Nine Things to Know about the Runhappy Travers Stakes

Racing
Racing on Travers Stakes Day 2016. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Saturday’s $1 million Runhappy Travers Stakes is one of the most prestigious races in North America and is the annual centerpiece of Saratoga Race Course’s elite summer meet. This year’s 151st running has a special distinction on the racing calendar due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read on to learn about that change and eight other fun facts about the Travers Stakes.

1. For the first time in history, the Travers will be a race where horses can earn points on the Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. Traditionally, the Travers is known as the “Mid-Summer Derby,” frequently facilitating a reunion of 3-year-old horses that contested the Triple Crown races earlier in the year. In 2020, the Kentucky Derby was postponed to Sept. 5, so this year’s Travers has been moved three weeks up on the calendar and made a Kentucky Derby qualifying race.

Additionally, the Kentucky Derby is usually the first time horses on the Triple Crown trail will race over the 1 ¼ distance. This year, the horses who race in the Travers will have an opportunity to test the distance before entering the starting gates of the Kentucky Derby.

2. The Travers Stakes is named for William Travers, the first president of Saratoga Race Course. His horse Kentucky won the first running of the event in 1864. Kentucky was by a legendary stallion named Lexington, who sired nine of the first 15 Travers winners.

3. In 1930, then-governor of New York, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was among an estimated crowd of 50,000 to witness one of the most memorable upsets of all time. That year, Jim Dandy beat Triple Crown winner and race favorite Gallant Fox at odds of 100-1. Jim Dandy is the namesake of another race for 3-year-olds at Saratoga, which is often used as a prep for the Travers but this year will be held on Sept. 5.

4. In the early years of the Travers, the distance fluctuated several times. At its longest it was run over 1 ¾ miles, and the shortest distance was 1 1/8 miles. The Travers has been run over a distance of 1 ¼ miles since 1904.

5. This year might be the 151st Travers, but it could have been the 157th. The Travers was not run in 1896, 1898, 1899, 1900, and Saratoga Race Course was even shut down for a short period.

The Hart-Agnew law, an anti-gambling bill, halted the Travers in 1911 and 1912, and turned off the lights all New York racetracks during those years. The legislation suppressed betting on races starting in 1908, and imposed severe penalties on offenders until 1913.

6. Of the 13 horses who became Triple Crown legends, only four raced in the Travers, and only Whirlaway in 1941 officially won the race.

In 1978, Triple Crown winner Affirmed faced a highly contentious rematch in the Travers with Alydar, the only horse in history to run second in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont. As the two chestnut colts raced into the far turn, interference from Affirmed caused Alydar to lose momentum. Affirmed once again crossed the finish line ahead of his nemesis, but the interference led to his disqualification and being placed second behind Alydar.  

7. Seven fillies have won the Travers, all of them before 1915. The first was Maiden in just the second running of the Travers in 1865. Four of the seven contenders in the race were fillies, and the top three finishers were fillies.

Other fillies to win: Ruthless (1867); The Banshee (1868); Sultana (1876); Liza (1895); Ada Nay (1903); and Lady Rotha (1915).

8. Linda Rice, trainer of Max Player, will attempt on Saturday to become only the second woman in history to train a Travers winner. The first was Mary Hirsch, who won the 1938 edition with Thanksgiving for owner Mrs. Parker Corning. Hirsch was also the first woman to be awarded a trainers license by the Jockey Club.

9. If you are looking for a unique Travers betting angle, here is an overview of winning percentages according to coat colors: Since 1864, nearly 45% of Travers winners were bay (67); 33% chestnut (49); 19% dark bay or brown (29); 2% gray (3); and 1% black (2). 

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