What could one possibly give as a present to such a man as C.V. Whitney, who has enormous wealth and social status and even a stakes race at Saratoga that bears his name?

Lenny Hale, the racing secretary here, found the perfect thing: a gift-wrapped victory for his colt Silver Buck in the $165,000 Whitney Handicap here today.

This historic race was virtually decided when Hale issued his weight assignments a week ago. Silver Buck, who is probably the second-best horse in the country (behind only Conquistador Cielo) and set a track record at Belmont Park in his last start, was assigned a feathery 115. That meant weight concessions from Winter's Tale, which hadn't won a stake since 1980, and Lemhi Gold, who never had won a stake on the dirt.

Under these conditions, Silver Buck figured to have an easy time of it, and he did. Favored at 4 to 5, he rallied from last place and won by 1 1/2 lengths over Winter's Tale, carrying 119 pounds. Tap Shoes was third.

Silver Buck won so authoritatively that it suggests he would have won even without Hale's generosity. He dropped back to last place in the six-horse field while the leader, Lord Darnley, set a leisurely pace, with Winter's Tale and Tap Shoes within easy striking distance. After a half- mile, Silver Buck was trailing, a dozen lengths behind, and his backers in the crowd of 32,340 might have wondered if jockey Donald MacBeth had waited too long to move.

He didn't. As Winter's Tale and then Tap Shoes took the lead in the early stretch, the familiar Whitney blue-and-brown silks were a blur on the stretch turn, and by midstretch Silver Buck had taken command.

"It's a tough job to give a horse like Silver Buck a four-pound advantage," said Jeffrey Fell, who rode Winter's Tale. "That weight made a big difference in the stretch run. My horse ran a big race, a winning race."

The winner was timed in an excellent 1:47 4/5 for the 1 1/8 miles as he provided Whitney his fourth victory in this event.

If Saratoga fans saw the second-best racehorse in the country this afternoon, they will see the best Sunday, when Conquistador Cielo will run in the Jim Dandy Stakes. Only three rivals, No Home Run, Lejoli and Tayfun, have had the temerity to challenge the colt that won the Belmont Stakes by 15 lengths, and the outcome of the race seems a foregone conclusion, too.