The 1975 Whitney Handicap
For the first three and a half seasons of his career, Ancient Title racked up win after win in Southern California. Noted for his sprinting, the California-bred took home multiple graded stakes in the region. If he was not winning, Ancient Title regularly collected minor awards, thus building what would become one of the most productive careers among state-bred horses.
But in the summer of 1975, Ancient Title embarked on a trip to Saratoga Race Course in New York. The race in mind was none other than the Grade II Whitney Handicap, long a part of the Spa's festivities. Several Thoroughbred legends were on the list of winners, too, for Discovery (1934, '35, '36), War Admiral (1938), Stymie (1946), Tom Fool (1953), Kelso (1961, '63, '65), and Dr. Fager (1968) were all Whitney champions. And only two years earlier, Onion pulled off one of the most shocking upsets in racing history by defeating recent Triple Crown winner Secretariat. Make no mistake, the Whitney offered a glimpse of racing history due to a good number of its prior editions.
Going into the 1975 Whitney, the majority of Ancient Title's victories had come from sprinting. Still, he was not entirely devoid of routing success. In 1974, the gelding had taken Santa Anita's Grade II San Fernando Stakes at a mile and one-sixteenth and the Grade I Charles H. Strub Stakes at ten furlongs en route to sweeping the Strub Series. Not long before the Whitney, he added the nine-furlong Californian to his resume, and followed that up with another classic event in the Hollywood Gold Cup, also at a mile and one-quarter like the Strub.
The Whitney would be the same distance as the Californian, nothing Ancient Title had not tried before. But he was attempting something new, and that was racing out of state.
When it comes to shipping to a track in another state, it can be a wild card. Some horses handle it fine and win, while others don't seem to care for it and it shows on track. That of course was the question facing Ancient Title as he left California to try his hand in the Empire State.
Six horses lined up alongside him in the starting gate for the Whitney. Among his rivals in the contest were Arbee's Boy, second in Belmont Park's Grade I Suburban Handicap a couple of weeks earlier; 1974 Grade II Hawthorne Gold Cup champion Group Plan; and Ward McAllister, who would win the Grade III Bernard Baruch Handicap at Saratoga just over a week after competing in the Whitney.
Ridden by Sandy Hawley, Ancient Title started well and quickly found himself engaged in a battle for the lead with Group Plan, Golden Myrrh and Ward McAllister as the quartet entered the first turn. Group Plan took the lead on the inside, but Ancient Title was right there in second before seizing control going down the backstretch. But Group Plan was not going to give his opponent an easy time. He kept right with Ancient Title as they continued along the backstraight and far turn. Ward McAllister was next in third with Golden Myrrh right there with him, followed by Monetary Principle, Hatchet Man and Arbees Boy.
Well into the stretch, it was clear at the eighth pole that either Ancient Title or Group Plan would win the Whitney, and neither horse was giving up. Group Plan raced on the inside, Ancient Title to his right. With a sixteenth to go, Ancient Title had a slight advantage, but Group Plan kept going, trying to catch the leader with a ground saving path. He gave it his all, but Ancient Title had a little more that day at the Spa.
After nine furlongs in 1:48 1/5, Ancient Title came up with one of the biggest wins of his career, joining a club of Thoroughbred legends as champion of the Whitney Handicap by a neck over Group Plan. Guided by trainer Keith Stucki, the dark bay Cal-bred never visited Saratoga again. In fact, save for two stops at Belmont Park a few weeks after the Whitney, he never competed in any state besides California for the remainder of his career.
And he was not disgraced in either of those Belmont starts. He took third in the Grade I Governor (which saw him beat by only 1975 Travers Stakes champion Wajima and reigning Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure), as well as third in the Grade I Marlboro Cup Invitational (defeated by just Wajima and 1974 Horse of the Year Forego).
The 1975 Whitney stands as a major victory for Ancient Title. He was a Cal-bred who took on Eastern horses in their realm, and he defeated them on one of racing's grandest tracks. It was not unprecedented that he had beaten open company, though. He had already done so in graded stakes in California, but he demonstrated he could get the job done while visiting another major circuit as well.
He also added a new story to the longstanding East-West rivalry. Though it may not have been as big as Seabiscuit's 1938 win over War Admiral or Swaps coming through in the 1955 Kentucky Derby, Ancient Title notably captured a major Eastern race. And he was a fan favorite in his heyday, so there is little doubt the victory was popular in Southern California back then. His story deserves to be remembered.
For his work in the 1975 season, Ancient Title was named California's top Older Male and Horse of the Year. Although his season produced victories in the Californian and Hollywood Gold Cup, his triumph in the Whitney certainly played a significant role in him achieving those honors for the second straight year.
It became one of his career highlights, and it helped him become a highly decorated Cal-bred. And the 1975 Whitney Handicap is part of the legend of Ancient Title.
Ancient Title's CTBA Awards: https://www.ctba.com/wp-content/uploads/calbred-champion.pdf