The Whitney and the Diana

The Travers might be the biggest race of the Saratoga meet, but today is billed as the biggest day, with three Grade I’s and a Grade II on the card: the Diana, Whitney, Go for Wand, and Vanderbilt, respectively. All four are “Win and You’re In” races, with the victor in each gaining a berth to the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita this fall.

The Whitney is another of Saratoga’s historic races, named for the family who’s contributed so much to New York racing, and who continues to do so; Marylou Whitney still lives here, and her horses still race here. She and her second husband are working with Backstretch Employees Service Team, funding a series of Sunday dinners for backstretch workers this summer.

Alfred G. Vanderbilt, another pillar of New York racing and the man for whom the Vanderbilt is named, made racing history when his Discovery won the Whitney for three consecutive years, 1934 – 1936. An accomplished horse who won 27 of 63 lifetime starts, he also won the Brooklyn Handicap three times (in the same three years), but today, we focus on his final Whitney win. The New York Times’ anonymous turf writer bestowed his usual grandiose praise on Discovery’s performance:

Through the mud that has laid low champions from Kingfisher to Gallant Fox, Discovery today strode to the most decisive victory to be scored in a big American stake in many years. (New York Times)

Attendance on August 22nd, 1936 at the Spa was 15,000, which is more than attended on the first two muddy days of this year’s met, and the win in the Whitney marked the fourth stakes win of the year for Discovery. In this further description of the race, do we think that the writer mixes his dessert metaphors?

Discovery burned down his opponents in a single blazing burst of speed, turned on for about a furlong at the far turn. In six of seven seconds he jumped from last place to first, and from that point on it was a cake walk through a chocolate pudding track. (New York Times)

Can one do a cake walk through chocolate pudding?

Discovery won for fun, carrying 126 pounds, and was said to “toy with” the weight and “score easing up.” Following the race, the connections announced that they were ready for the mile and three quarter Saratoga Cup the following Saturday. He was second.

It appears that today’s starters will not have to contend with a “chocolate pudding” track; the track was fast yesterday and rain in the area is not expected until this evening. Heaven forbid we get more than forty-eight hours without getting soaked.

Moving to the distaff staff, the Diana, named for the fleet goddess of the hunt in Roman mythology, was first run in 1939. Mrs. Walter Jeffords’ War Regalia (Man o’War – Regal Lady; kudos to those who named her) won the first running, in an otherwise undistinguished racing career.

By 1939, New York Times racing writers were no longer writing anonymously; Bryan Fields gets his due in writing about this apparently cranky filly’s win:

Bad temper, long associated with the Man o’War strain, it presumably having been inherited from Hastings, was exhibited by the chestnut daughter of Man o’War from Regal Lady. She lunged and plunged at the post until finally Starter George Cassidy had to place her outside the stall gate. (New York Times)

This unusual treatment seemed to serve her well, as she’s described as “breaking smartly,” getting the lead and wiring the field to win by a length and a half.

The Diana is typically a great race, and depending on who stays in today, this year’s renewal shapes up to be the same. Having been untouched until yesterday’s eighth race, the turf course was pristine; though yesterday’s and today’s weather will help to dry it out, the footing may be softer than some of those entered like it, and scratches are expected.

Friday at the track felt like Saratoga: the weather was gorgeous, the crowds were big, and while folks were in generally good moods even during the deluges on the opening two days, the combination of good weather and twilight racing on Friday lent an especially festive air to the day. I’m expecting today to be packed; it’s shortly after daybreak, and before too long I’ll be on my way to snag (I hope!) a coveted backyard spot.

2 thoughts on “The Whitney and the Diana

  1. cakewalk through a chocolate pudding track . . . . How did the New York Times get its reputation for stuffiness? You constantly dig up choice nuggets from the dustbin of its history that seem to indicate the paper used to be a heck of a lot of fun. — J.S.

  2. You make it look easy. Great mix of breaking news with effortless history lessons. It is a beautiful formula and you do it well. Current husband is #3 for Whitney. Before marrying Whitney she married and divorced the Deere tractor fortune. Stories of her life as hotwalker for Colin are, however, untrue.

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