Historic Travers Stakes Set for August 8

by Art Parker

The Triple Crown races and The Breeders’ Cup provide the greatest amount of historical talk when it comes to American thoroughbred racing. When Saratoga rolls around every August a treasure trove of racing history is re-opened, and its importance is second to none.

Saratoga is known for many great graded stakes that always play a role in the various division championships. Of all the races at Saratoga there are two that stand out from the standpoint of importance and historical significance. These two races are the Grade One Travers and the Grade One Alabama. In some ways these races restricted to three year olds serve as the “Derby and the Oaks” at the Spa.

The Alabama will be a topic next week. For now, all eyes are on the Travers, which will be run August 8th.

The Travers is the signature event at Saratoga and has often been referred to as the “Mid-Summer Derby.” The inaugural running was in 1864 and was named for William R. Travers, the president of the old Saratoga Racing Association. It was only fitting that his horse won the first running of the Travers.

The Travers is run at the Kentucky Derby distance of 1 ¼ miles. The race has been run at different distances but the current distance has not changed since 1904.

Since 1961, the colors of the Travers winner have been painted onto a canoe which sits on a pond in the infield. The canoe itself has been a fixture at the track since 1926.

Only ten Kentucky Derby winners have won the Travers. There was a long drought of Derby winners being unsuccessful in the Travers beginning in 1943. Shut Out won the Derby and Travers in 1942 and it was 51 years before the feat was achieved again. Sea Hero broke the long drought in 1993.

Affirmed, American Pharoah, Gallant Fox and Whirlaway are the only Triple Crown winners to race in the Travers. Of the three only Whirlaway, in 1941, became the only Triple Crown legend to win the Travers. Affirmed crossed the finish line first in 1978 but was disqualified, and his arch rival Alydar was elevated to first.

Many claim the 1962 Travers was the best race ever. Jaipur won by a nose-bob in track record time over the arguably more talented Ridan after a long nose-to-nose battle over the entire race.

The biggest upset came in 1930 when Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox lost to a 100-1 shot named Jim Dandy. The winner is memorialized with a race named in his honor and is normally a prep race for the Travers. Due to changes caused by COVID-19, the Jim Dandy Stakes will be run after the Travers on September 5, the same day as the Kentucky Derby.

In 2012 Alpha and Golden Ticket finished in a dead heat for first place – the only dead heat in Travers history resulting in two winners. Two canoes were put in the infield pond to commemorate the winners.

In 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah was in the race and was worn down in a speed duel with Frosted. Keen Ice passed the popular Triple Crown winner in a major upset.

In what was probably the best performance in Travers history, Arrogate destroyed the field by more than 13 lengths in 2016. The roan son of Unbridled’s Song is the only horse to eclipse the two minute mark and reported home in an eye-opening 1:59:36.

Some of the other greats to win the Travers are: Damascus, Point Given, Buckpasser, Thunder Gulch, Easy Goer, Forty Niner, Chief’s Crown, Gallant Man, Native Dancer and Man O’ War.

As of this moment, Tiz the Law, winner of the Belmont Stakes, is the favorite for the 2020 Travers. The purse for the 2020 Travers is $1,000,000.

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About Editor

Rich Nilsen is a 17-time qualifier to the National Horseplayers Championship (NHC), an event he has cashed in four times. He was the first player to finish in the top 10 twice. He cashed on the 2018 NHC Tour with a 19th overall finish. Rich was also a winner of a $24,000 package into Kentucky Derby Betting Championship I. A former executive with Brisnet.com, Rich is a graduate of the University of Louisville Equine Business Program and is founder of AGameofSkill.com, a site devoted to horse racing education and promotion.

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