Happy Whitney Day! Whitney is a name as associated with Saratoga Race Course as Travers is; Travers helped found the track and was the first president of the Saratoga Association, giving his name to Saratoga’s flagship race in the track’s second season.
The Whitney influence came later: William C. Whitney became president of the Saratoga Association in 1900, overseeing a major renovation of the track; the Whitney name is connected to 11 victories in the family’s namesake race (six of them in the name of Greentree Stable); and Marylou Whitney, widow of Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, remains to this day an influence and benefactor in Saratoga’s racing world.
The first Whitney was won by Black Maria, herself no slouch in the annals of New York Racing. Owned and bred by William R. Coe, she raced 52 times with 18 victories and 38 finishes in the top three. That record earned her a little more than $100,000.
As a three-year-old in 1926, Black Maria won the Kentucky Oaks, the Ladies Handicap, and the Aqueduct Handicap. Showing an affinity for the Spa, she also won the Saratoga Sales Stakes, a race for 3-year-olds that had been sold by auction in August 1924.
Henry Ilsley in the New York Times wrote of the victory,
W.R. Coe’s handsome black filly Black Maria didn’t have to exert herself to win the second running of the Saratoga Sales Stakes for the three-year-olds over the mile course of the Saratoga Association this afternoon, running the three colts that opposed her dizzy in the first three-quarters of the journey and coming home by herself pulled up.
That year, she added second place finishes in the Alabama and the Coaching Club American Oaks to her list of accomplishments.
At four, Black Maria repeated her wins in the Ladies Handicap and Aqueduct Handica, and she added another of New York’s prestigious races when she won the Metropolitan Handicap.
Ilsley got to cover this one, too:
Running one of the greatest and gamest races of her career, W.R. Coe’s Black Maria stamped herself as a great race mare at Belmont Park yesterday afternoon, when she captured the thirty-fourth running of the Metropolitan Handicap and showed her plates to some of the best in training.
Her main foe in the race was Osmand, who had run second in the Derby – or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that her main foe was Osmand’s jockey:
Black Maria had need of all her speed, stamina and courage to win the Metropolitan against the roughing of Earl Sande on Osmand. She was shut off about half way on the journey by the Widener gelding, and on the stretch turn Sande bore out with Osmand and carried the filly wide…
Sande made one more effort to rough his most dangerous opponent, taking Osmand wide as they turned for home.
Black Maria won by a length.
It was at five that Black Maria came to Saratoga and went home with the Whitney title. On August 11, 1928, most Saratoga eyes were on Blue Larkspur, who won the Saratoga Special for his third victory in a row, but the 20,000 in attendance that day also saw the five-year-old mare beat the favorite, Joseph Widener’s Chance Shot, to take the very first edition of the Whitney.
Black Maria was euthanized in 1932 after a paddock accident. She wasn’t a champion, she’s not in the Hall of Fame, and she has no outstanding offspring. But 83 years ago, she made history at Saratoga.
For more information on William C. Whitney, see Kevin Martin’s recent post at Colin’s Ghost.
Sources quoted and consulted
Black Maria’s page at Pedigree Query
“Black Maria Takes the Metropolitan,” Henry R. Ilsley, May 31, 1927
“Blue Larkspur Wins Saratoga Special,” Bryan Field, August 12, 1928.
“Spa Rage a Gallop for Black Maria,” Henry R. Ilsley, August 20, 1926