Angel Cordero Jr. has won the riding title here nine straight years because he understands, better than anyone, how speed-favoring the Saratoga racing strip can be. Today he again illustrated his mastery as he guided Track Barron to a front-running victory in the Whitney Handicap.
Track Barron never has been a star at 1 1/8 miles. He seemed overmatched against the even-money Vanlandingham, who had looked this year as if he might be the best in the East. But Track Barron has early speed, and he had Cordero, and that was enough.
When the gate opened, Cordero didn't hesitate to send Track Barron to the lead, while his chief rivals, Pat Day on Vanlandingham and Eddie Maple on Carr de Naskra, were happy to oblige him. Track Barron ran the first quarter in 24 1/5 seconds.
"He'd been walking out of the gate, so we never thought he'd be on the lead today," Cordero said. "We just wanted to lay close, but I was very happy he broke so well today."
Track Barron had an easy second quarter, too, reaching the half in :47 4/5. When he did, many in the crowd of 43,138, knowing front-runners had dominated the last two days of racing here, realized the Whitney was virtually over. And it was.
Carr de Naskra challenged Track Barron going into the final turn, and the two raced head-and-head until mid-stretch. They ran away from Vanlandingham, and the one solid stretch runner in the field, Life's Magic, never got into gear.
Inside the last furlong, however, Track Barron started to inch away from his challenger, and he reached the wire a half-length in front of Carr de Naskra. His time was 1:47 3/5.
While the Whitney was today's headliner, the most memorable race on the program was the $50,000 Tell Stakes on the turf. Chief's Crown, returning to competition after the Triple Crown campaign, was using it as a prep for the Travers Stakes, with Cordero riding.
Foundation Plan was setting the pace with Chief's Crown behind. As the six-horse field turned for home, Cordero angled to the outside, bumping the long shot Equalize and forcing him wide. Just as this was happening, Foundation Plan made an abrupt left turn and crashed through the hedge that runs along the inside of the course. Immediately after the incident, the horse walked away and did not appear seriously hurt. But an examination revealed a fractured skull and he had to be destroyed.
Chief's Crown was first by three-fourths of a length, but was disqualified and placed out of the money. The official winner was Exclusive Partner.