The Whitney Handicap: A History

August 5, 2016

By Amy Nesse
The Whitney Handicap, one of the most prestigious handicap races of the year, takes place at the historic Saratoga racetrack in late July/early August. The Whitney Handicap brought and continues to bring in, top caliber handicap horses from ages 3 and above from both coasts and has brought us some of the most memorable performances The Spa has ever seen.
This weekend will mark the 87th running of the Whitney Handicap, headlined by horses such as Frosted, who is coming off of a wildly impressive win in the Met Mile that boosted him up into the ranks of the elite, Effinex who is coming off of a dominant win in the Suburban Handicap, and other probables including horses such as Upstart, Noble Bird, Samraat, and El Kabier. Whoever wins this weekend will perhaps elevate themselves into one of the top handicap horses in the country and automatically clinch themselves a spot in the Breeders Cup Championship this November at Santa Anita.
So let’s learn some brief history of the Whitney Handicap.
EP-307299924.jpg&maxh=400&maxw=667The Whitney Stakes dates back to 1928. It would become a major handicap race held for horses 3 years old and above and was originally run at a distance of  1¼ miles , but would later be changed to 1 ⅛ miles (9 furlongs) in 1955. The Whitney Handicap was named after the historic Whitney family, whose members have and remain, prominent participants. They have been owners and major supporters of the sport of Thoroughbred horse racing for decades and to this day.
MaryLou Whitney, at the age of 90, still owns racehorses and attends the races at Saratoga. I could write on and on about the Whitneys and dear MaryLou, but that would soon turn into a book.  To put it simply, there is no family more deserving of having such a prestigious race named in their honor.
The race was  run at Belmont Park from 1943 through 1945, and again once in 1961. Between 1957 and 1969 the race was restricted to horses four years and older and from 1928 to 1940 was closed to geldings. It is now held annually in late July/early August at the Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, New York, on Saratoga’s dirt track.
The inaugural running was won by a  three-time Champion Filly, Kentucky Oaks winner and top handicap horse, Black Maria. From the beginning, top caliber horses competed in the prestigious race. Some of the greatest horses in American racing history would go on to win the Whitney, including Discovery, who won it 3 times and the great Kelso, who also won it an incredible 3 times, the third time in 1965 at the age of eight.
The race also saw one of the most dramatic upsets in racing history when Secretariat finished second in the 1973 Whitney to Allen Jerkens’s colt, Onion. An almost endless list of champions would go on to win the Whitney  including: Discovery, War Admiral, Devil Diver, Tom Fool, Dr.Fager, Alydar, Easy Goer, Invasor, etc.
After Black Maria, five other fillies would go on to win the race: Bateau in 1929, Esposa in 1937, Gallorette in 1948, Lady’s Secret in 1986, and Personal Ensign in 1988.
The Whitney has quickly became one of the top races of the year in the country and in the 2015 listing of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA). The Whitney tied with the Kentucky Derby as the top Grade 1 race in the United States outside of the Breeders’ Cup races with a significant purse of $1,500,000. It attracts the top horses every year and usually provides some of the more memorable performances of the year.
As of 2007, the Breeders’ Cup Ltd. introduced the “Win and You’re In” qualification format that means the winner of the Whitney Stakes will automatically qualify for a spot in the fall running of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, attracting even more of the top horses in the country.
The Whitney Handicap has also produced some very impressive record holders in both the equine and human category.

Most wins:

  • 3 – Kelso (1961, 1963, 1965)
  • 3 – Discovery (1934, 1935, 1936)

Speed record:

  • 1 1⁄8 miles – 1:46.64 – Lawyer Ron (2007)
  • 1 1⁄4 miles – 2:02.00 – Devil Diver (1944) & Bolingbroke (1943)

Most wins by an owner:

  • 6 – Greentree Stable (1931, 1942, 1944, 1951, 1953, 1958)
  • 4 – C. V. Whitney (1932, 1952, 1980, 1982)
  • 4 – Alfred G. Vanderbilt II (1934, 1935, 1936, 1954)

Most wins by a jockey:

  • 5 – Pat Day (1986, 1987, 1989, 1995, 1998), Jerry Bailey (1992, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2003)
  • 4 – John R. Velazquez (2002, 2007, 2008, 2013)
  • 3 – Gary L. Stevens (1990, 1991, 2005)

Most wins by a trainer:

  • 5 – John M. Gaver, Sr. (1942, 1944, 1951, 1953, 1958)
  • 4 – J. Elliott Burch (1955, 1972, 1980, 1982)

So as you watch the Whitney Handicap this weekend, I hope you can appreciate and reflect on the rich history of the race and the true champions that it has produced.

2016 Whitney field probables:

  • El Kabeir
  • Samraat
  • Effinex
  • Noble Bird
  • Upstart
  • Frosted

In this year’s running, I am going with Frosted. I was just too impressed with his crazy good race in the Metropolitan Mile. Although Jonathan Stettin thinks Frosted is likely to regress or bounce off his Met Mile, he readily says he can bounce and still win in this field.

Jonathan Stettin is a New York Legend. He's been a Horseplayer, earning his living at the track, since he was 19 years old. @jonathanstettin

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