The Whitney was first run in 1928, won by W.R. Coe’s Black Maria. Tomorrow, it will be run for the 85th time.
Williams Collins Whitney was president of the Saratoga Association at the turn of the last century and oversaw a major expansion and rejuvenation of Saratoga Race Course. His sons, Payne Whitney and Harry Payne Whitney, were both involved in Thoroughbred racing, and the family legacy passed on to C.V. Whitney, son of Harry Payne; C.V. (called “Sonny”) married Mary Lou Schroeder Hosford in 1958, and on Saturday, she will present the trophy to the winner of the Whitney Handicap.
Members of the Whitney family have won its own race 11 times: Harry Payne Whitney won it once in his own name; his brother Payne Whitney’s Greentree Stable won it six times; C.V. Whitney won it four times. The most recent Whitney win in the Whitney came in 1982, when C.V., who died in 1992, won with Silver Buck.
Just south of the Saratoga backstretch lies a farm that used to be part of the Greentree racing operation; John Hay Whitney, son of Payne and Helen Hay Whitney, purchased the land in 1938. Sold in the 90’s to Robert McNair for his Stonerside Stable, it became part of the Darley operation and was named Greentree Training Center in 2007.
Greentree’s last win in the Whitney came in 1958, with a horse named Cohoes. The horse that finished second that day was Admiral Vee, owned by Edward Seinfeld, trained by Allen Jerkens.
“That was a long time ago,” he said this week. “I’d forgotten all about that.”
“Forgetting” for Allen Jerkens is a relative term. “Forgetting” means that he doesn’t recall every single detail, only most of them.
“Didn’t John Ruane ride Cohoes?” he asked. He did.
“I think I might have been disappointed,” he said. “Either they went to the front when they didn’t usually, or we didn’t go to the front when we should have. But I remember the race.”
For those of you who might not, here’s what Joseph Nichols had to say about it:
The reasons for the leaning towards Cohoes were two-fold. The colt, a son of Mahmoud and Belle of Troy, is more or less of a “home town” pride, because of the relative nearness of the city of Cohoes. And then his owners, the Greentree Stable, are members of the Whitney family for whom the race is named and who have done so much for the thoroughbred sport here.
Johnny Ruane…had to fight off the challenge of Ted Atkinson on Admiral Vee almost to the wire before he has (sic) certain of the victory.
…the Whitney resolved into a duel between the winner and the runner-up and the victory was not at all easy, for there were moments when it appeared that the Seinfeld color-bearer, at 6-1, might create an upset.
Through the early going Cohoes was in front and his lead seemed safe enough. But at the turn going into the stretch Admiral Vee displaced him and for a time the favorite appeared to be beaten.
But Cohoes prevailed, to the delight, apparently, of the Saratoga crowd, and certainly to the Whitney family.
John Gaver trained five of those Greentree Whitney winners; he was an assistant for the first one, St. Brideaux, in 1931.
“He was the bookkeeper, right?” asked Jerkens. “He was a Princeton graduate.”
Jerkens is close, of course. Gaver did graduate from Princeton, first teaching at the Gilman School in Baltimore, then working as a bank clerk before going to work for Greentree.
From his barn in Clare Court, Jerkens had a clear view to the path that the Greentree horses would take from the farm to the track.
“I remember when they used to come through there, with their entourage: the station wagon and Mr. Gaver and the assistant trainer and someone leading a stakes horse, and Ted Atkinson would be on and they’d walk down there,” he recalled.
“I felt very happy that Mr. Gaver paid any attention to me at all, because we all looked up to him.”
“He knew that I liked to ride Ted Atkinson and that was his stable jockey. In those days, you didn’t have to name a jock when you entered your horse, but you had to have the jockey by the next day at 8 o’clock.
“The morning of a stakes race, he sent word to me that his horse wasn’t running, that I could have Atkinson if I wanted. And I thought that was really nice. That was our first contact, and then after that we’d say hello.”
Jerkens himself once, famously, won the Whitney. In 1973, he and Onion were in barn 5, the barn that he returned to this summer after years across the pony track; that Whitney was one of the races that earned him the “Giant Killer” moniker, though Onion paid only $13.20, much less than some of the Chief’s other takedowns of the favorite.
“The Whitney was just another race in those days,” he said, thinking back to Cohoes and Admiral Vee. “It wasn’t anything too special. When Onion won, it was big…but of course that was big because of Secretariat.”
Or maybe, at least a little, because it was the Chief.
“Cohoes, 5 to 4, Outraces Admiral Vee in Whitney.” Joseph C. Nichols, New York Times, August 3, 1958