I picked up Saratoga Stories: Gangsters, Gamblers & Racing Legends at the Kentucky Horse Park gift shop last year, and since backstory always unmasks the best adventures, this summer it’s Travers Stakes or bust.
Named for William Travers (1819-1887), founder and president of the Saratoga Race Course (Saratoga Springs, N.Y.), whom the New York Times once called “probably the most popular man in New York,” the Travers Stakes is the oldest Thoroughbred race in the States, run on a track historically linked to bare-knuckle boxing Tammany Hall politician John Morrissey and known amongst race fans as the “Graveyard of Champions” for the Greats who’ve therein suffered defeat (Man O’War’s lone upset to Upset in 1919; Secretariat’s loss to Onion after the ’73 Triple Crown). Compellingly, Union Rags, Shackleford and Royal Delta are all possible runners this summer.
And though the Travers isn’t until August 25, one must be vigilant in the preamble to grand adventures.
Like this morning, reading Bob Ehalt’s recent blog for America’s Best Racing, in which he described Saratoga as:
…a place where racing is king. Not just inside the track’s gates; but the entire town embraces the sport. A Yankees cap is welcomed, but nightly talk centers around the day’s races rather than C.C. Sabathia’s achy groin or Andy Pettiite’s fractured fibula or the fowl play of Little Jerry Seinfeld. It’s a slice of the Blue Grass in the Adirondacks, making it nirvana for East Coast horseplayers.
The National Museum of Racing is across the street, but walking into a 144-year-old track with as much as tradition as Saratoga is like entering a museum. There’s a legion of the sport’s greatest stars who have raced at the Spa, and they have made races like the Travers, Whitney, Alabama, Personal Ensign, Sword Dancer and Test among the nation’s most well known stakes.
Racing as King. Nightly race-talk. 144-year-old museum relics. It was enough to get me counting the days–but then I stopped. At 40+, there are still too many for a feel-good countdown.
Which got me wondering, Horse Nation: Del Mar and Keeneland also host notorious summer meets. Are you horseplaying this summer? If so, where, when, why and how?