The Untouchables: Travers vs. Derby

(The following is pure fiction and the chances of it actually happening are slim to none, but it does make for compelling thought, especially on April 1st, so let's have some fun with it)

I have just written a script. It's not your everyday script. It is futuristic...well, not too far in the future. Some of the names are made up and some are real. Yes, the script is fiction, but that's not to say it can't happen. You never know.

Scene 1 opens in an office of the New York Racing Association. NYRA president Donald O'Reilly is conferring with several of the other officers.

O'Reilly: So fellas, I see where Churchill Downs is running the Kentucky Derby on September 5th. Now, where does that leave us in regard to the Travers? Do we move our premier event at our premier meet all the way up to early August to accommodate them? You know that's what they're expecting. If we do, that means we would have an entire month of Saratoga with our biggest race already having been run. That would take a lot of the drama away from it and make it nothing more than a prep for the Kentucky Derby. What do you think we should do? Do we dare go up against the Derby or relegate our biggest, most historic race to a mere prep?

Official No. 1: That is quite a dilemma. This is your call, Donnie. We want to hear what you want to do.

O'Reilly: Well, whatever we do it's not going to benefit us much and we have to think of the history and prestige of the Travers. I tell you what I'm thinking. Because we're going to be at a big disadvantage no matter what we do, maybe we should be steadfast and stick to tradition, and just keep the Travers where it is and where it's always been. Let's go by the assumption that Tiz the Law is gonna be the big horse even five months from now, and maybe, just maybe, we can lure him away from the Derby.

Official No. 1: That's quite an ambitious task. But go ahead, we're listening.

O'Reilly: What if I call up Barclay Tagg and Jack Knowlton and ask them if they have a choice between the real-time, historic, and prestigious Travers, run as it's always been run, or a makeshift Kentucky Derby, which one would they choose. I know the Travers would lose a lot of good horses, but it would still be a big event if we could get the best 3-year-old in the country and perhaps a few more diehard New Yorkers. Maybe other New York horsemen would feel the same way. Remember when Chad Brown and Bob LaPenta both said they were New Yorkers and would rather win the Travers than any other race? Let me get Barclay and Jack on a conference call just to feel them out.

O'Reilly calls up Steve Byk to get the phone numbers of Tagg and Knowlton and calls them.

O'Reilly: Hello guys, how are you?

Tagg: Fine

Knowlton: I'm good. What's up?

O'Reilly: I know this is a long way off, but if we decided to keep the Travers where it is, would you be more inclined to run at your home track and home state instead of a September Kentucky Derby?

Knowlton: Well, let's see we have a New York-bred, and we've already won the Kentucky Derby with a New York-bred, and the Derby isn't quite the same this year. But to win the Travers in our home state on its normal date would really add to our legacy. Imagine how ecstatic everyone would be to win the Travers and with a New York-bred no less. That's something we would have to consider. If. you guys moved the Travers it means we would have to run back-to-back mile and a quarter races in four weeks. That's asking a lot of a 3-year-old.

O'Reilly: I was thinking the same thing. I'm just afraid there would be a lot of trainers who would be more inclined to run in the Haskell, assuming they move that back to the Fourth of July. That would give them a more traditional mile and an eighth prep for the Derby, even though they would be two months apart. They might be afraid that having a hard race at a mile and a quarter four weeks out might jeopardize their chances of winning the Derby. And there is also the Ohio Derby, Indiana Derby, and West Virginia Derby we'd have to compete with.

Tagg: I understand where you're coming from. I've already won the Kentucky Derby with a New York-bred and I sure would love to win the Travers, considering I've been training in New York for so many years and we had to miss the Travers with Funny Cide. It's too bad we have to choose between the two. My question is, would the Travers still have the same prestige with most of the top horses running in the Derby?

O'Reilly: Well, we have Pletcher and Mott with top 3-year-olds. And Pletcher has won the Derby twice. And Mott has won the Derby. And Team Valor, who has Gouverneur Morris with Pletcher, has won the Derby. I know Todd has won the Travers, but that was 15 years ago and you know he's going to have several top 3-year-olds and could run horses in both races. So, let's say we could get Modernist and Gouverneur Morris. That alone would make it a competitive race. Asmussen should have several good ones to split up. He has plenty of top-class 3-year-olds. Wouldn't he love to win the Hopeful and Travers, which together have been run for 273 years, with Basin? That hasn't been done since Chief's Crown 35 years ago. What if Baffert has Authentic, Nadal, Charlatan, Thousand Words, and Azul Coast all in top form. Do you think he would run all five in the Derby, especially with the three best ones all frontrunners? I think the Travers could still have enough top horses to keep it a prestigious race and one an owner and trainer would take great pride in winning. And just think of all the love Tiz the Law will receive from an enthusiastic Saratoga crowd. They'll go nuts over him.

Knowlton: That's all very interesting. Let me discuss it with Barclay and my fellow Sackatogians. But what you say makes a lot of sense. Personally, I sure would love to win the Travers, and I don't want to speak for Barclay, but I don't think we would be very comfortable having tough back-to-back mile and a quarter races a month apart. Of course I would love to win the Kentucky Derby again, but if push comes to shove, there is a possibility we could stay in New York.

Tagg: Sounds OK to me, but Jack is the boss. I agree that the Travers could take a lot out of him, and then we would have another tough mile and a quarter race in possibly a 20-horse field four weeks later.

O'Reilly: Well, I can tell you now, we are not prepared to shorten the Travers to a mile and an eighth. We can bend, but we're not going to break. Tradition has to stand for something. We also have to figure out what to do with the Jim Dandy. When the heck would we run that? In fact, let me call Monmouth Park and see if they're crazy about moving the Haskell all the way back to the Fourth of July. Thanks for your time guys. It's something to think about.

Camera fades. The End. Stay tuned for Part Two coming this summer.

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