The first words from trainer Kiaran McLaughlin at the post-Travers press conference were, “What are they going to do with the canoe?” A Mohican on patrol at the Wishing Well in search of the tribe’s missing Chief Louis was told by a New York State racing official that there are going to be two.
One will be painted in Godolphin Racing blue; the other in Magic City Thoroughbred Partners green, blue and orange. The 143rd Travers was a dead heat, the first since 1874 when some guy eyed the finish between Atticus and Acrobat as too close to call and declared both horses hit the end line together.
McLaughlin felt a few seconds of despair before feeling elated as racecourse officials posted the three worn by Golden Ticket above the six worn by Alpha. Seconds later, the words “dead heat” in red became posted. Forty-six thousand five hundred twenty-eight fans were as stunned as he.
The winners provided a stunning contrast. Alpha’s owner was a sheikh from Dubai, a man winning his fourth graded stakes of the meet on the same day that he was awarded a gold medal at the World Endurance Championship riding a horse over 100 miles of desert. Golden Ticket was the first horse purchased at auction by Magic City. The colt’s trainer Ken McPeek admitted to “calling an audible,” passing up on an allowance race to race in the Travers. McPeek praised jockey David Cohen, who, at least in this instance, kept even with Ramon Dominguez.
Travers Day was a brilliant depiction of the sport from the get-go. Trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Rafael Bejarano, who teamed up on two winners on the card, fashioned Brigand’s easy victory in the first race. Trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John R. Velazquez accounted for Delhomme’s defeat in the second. The bay 2-year-old colt by Dixie Union had never run but was expected to win, according to experts. Yet, he failed to catch Honorable Dillon. A race later, Pletcher made amends with Slamarama.
Four graded stakes, including the Travers, composed a Pick 4 with a $1 million guaranteed payoff. Zagora won the grade II Ballston Spa Stakes and Contested won the grade I Test Stakes. Then all hell broke loose. Willy Beamin upset the Foxwoods King’s Bishop (gr. I). Trainer Dick Dutrow, Jr. sent the New York-Bred gelding into an open company stakes after winning a state-bred stakes only three days earlier. He achieved a similar feat with the same horse on four days rest in late June at Belmont.
Saratoga had an air that you don’t breathe at the track often. Fans were dressed to the nines. Sam the Bugler was working the crowd, playing musical requests at the slightest hint of pocketing a tip. Greg Montgomery was selling posters as if paper and ink were endangered commodities.
Even horses got a treat on Travers Day. Joe Campbell, NYRA blacksmith, feeds Brasso a peppermint.
Artist Greg Montgomery was situated in a new area, but sold his Travers posters with success anyway.
Michele Riggi led the fashion parade with her hat and ensemble.
A view of the huge crowd from the clubhouse.
Vic Zast is the author of The History and Art of 25 Travers. He has attended the races at Saratoga for 47 straight summers.