SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y., AUG. 8 -- For months, New York racing fans had been talking about Java Gold, waiting for him to prove that he is one of the country's best 3-year-olds. Today, he got his chance -- and showed that all the ballyhoo was justified.
He won the prestigious Whitney Handicap at Saratoga, rallying strongly to beat Gulch by three-quarters of a length. Broad Brush, the country's top 4-year-old, was third, another 2 1/4 lengths behind.
Java Gold's triumph set the stage for a dramatic championship confrontation two weeks from today, when he will face Alysheba and Bet Twice in the $1 million Travers Stakes.
Trainer Mack Miller had chosen to bypass the Triple Crown series, and instead let Java Gold coast through a series of easy races before today. He had looked so impressive in them, however, that the all-time record Saratoga crowd of 50,407 made him a co-favorite with Broad Brush.
For the first half-mile of the $288,500 Whitney, the horses who finished one-two-three were racing at the rear of the seven-horse field. Seldom Seen Sue and Gorky battled for the lead and set an honest pace, covering the half-mile in :46 2/5. Then, Gone West, who had been stalking them, challenged on the outside and took a brief lead. But as the field rounded the turn, three of the country's best jockeys -- Pat Day, Jose Santos and Angel Cordero Jr. -- had to make the tactical decisions that would decide the Whitney
Cordero chose to move Broad Brush four-wide around the final turn. The Maryland-based colt already was conceding his rivals considerable weight -- he was toting 127 pounds -- and he couldn't also concede them the loss of so much ground. Broad Brush had no punch left after he straightened into the stretch.
Santos found room for Gulch on the rail on the backstretch and the turn, and when Gulch accelerated inside his stablemate Gorky, he opened a lead of more than two lengths. Day bided his time with Java Gold.
Day, too, had saved ground on the rail around the turn -- essentially following the path that Santos and Gulch had cleared. In the last eighth of a mile, Java Gold shifted gears and accelerated strongly at Gulch. He was drawing away authoritatively at the finish. The winning time was 1:48 2/5.
"He's got a lot of room to improve," Day said. "It took him a while to get going, and he's still learning. He won in a very handy fashion. In the Travers, going against Alysheba and Bet Twice, I wouldn't trade places with anyone. I'll be a confident individual."
So will Miller. He and owner Paul Mellon chose to give Java Gold plenty of time to develop after he had shown promise as a 2-year-old. Their patience has been rewarded.
In Baltimore, favorite King's Snow, ridden by Kent Desormeaux, won the $39,250 Primer Stakes for 2-year-olds by two lengths over Russian Diplomacy.