Nine Things to Know about the Runhappy Travers Stakes

Racing on Travers Stakes Day 2016. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Saturday’s $1.25 million, Grade 1 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, it’s been moved back to its normal late-August date after a most unusual 2020 when the race served as a prep for the rescheduled Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve.

Read on to learn nine fun facts about the Travers Stakes.

1. 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.

2. 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 that is normally used as a prep for the Travers (Essential Quality won this year’s Jim Dandy on July 31 and is slated to start in the Travers.)

3. 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.

4. This year might be the 152nd Travers, but it could have been the 158th. 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.

5. 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 anticipated 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.  

6. 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).

7. Last year, Tiz the Law became just the third New York-bred horse to win the Travers Stakes. The popular colt had previously won the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets, which was the first race in an altered 2020 Triple Crown series. He joined 1867 winner Ruthless and 1992 champ Thunder Rumble as horses that kept the paddles to the Travers canoe within Empire State lines.

8. If you are looking for a unique Travers betting angle, here is an overview of winning percentages according to coat colors: Since 1864, 45% of Travers winners were bay (68); 32% chestnut (49); 19% dark bay or brown (29); 2% gray (3); and 1% black (2). 

9. Twenty-one Travers Stakes winners have gone on to be honored as champion 3-year-old male, going back to 1936 when divisional awards began (the Eclipse Awards started in 1971). The last horse to do so was Arrogate in 2016. That colt set a new record final time for the Travers of 1:59.36, which is also the Saratoga track record for 1 ¼ miles. His margin of victory, 13 ½ lengths, ranks third all-time.

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