The Travers Stakes
By Amy Nesse
Nicknamed the “Midsummer’s Derby”, The Travers Stakes is arguably the most prestigious test for 3 year olds outside of the Triple Crown races. It is usually the most popular day during the entire Saratoga summer racing meet and one of the most watched races of the year. The Travers almost always brings in fantastic competition and not uncommonly, dramatic upsets. It often brings many of the Triple Crown contenders back together for another chance to prove themselves as one of the top 3 year olds of the year. Late bloomers often emerge in the Midsummer Derby as well.
One of the things that makes the Travers so special is its rich history. It claims the title as America’s oldest stakes race for Thoroughbreds, dating all the way back to 1864. This weekend marks the 147th running of the prestigious Travers Stakes and it will be another great match up! Horses running include the Preakness Winner Exaggerator, the Belmont winner Creator, Derby runner Gun Runner, and Jim Dandy upset winner Laoban to name a few. Before you watch this weekends Travers Stakes, learn all you need to know about the rich history, fun facts, and record holders of the Travers Stakes.
In 1864, the Saratoga Racing Association named a new race after William R. Travers, the president of the old Saratoga Racing Association and one of the founders of America’s oldest race course. It was called The Travers Stakes. The race would be run simply to honor a man who’d made an important mark on the sport of horse racing. The race would be run over 1 ¾ miles (the race would be run at that distance till 1889) on Saratoga’s main dirt track. The race would be limited to 3 year olds with geldings and colts carrying 126 pounds and if a filly was to run she would carry 121 pounds.
In 1864, the inaugural running of The Travers Stakes was run in mid August. The first winner was William R. Travers’ champion colt Kentucky, he ran the race in a time of 3:18.75.
Kentucky, a son of the great Lexington, went on to win 21 of 22 starts and was eventually inducted into the American Racing Hall Of Fame in 1983. He won 20 of his races in a row. Almost immediately, The Travers became widely popular as another prestigious race for 3 year olds. Over time the race has been run over 4 different distances. No matter the distance, the race has succeeded in attracting the top 3 year olds in the country almost every year it has been run.
1¾ miles: 1864 to 1889
1½ miles: 1890 to 1892
1¼ miles: 1893 to 1894, 1897
1.12 miles: 1895, 1901 to 1903
1¼ miles:1904 to present
Over the past 152 years the Travers has provided many lasting memories and classic moments in horse racing, adding to the allure of New York’s popular Midsummer’s Derby.
In 1941, Whirlaway became the only horse ever to win the “superfecta” of Thoroughbred horse racing consisting of the Triple Crown and the Travers Stakes and has remained the only horse to do so.
In 1962, arguably the greatest Travers in history took place. Jaipur won by a nose-bob in track record time over the talented Ridan after a long, head-to-head battle the entire mile and a quarter. Still written and talked about today, the race is listed in the (Fantastic) 2006 book, Horse Racing’s Top 100 Moments, written by the staff of Blood-Horse Publications. The race result ultimately determined Jaipur the Champion 3-Year-Old colt of 1962.
In 1982, Runaway Groom, Champion Canadian 3 year old, trained by John DiMario, after a grueling season competing in the Canadian Triple Crown, winning the Prince of Wales Stakes, the Breeders’ Stakes, and finishing second in the Queen’s Plate, came to Saratoga. At the Travers that year, Runaway Groom became the 2nd horse in racing history to beat the Kentucky Derby winner Gato Del Sol, the Preakness Stakes winner Aloma’s Ruler, and the Belmont Stakes winner Conquistador Cielo in the same race. Sun Briar was the first in the 1918 Travers Stakes. According to Publisher, Editor, and Writer of Past the Wire, as well as a racing historian and student of the game Jonthan Stettin, who was at Runaway Groom’s Travers, rumor was trainer John DiMario slept in his car the night before the race. If true, Jonathan doubts he slept in it Travers night.
The 1997 Travers provided yet another memorable race in its history, as it saw U.S. Racing Hall of Fame jockeys Jerry Bailey aboard Behrens and Chris McCarron aboard Deputy Commander in a home-stretch duel wherein Deputy Commander prevailed. Adding to the drama was a thunderstorm which produced hail 24 hours before the race, and the uncertainty of whether McCarron was on the top of his game after the recent death of his mother.
In 2001, when Point Given won the Travers, it was a record Travers Stakes day attendance of 60,486 and also achieved a record total betting handle of $34,529,273.
In 2012, two horses, Alpha and Golden Ticket, tied for first place, making the race a dead heat. Following the race, two traditional jockey statues were painted and two of the traditional painted canoes were put in the pond. And most recently The 146th Travers Stakes, Triple Crown winner American Pharoah was in the race and the purse was raised from it’s usual $1,000,000 to $1.6 million and NYRA capped attendance at 50,000, making the event a sellout for the first time ever. The 2015 race reaffirmed Saratoga’s reputation as the “graveyard of champions” when Keen Ice defeated American Pharoah in his 2nd and last career defeat, providing one of the top heartbreaking upsets the race had ever seen.
Will this year provide us with another memorable performance in Travers Stakes history? Who knows, but there is much to love about the Travers Stakes, with it’s rich history and it’s popular traditions, including the popular trophy awarded to the winner. The trophy, known as the Man o’ War Cup, was designed by the prestigious Tiffany and Co. Its namesake, Man o’ War, won the Travers in 1920. The wife of owner Samuel Riddle donated the trophy as the permanent award for winning the race. A gold-plated replica, manufactured by the Craig Frankenhoffer Association for Jib Artistry, is presented to the winner each year by a member of the Riddle family. Along with the famous trophy, since 1961, the winner also has their silk colors painted onto a lawn jockey and also on a a canoe which sits on a pond in the infield. The canoe itself has been a fixture at the track since 1926.
With a purse now of $1,250,000, the Travers is a huge addition to a 3 year old’s career earnings and the winner of the race almost automatically puts him or herself in champion 3 year old contention. No horse in history has ever completed a Travers and Breeders’ Cup Classic double. Will that change this year? Who knows, but we are in for a great 152nd running of the Travers Stakes this Saturday at Saratoga.
Speed record: (at current distance of 1 1⁄4 miles)
Most wins by a jockey:
5 – Javier Castellano (2006, 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015)
Most wins by a trainer:
5 – Bert Mulholland (1939, 1950, 1951, 1962, 1963)
Most wins by an owner:
5 – Dwyer Brothers Stable (1881, 1883, 1886, 1888, 1890)
5 – George D. Widener, Jr. (1939, 1950, 1951, 1962, 1963)
5 – Rokeby Stable (1964, 1969, 1972, 1987, 1993)