The scene after the big race at Saratoga today epitomized the nature of this place: a Whitney handed a trophy to a Whitney who had just won the Whitney Stakes.
C. V. Whitney's State Dinner stormed down the stretch to catch Dr. Patches and Caravich and captured the 53rd running of the stake named for the famous clan. Hunch players and conspiracy theorists might have guessed the outcome, but State Dinner's victory confounded most handicappers.
The 5-year-old hadn't won a race this year, but had lost photo finishes to the best horses in New York. When he did, though, he was getting weight concessions of nine and 10 pounds from Czaravich. Today he was carrying 120 to Czaravich's 123, and anybody who could subtract could figure that would make a significant difference.
It didn't. Jockey Ruben Hernandez let State Dinner relax in the early stages of the $165,900 event, while Midwestern invader Hold Your Tricks set a swift early pace. On the turn, Dr. Patches made a powerful move to take the lead, and looked for a moment as if he were going to win it. Then State Dinner moved strongly from behind him and looked as if he were going to win it.
When the field straightened into the stretch, though, Czaravich came flying up the rail and most people in the crowd of 26,113 knew that the favorite was going to win it for sure. Czaravich took the lead in midstretch, and jockey Laffit Pincay said, "He was really running. It looked like I was home free."
Suddenly and unexpectedly, Czaravich decelerated. He was on the rail, which may have been the worst part of the track, and the two horses he had just overtaken now rushed past him. State Dinner scored by half a length over Dr. Patches, with Czaravich third.
The winner paid $12, $5.80 and $3.20. Dr. Patches returned $5.20 and $2.80, and Czaravich paid $2.20 to show.
"Boy, do I feel relieved," trainer Elliot Burch said. He had been a bit reluctant to start State Dinner in the stake, but he said, "The race is named for the Whitney family so we decided to give it a shot. And the horse really fired today. State Dinner is getting older now, like me, so he's a little hard to guage. But if he comes out all right we may try the Marlboro."
The horses in the Whitney will be Spectacular Bid's principal challengers in the Marlboro Cup and the other major stakes at Belmont Park this fall. The time of the race today, 1:48 for 1 1/8 miles over a lightning-fast track, suggests that State Dinner, Czaravich and the rest will be over their heads.