The Runhappy Travers Stakes will be truly living up to its nickname of “The Midsummer Derby” this year.
As part of a revamped Saratoga Race Course schedule, the 1 1/4-mile Travers has been moved up three weeks to an Aug. 8 date with a $1 million purse as the centerpiece of a 71-stakes schedule worth $14.45 million for the 40-day meet July 16-Sept. 7.
The Travers is usually held on the final Saturday in August, but a change became necessary when the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve was switched to Sept. 5 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jack Knowlton, managing partner of the Sackatoga Stable syndicate, which owns Belmont Stakes favorite Tiz the Law, said the seven-week gap between the June 20 opening leg of the Triple Crown and the Travers is a perfect fit for his 3-year-old.
“It’s the date we had heard and that timing is great. It will give us plenty of time after the Belmont Stakes and then four weeks to the Kentucky Derby,” said Knowlton, a Saratoga resident whose group won the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes with Funny Cide. “We’re excited and hoping that Tiz the Law can stay healthy and run in the Travers, which is the race we had the most regrets about missing with Funny Cide because he got sick beforehand.”
Though Monmouth Park announced June 18 it would offer a $1 million bonus to a 3-year-old who could sweep the July 18 TVG.com Haskell Invitational Stakes, Kentucky Derby, and Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic, Knowlton said he is sticking with plans to run Tiz the Law in the Belmont Stakes, followed by the Travers and Kentucky Derby.
“We plotted out that course long ago, going back to after he won the Champagne Stakes. Obviously the order changed, but the Travers has always been one of the races we would point for if Tiz the Law could take us there,” Knowlton said.
The Travers, one of the year’s premier stakes for 3-year-olds, will top a card that includes two $300,000, seven-furlong Grade 1 stakes, the Ballerina Handicap for fillies and mares and the Longines Test Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.
Also on that card will be the $200,000 Troy Stakes at 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf and the $150,000 Waya Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 1/2 miles on the turf.
The $500,000, Grade 1 Alabama Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/4 miles, one of 18 Grade 1 stakes during the meet, will be contested Aug. 15.
The $750,000, Grade 1 Whitney Stakes for older horses highlights an Aug. 1 card with three Grade 1 stakes. The $500,000 Personal Ensign Stakes, a 1 1/8-mile race for fillies and mares that could bring Midnight Bisou and Monomoy Girl together, has been moved to that card after being contested Aug. 24 last year. The $300,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial Stakes Presented by Runhappy, a seven-furlong test for 3-year-olds, is also new to the first Saturday in August, having been run on Travers Day in the past.
The $500,000, Grade 1 Woodward Handicap remains the headliner of the final Saturday card of the meet (Sept. 5) but will be extended to 1 1/4 miles from nine furlongs.
The program scheduled on Kentucky Derby Day will also include the $150,000, Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes at 1 1/8 miles for 3-year-olds. The Jim Dandy was usually run in July as a steppingstone to the Travers.
Instead, the $100,000, Grade 3 Peter Pan Stakes, typically a prep for the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1), will be run on the opening day July 16 card. The race is for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles.
The New York Racing Association’s Turf Triple for 3-year-olds normally starts in July at Belmont Park but will get underway Aug. 15 with the $500,000 Saratoga Derby Invitational Stakes at 1 3/16 miles on turf, followed by the Aug. 16 Saratoga Oaks Invitational Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at the same distance.
The $350,000, Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/8 miles tops the first Saturday card on July 18. The $500,000, Grade 1 Diana Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles on turf was shifted from the opening weekend to Aug. 23.
The other Saturday top-level stakes are the $250,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap July 25, the $400,000 Fourstardave Handicap Aug. 22, and the $500,000 Sword Dancer Stakes and $300,000 Forego Stakes, both Aug. 29.
The closing days of the meet will offer the premier stakes for 2-year-olds, the $250,000, Grade 1 Spinaway Stakes for fillies Sept. 6 and the $250,000, Grade 1 Runhappy Hopeful Stakes Sept. 7. Both will be Lasix-free.
Racing will be conducted on a Wednesday through Sunday basis, except for the opening and closing weeks.