Thanks to the coronavirus, this was not a typical Whitney Day crowd at Saratoga, because there was no Whitney Day crowd. Even so, that didn’t prevent the track from setting an all-sources handle record of $35,796,435.

Whitney Start
Tom’s d’Etat (5) stumble coming out of the gate in The Whitney Stakes likely cost him his fifth consecutive victory. Instead, Improbable (2) captured the centerpiece of Saratoga’s Whitney Day card, one of three notable upsets on the day. (Image: Erica Miller/Daily Gazette)

That bested the previous record of $31,835,863, set last year when Saratoga welcomed 40,791 fans through the gates. Those fans bet more than $4.65 million that day

No fans, however, didn’t detract from a 12-race card featuring four graded stakes – three of those Grade 1s. Nor did it detract from savvy horseplayers cashing in on three upsets in those Grade 1s as Saratoga played to its well-earned reputation as the “Graveyard of Champions.”

Leading that list was Improbable’s victory in the Whitney Stakes, one that came with his usual starting gate antics. Yet, when the gates opened, the Bob Baffert-trained colt broke cleanly. Instead, it was the favorite, Tom’s d’Etat, who stumbled out of the gate, spotting the field several lengths before he recovered.

“There was a lot going on. He was standing fine, he just missed the break,” jockey Joel Rosario said after the race. “The horse to the inside of him (Mr. Buff) was moving a little bit. … It changed my plan because I had to really get riding from there. I couldn’t take my time.”

Tom’s d’Etat Rallied to Hit the Board

En route to his second consecutive Grade 1 title, Improbable stalked pace-setting long shot Mr. Buff all the way through to the far turn. There, Irad Ortiz Jr. called for another gear and Improbable delivered. He took the lead at the top of the stretch, then extended it to the point where Ortiz could gear down over the final sixteenth.

Improbable earned Baffert his second consecutive Whitney title — he won with McKinzie last year — and paid $8.50 for the two-length victory over By My Standards. Tom’s d’Etat rallied to finish third.

That upset was mild compared to the one Vexatious pulled in the Personal Ensign when she beat 1/5 favorite Midnight Bisou. Vexatious won her second graded stakes, paid $21 for the effort, and earned a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. After disposing of front-runner Motion Emotion by the quarter-pole, Vexatious held off Midnight Bisou all the way down the stretch.

Midnight Bisou’s jockey, Ricardo Santana Jr., called for a foul for interference down the stretch. But after quickly reviewing the race, officials allowed the result to stand.

“The more I watched (the replay), the more I thought we had a chance (for a reversal) because – again – when fillies are battling at that point in the race, if you watch the head-on, there’s no question that horse came over and bumped her,” Midnight Bisou’s owner, Jeff Bloom, said. “And, she got bumped at a point where a horse is just really starting to dig in and collect themselves. I was hopeful they would (reverse the call), but they didn’t.”

Echo Town Got His Saratoga Payback

In the third Grade 1, the H. Allen Jerkens Memorial Handicap, Echo Town avenged his previous loss to No Parole in June’s Woody Stephens at Belmont Park. The 7/1 shot paid $16.80 for his 3 ½-length victory over Tap It to Win. The 2/1 favorite seeking his third consecutive win, No Parole finished a non-threatening ninth in the 11-horse field.

“He’s run hard all year. He’s run consistently all year. Now, he will be noticed,” trainer Steve Asmussen said about Echo Town.