Suddenly, with the onset of Travers Week, the tone of the racecourse has shifted to horse racing. Saturday alone will feature four graded stakes. The horses that will race are among the best of their generations. NBC Sports is setting up on the grounds to allow the world to see them run. Just about all the final morning works of the upcoming weekend’s competitors have been logged in the clockers’ books.
The emphasis on horse racing is not to say that there won’t be some distraction at the racecourse for fans who simply want to take in the air and be part of the scene. The New York Racing Association has created a few more excuses to lure warm bodies to the track. There was an ice cream eating contest on Wednesday for 31 people who looked like they’ve eaten a ton of it. On Friday, there’ll be a beer drinking festival and, on Sunday, a social media day. By one definition, crazy is doing the same thing over and again and expecting a different result. At least in the case of Social Media Day, NYRA is trying something new to boost its dropping numbers.
Stand-ins for Saratoga’s embattled racing department announced the Travers Stakes (gr. I) lineup at an 11 a.m. press conference. Two bits of news occurred a couple hours beforehand. The first was that Frankel, the European wonder horse, won his 13th straight race in the 10.4 furlong Juddmonte International (Eng-I) at York, England. The second was that Hansen, the reigning Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) champion, had been scratched from Saturday’s 143rd “Midsummer Derby.’
With Hansen joining Union Rags, Gemologist, Paynter and Bodemeister as recently announced no-shows, the Travers has the look of leftovers. Alpha, the useful Godolphin Racing runner that has triumphed on two prior Spa occasions, was installed the 5-2 morning line favorite. He finished 12th in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). Of the 10 others that’ll face the starter, only Liaison ran for roses and none for black-eyed susans. Godolphin, the meet’s leading stable in terms of money won, has won with three of the six runners it has sent to the post at Saratoga this summer.
In the p.m., Wilmer Garcia rode a second in the third that paid $21.80 to place. The betting favorite, Willy Beamin, was a facile winner of the featured Albany Stakes for New York-bred 3-year-olds. Alan Garcia was in the irons for trainer Richard Dutrow, Jr. and owner James A. Riccio.
The Belmont Child Care Association honored Barbara Banke of Stonestreet at the Gideon Putnam. Each year on the Wednesday preceding the Travers, lots of very thoughtful people contribute to this worthwhile charity by paying $250 per plate to wear jeans while drinking margaritas. There are no leftovers at this party, only hangovers.
Vic Zast is the author of The History and Art of 25 Travers. He has attended the races at Saratoga for 47 straight summers.