The Travers is America’s oldest recorded stakes race for thoroughbreds, staged in a most historic setting – Saratoga Springs.
The area about 160 miles north of New York City began attracting wealthy pilgrims because of carbonated mineral springs. It’s where decisive battles were fought during the American Revolution and Civil War.
The 1777 Battle of Saratoga, considered the first Colonial victory and a turning point in the Revolutionary War, ended with General John Burgoyne surrendering his British troops.
During the middle of the Civil War, Saratoga Raceway opened on Aug. 3, 1863. The four-day experiment was so successful that an American boxing champion, a lawyer, the grandfather of Winston Churchill and a horseman decided to expand and move across the street and erect a larger facility to accommodate bigger crowds.
They called it Saratoga Race Course. The principal players were:
William R. Travers, prominent stock broker and lawyer named president of the Saratoga Association, who was such a force in racing that the track’s premier stakes race bears his name.
John “Old Smoke” Morrissey, former bare-knuckle champ, gambler and later a lawmaker on state and national levels that once was a New York gang member.
Leonard Walter Jerome, flamboyant entrepreneur, father of Churchill’s mother and another successful stock speculator known as “the King of Wall Street.”
John R. Hunter, whose horses ran on both sides of the Atlantic and co-owned (with Travers) the first winner of the Saratoga’s showcase stakes race, a horse named Kentucky in 1864 when the purse was $2,950.
There have been quite a number of exciting races dating back decades that included the biggest upset: 1930 Triple Crown champ Gallant Fox, 1-2, finished eight lengths behind 100-1 Jim Dandy on a muddy track. A stakes race was named for the winner in ’64, an appropriate prep for the Travers.
Three horses that captured the Jim Dandy in the 21st century repeated in the Travers: Medaglia d’Oro, ’02; Preakness winner Bernardini,’06; and Kentucky Derby champ Street Sense, ’07. A Little Warm will attempt to duplicate the feat in the 141st renewal on Aug. 28.
Affirmed, the last Triple Crown winner in ’78, and Alydar, runner-up in all three races, clashed for the 10th time.
Affirmed won the battle by 1 ¾ lengths, but lost the war when he was disqualified for interference along the backstretch and Alydar went to the winner’s circle.
The following year, General Assembly won by 15 lengths and set the stakes record of two minutes flat for the 1 ¼ miles that stands today. But that wasn’t the largest margin of victory.
In ’67, Damascus roared from 10 lengths off the pace in the slop to win by a whopping 22 lengths in a four-horse field, the smallest several times dating back to 1883.
Seven times a nose has separated the top two finishers between ’16 and ’98, when Coronado’s Quest scored.
Only three winners of the Kentucky Derby since Whirlaway in ’41 and Shut Out the next year have triumphed. They are Street Sense, Sea Hero in ’93 and Thunder Gulch in ’95. This year’s Derby champ, Super Saver, is hoping to join the select group.