup winner [in Fort Larned] and runner-up from last year and some really good horses speaks volumes about his quality,” Pletcher said. “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."
CROSS TRAFFIC IN THE WHITNEY WINNER'S CIRCLE
If Cross Traffic does continue on to the Woodward, he will be taking on some familiar horses as Whitney second-place finisher Successful Dan and fifth-placed Fort Larned also are pointing for the race.
Cross Traffic is by 1995 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Unbridled’s Song, who went on to sire multiple Breeders’ Cup race winners. However, Unbridled’s Song has never sired a Breeders’ Cup Classic winner.
Unbridled’s Song was a very good racehorse who went off as the favorite in the 1996 Kentucky Derby. But hoof issues plagued Unbridled’s Song and he finished fifth in that race. At first glance, his maximum-winning distance seems to only be 1 1/8 miles. But when you consider that the only time he ran past that distance was the Derby, you can give him a break.
Unbridled’s Song’s side of the family definitely isn’t lacking for the Breeders’ Cup Classic distance. His sire, Unbridled, won the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders’ Cup Classic in 1990 while his dam Trolley Song’s only start was a win at 1 1/8 miles.
But enough about Unbridled’s Song, Cross Traffic also gets a lot of class from his dam Stop Traffic.
The mare was a two-time Grade 1 winner, including a runaway win in the 1998 Ballerina Handicap. However, Stop Traffic didn’t get many chances to prove she could go farther than sprint distances as she only ran past seven furlongs once in her 35-race career. Her maximum-winning distance was seven furlongs but she did finish third in her only attempt at a route.
Out of her seven foals to race, three have had some sort of success at the stakes level. Cross Traffic is her first foal to win a stakes race.
Stop Traffic has a pretty decent family behind her with plenty of stakes winners under her first four dams, including generations of stakes winners coming from other daughters of those dams.
While distance is always a question, with the class Cross Traffic has shown in his races thus far, there is little doubt that he deserves an attempt at the race if things go well between now and November.
His record has catapulted him into the discussion of top older males in racing. But that could be taken a step farther with a win in the Classic against other elite horses, especially Game On Dude, which could even put him in talks for Horse of the Year.
CROSS TRAFFIC'S CONNECTIONS HOLD HIS BONUS FOR THE WIN AND YOU'RE IN VICTORY