Marylou Whitney, escorted by her husband John Hendrickson, entered the main dining room of the Wishing Well restaurant on Route 9N at 9:58 pm. That is two minutes shy of an hour that most people her age are counting sheep instead of eating lamb chops.
With Whitney’s hair swept back off her eternally beautiful face and tied in the back with orchids, she radiated the aura of a movie star. The table of Tracy and Carol Farmer, owners of Commentator, winner of that afternoon’s $750,000 Whitney Handicap (gr. I), was where she was headed to congratulate the Farmers and meet John and Debby Oxley and Robert and Blythe Clay. By the time the first of two bottles of champagne were served, Ed and Maureen Lewi joined the party, and by 10:35 pm., it was over.
Proprietor Brenda Lee then showed Whitney the kitchen door. Her obligatory responsibilities completed, the Saratoga socialite left the premises like Elvis leaving the building to avoid having her ocean mint suit and matching flats ruined by a deluge. Sweet moments such as this happen often here. Grace is not to be dismissed easily, especially by people who are chasing a big payday.
Saturday was the richest day in Saratoga Race Course history. But it was also a day of confused identity. Locals think of the first weekend of the meet as the “Hat’s Off to Saratoga” weekend, the centerpiece of which is “Whitney Day.” But this year, track organizers cooperated with Breeders’ Cup officials to make it Breeders’ Cup Challenge weekend – a showcase for their “Win and You’re In” scheme that promotes the October extravaganza.
NYRA crammed four marquee events into one afternoon. One grade I race, the Go for Wand Handicap, and two grade II contests -- the Diana Stakes and the Alfred Vanderbilt Handicap -- complemented the Whitney. Any Whitney, even one with an okay cast of 4-year-olds and up, should have been the sole attention-getter. As it turned out, in winning his second Whitney, Commentator made certain it was.
Nevertheless, before the horses entered the starting gate, the question on the minds of handicappers was whether or not the 7-year old New York-bred gelding, arguably the fastest horse racing, could carry his speed the distance. Commentator had managed that brilliantly against Saint Liam, the eventual Horse of the Year, in the 2005 Whitney. But, on this Saturday, the 27,297 faithful at Saratoga didn’t think he could. They made Solar Flare (ARG) the favorite. He wound up nowhere.
Despite noteworthy achievements in the other stakes by Forever Together, Abraaj and Ginger Punch, a 2-year-old maiden named Munnings, in the third race, made the kind of impression that foretold greatness. Munnings, by Speightstown, put away Just a Coincidence as if he had been to the racetrack, like Whitney and Commentator, for ages.