Travers StakesSaratoga Springs, N.Y. Saratoga Race Course
By Tom Pedulla, America’s Best Racing
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Tom Durkin, the New York Racing Association track announcer calling his final Travers, was at a rare loss as V. E. Day and stablemateWicked Strong powered together toward the finish line on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.
Durkin’s keen eye could not separate the hard-charging 3-year-olds as they finished before a roaring crowd of 46,557. He did not want to wait for the tight photo. Eager to say something, he blurted, “Jimmy Jerkens wins the Travers.”
Jimmy Jerkens, who has toiled in the shadow cast by his father Allen, a Hall of Fame trainer, had indeed won the 145th edition of the Travers as V. E. Day staged a dramatic rally to overtake stablemate Wicked Strong by the narrowest of noses.
As his two horses came into view, Jerkens almost could not believe his eyes.
“I said, ‘Man, what a feeling. I know I’m going to win the Travers. I just don’t know with who.’ ”
Wicked Strong was always expected to be a major player in the Travers after he repelled Tonalist by 2 ¼ lengths in the Jim Dandy Stakes, the key prep race for the famed “mid-summer Derby.”
V.E. Day? He was unraced at 2 and needed three starts to earn his first victory, accomplishing that on May 10 at Belmont Park. An allowance win preceded a victory by a head in the ungraded Curlin Stakes on July 25 at Saratoga.
To the untrained eye, there was not much to commend V. E. Day. He rewarded his few supporters with $41 for a $2 win wager after pulling a stunning upset in the 1 ¼-mile classic. Allen Jerkens, though, predicted that the son of turf star English Channel would be surging toward the end when father and son spoke by phone on Friday.
“My father was always pulling for horses like him — a big, strong horse who looks like he can go all day,” Jerkens said.
Allen is known as the “Giant Killer” for his ability to pull major upsets throughout his career. Although he has long been a fixture at Saratoga, so much so that the training title is named after him, he has been conspicuous in his absence this summer. He remained with a string of horses at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla., as he mourns the passing of his wife. Elisabeth Jerkens died of heart failure at a South Florida Hospital in early August. She was 86, one year older than her husband.
“Everybody misses him, not just me,” Jimmy said of his dad’s absence at Saratoga. “He’s been a mainstay here for years.”
Fellow trainer Ian Wilkes was delighted to see Jimmy add to his own strong reputation.
“The problem when you grow up with a Hall of Fame father is that you are always in his shadow,” Wilkes said. “But Jimmy has always been a good trainer.”
The Jerkens clan surely approved of the deliberate ride Javier Castellano gave V. E. Day as he won his fourth Travers. Castellano was aboard the winner for the first time after Jose Lezcano handled the mount in the Curlin.
“In the Curlin, he came from way back. I learned a lot watching that race,” Castellano said. “I just took my time. I had a lot of patience, and it paid off.”
The Travers Stakes is the oldest major stakes race in the U.S. having first been conducted in 1864.
The Travers was named for William R. Travers, president of the old Saratoga Racing Association. The initial running of the race was won by his horse Kentucky. From 1864 to 1889, the race was run at 1 3/4 miles, and the current distance was adopted for the 1904 running.
In 1941 Triple Crown champion Whirlaway became the first and only horse to win the Travers after sweeping the Triple Crown. In the 1982 Travers, Canadian champion Runaway Groom became the first horse to defeat the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont winners in a single race. No other horse has accomplished this feat since. In 2012 Alpha and Golden Ticket won the race the first and only Travers dead heat. Other top horses to win the Travers also include Bernardini, Medaglia d'Oro, Holy Bull, Easy Goer, Forty Niner, Alydar, Arts and Letters, Damascus, Sword Dancer, Native Dancer and Man o' War.
- Race Number: 12
- Date of Race: August 23, 2014
- Current Purse: $1,000,000
- Location: Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
- Track: Saratoga Race Course
- Distance: 1 1/4 miles
- Surface: Dirt
- Horse Age: 3-year-olds
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- Fastest Time (since 1976): 2:00.00 (General Assembly, 1979)
- Greatest Winning Margin (since 1976): 15 lengths
- Past Winners: