Talk along the Saratoga backstretch this week has centered on one thing — Saturday’s 153rd running of the Travers Stakes. The mile-and-a-quarter classic had its inaugural running in 1864, the year the first grandstand was erected on the site of the present track. Nicknamed the ‘Midsummer Derby’ the Travers Stakes remains one of the country’s most important three-year-old events. It is the second oldest North American classic, only the Canadian Queen’s Plate, first contested in 1860, predates it.
The $1.25 million purse for the 2022 Travers has attracted the best 3-year-old horses in the land, including the top three from the Kentucky Derby – Rich Strike, Epicenter and Zandon, respectively. The latter two horses are back at the Spa following their exciting one-two finish in last month’s Jim Dandy Stakes, the local prep for the Travers. The signature showpiece of the Saratoga meeting has also lured Early Voting, who proved best in the Preakness Stakes. In addition, Cyberknife, winner of the Haskell Stakes, Ain’t Life Grand, victorious in the Iowa Derby, and the top two finishers from the local Curlin Stakes, Artorius and Gilded Age, will also be in the starting gate. They promise to put on an exciting race. But it will take some doing to match the 1962 Travers show put on by two top-notch colts.
Six decades ago, in what is considered to be possibly the greatest horse race ever conducted at the upstate New York racetrack, 26,183 spectators witnessed an extraordinary front-end duel between Jaipur and Ridan.
Jaipur had to prove himself faster than Man O’ War to win the 1962 Travers Stakes, and he did. In a thrilling head-to-head fight, the dark bay race favorite battled evenly with second choice Ridan the entire mile and a quarter before winning by a nose. His time of 2:01 3/5 was a fifth of a second faster than Man O’ War’s previous 42-year-old record. Bill Shoemaker rode Jaipur while Manny Ycaza was aboard the runner-up.
The day was clear and the track fast for the seven three-year-olds, which also included the filly Cicada, the 2-year-old champion of 1961, who in the Travers, would finish out of the money for the first time in 29 career starts.
Jaipur and Ridan broke out of the gate from the two inside post positions with the latter on the rail. As the field went under the finish line the first time, it was Ridan on top and Jaipur a neck off while the others were four or more lengths in arrears. It was to be a two-horse race every step of the way with Jaipur laying right on Ridan around the clubhouse turn, down the backstretch, around the far turn and into the stretch. Down the straightaway they came, still banging heads every inch of the way and the outcome still in absolute doubt until the photo finish camera was able to separate them. To this day, there has never been a greater front-end duel involving class horses in the history of racing.
Virtually overlooked was the fact that a 23-1 shot, Military Plume, was flying fastest of all at the finish. He was dead last at the head of the stretch and while winging down the middle of the track was forced to take up as Cyane ducked out in front of him and then came on again. If it weren’t for the fact Military Plume was impeded by Cyane in the stretch, and slammed by Cicada coming out of the gate, he might very well have been lapped on Jaipur and Ridan at the wire.
In an Associated Press article carried in the Finger Lakes Times, Shoemaker said after the race, “Ridan was on the inside, I was on the outside.” And it was like that all the way. He went for the lead, and I went with him. We were head-to-head all the way. It was nip-and-tuck right down to the finish.”
As is often the case with jockeys, the races they remember best are those that got away. “I’ve never been in a closer finish,” Ycaza told NYRA writers, “and as we crossed the line, I figured it was a dead heat at the worst, but I was wrong.
There have been greater horses than Jaipur and Ridan, but it is agreed by past and present racing enthusiasts, that never before in more than a century-and-a-half of racing history have two top colts been locked in so even a battle over a distance of ground, for the entire mile and a quarter, as did Jaipur and Ridan in that 1962 Travers renewal.
Watch the replay of the 1962 Travers below: