Betting Drama? A Little Travers History to Consider

The Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday (Aug. 26) has a strong chance to become the most dramatic in its wild and woolly 154-year history.

The 1 ¼- mile race aka the Midsummer Derby, has featured some of the most memorable upsets in thoroughbred history at a track known as the Graveyard of Champions.

In addition to surprising results – 100-1 longshot Jim Dandy over 1930 Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox is the No. 1 shocker, plus Keen Ice (16-1) over 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah – there’s an added feature to this year’s edition: It’ll be just the fourth time the three winners of the Triple Crown races compete. Plus, there’s top-rated 3-year-old Forte, winner of the Jim Dandy (G2), the traditional Travers prep.

Mage won the Kentucky Derby (G1) after morning-line favorite Forte was scratched hours before the race with a minor foot issue, National Treasure won the Preakness (G1), and Arcangelo won the Belmont Stakes (G1). All three are entered in the Travers.

Tapit Trice and Disarm, a pair of talented 3-year-olds seeking a breakthrough victory, and Scotland, winner of the Curlin Stakes at the Spa on July 21, were also entered.

What a lineup for the oldest stakes race for 3-year-olds in the United States.

Travers Stakes History

A bit of Travers history, courtesy of the New York Racing Association:

Derby, Preakness, Belmont winners far from a lock in Travers

 The three times the Travers drew all three of the year’s Triple Crown winners took place in 1918, 1982, and 2017. In 1918, Sun Briar beat Derby winner Exterminator, Preakness co-winner War Cloud (the race was run in divisions), and Belmont winner Johren; in 1982, Runaway Groom ($27.80) topped Derby winner Gato Del Sol, Preakness winner Aloma’s Ruler, and Belmont winner Conquistador Cielo (the 1-5 favorite; and in 2017 it was West Coast (6-1) topping Derby winner Always Dreaming, Preakness winner Cloud Computing, and Belmont winner Tapwrit.

American Pharoah in the 2015 Belmont Stakes – Photo Courtesy of NYRA/Adam Mooshian

Travers named for Travers

The race is named for William Travers, a wealthy lawyer and investor who was the first president of the Saratoga Race Course, and one of the prime movers behind its founding and construction. When Travers died in 1887, a newspaper hailed him as “the most popular man in New York.”

First run 3 years before Belmont Stakes

The first running was in 1864, predating the Belmont by three years and the first Kentucky Derby by more than a decade. Fittingly, the first winner of the Travers, in 1864, was Travers’ horse, Kentucky.

Dollar, gambling issues

 The Travers was not run in 1896, 1898, 1899 and 1900 because of financial reasons and it was also shut down in 1911 and 1912 because anti-gambling forces put a halt to New York racing.

Man o’ War avenges only loss

 As if he were avenging the only loss of his career, Man o’ War won the 1920 Travers in 2:01⅘, a record time that stood until bested by Jaipur 42 years later. In doing so, he beat Upset, who had beat him in the 1919 Sanford. The Man o’ War Cup, which Man o’ War originally won by defeating 1919 Triple Crown winner Sir Barton in a match race, is now presented each year to the winner of the Travers.

Whirlaway a winner

Affirmed, American Pharoah and Whirlaway are the only Triple Crown winners to race in the Travers. Of the three, only Whirlaway in 1941 won the Travers.


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

Jaipur over Ridan

 In 1962 in arguably the greatest Travers in history, Jaipur won by a nose in track record time over Ridan after a race-long, head-to-head battle … in 1967, Horse of the Year Damascus won the Travers by 22 lengths

Affirmed DQ’d, Alydar wins

 Continuing one of the sport’s all-time greatest rivalries, Affirmed crossed the finish line ahead of Alydar in 1978 Travers, but Affirmed was DQ’d for interference and Alydar was declared the winner.

Dead heat

 On August 25, 2012, two horses, Alpha and Golden Ticket, tied for first place, making the race a dead heat. Two jockey statues were painted and placed in the paddock—with two canoes put in the pond.

American Pharoah loses

 In 2015, the race reaffirmed Saratoga’s status as the “Graveyard of Champions” as Keen Ice defeated Triple Crown winner American Pharoah.

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