by Vic Zast
Saratoga’s oldest generation of horse racing fans will recall when the Whitney Handicap (gr. I) was the first of only four Saturday graded stakes that identified the calendar. In those days, there were 24 days of racing, six days a week for four weeks with Sundays dark. The Whitney Handicap was, arguably, the short season’s second most important race.
Despite a lengthening of the season by nearly 100 percent and the addition of dozens graded stakes on the calendar, it most likely was that again Saturday. A very fine, speedy colt, sired by the late Unbridled’s Song, overcame a confusing Tom Durkin call and shot to prominence on the exact day – a perfect day in just about every way – that the racecourse began 150 years ago. His name was Cross Traffic.
Cross Traffic, trained by Todd Pletcher and ridden by John Velazquez, ran quickly – 1 1/8 miles on the main track in 1:47.89 on a track that was playing fast. He is owned by GoldMark Farms of Ocala, Florida, the nom de race of T. Paul Bulmahn. In the winner’s circle, countless people remarked what a nice man Bulmahn is. It seemed like many folks weren’t sure he belonged.
Pink Marylou Whitney roses decorate the blanket that Cross Traffic wore after winning.
Cross Traffic had won his first two races and had come close on two previous occasions that the public took note of - the colt’s most noteworthy place finish was a nose behind Sahara Sky in the Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I). But GoldMark is known also for owning Mylute and, despite heading to the post in the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) as a wise guy’s selection a week ago, that horse ran up the track.
According to NYRA officials, 33,148 people showed up for Cross Traffic’s graduation celebration. About 30,000 of the fans showed up in the walking ring for the Whitney. It was nice to see the trainers saddle most of the runners under trees. They so often shy away from the custom in favor of a stall at the back. There was one pre-race incident as Successful Dan, the colt that finished second to Cross Traffic, tripped and fell en route to the track.
Huge crowd in walking ring gave horses that trainers chose to saddle beneath trees room.
Proclamations that were longer than post parades rang out on the decrepit public address system between races - the one time fans were glad that they couldn’t hear what was being said. A musical group led the crowd in two verses of “Happy Birthday.” A fan named Kevin Brockley of Gansevoort, NY won the chance to bet Marylou Whitney and John Hendrickson’s money - $15,000 of it – on a horse in the Whitney and chose the wrong horse. He chose the reigning Whitney champion Fort Larned. Fort Larned finished fifth.
Sam the Bugler, his hand out for tips, trolled the concourse with a sidekick to play tunes for the swells. Buddy Valastro of Carlo’s Bakery, the bakery where the TV show “Cake Boss” is shot, baked a birthday cake that was cut after the sixth race. It was four feet long, four feet wide and two feet high and looked like the racecourse, with a little imagination.
Let them eat cake - birthday cake for Saratoga's 150 year celebration.
Vic Zast has attended the races at Saratoga for 49 straight summers. This was one of his favorite Whitney Stakes in all that time.