Today is one of my favorite days of the summer, the Travers Stakes, the oldest major thoroughbred horse race in America. This will be the 142nd running of the historic race, and I personally can't get enough of the history of this race, or the history of the beautiful race course that is right here in our very own backyard. Saratoga Race Course is the oldest organized sporting venue of any kind in the U.S. The race itself began when bare-knuckles boxing champion and US congressman, John Morrissey held a four-day meeting at Horse Haven, which was originally where the current Oklahoma Track is today. The meeting was so successful it was decided to build a racetrack right across the street. John Hunter and William R. Travers were said to be the organizers of building the Saratoga Race Course in 1864. Travers also owned and bred many of the best horses. Together, Hunter and Travers owned a horse named Kentucky, the first winner of the stakes. William Travers was an American lawyer who made his money on Wall Street, who was known as a "high liver" and a father of three sons and six daughters. Travers died in Bermuda on March 19, 1887 from complications of diabetes. In his obituary, the New York Times wrote that he was "probably the most popular man in New York." I'm sure Travers never thought the four day meet he started with Morrissey would turn into the six week long meet that draws thousands of visitors to our town every summer. Since its beginning the Travers Stakes, as well as the Saratoga Race Course, has had quite the colorful history...
- One of Saratoga Race Course's well known nicknames is the "Graveyard of Champions" because of the legendary upsets that have happened here. Man O' War, considered to be one of the greatest racehorses of all time, suffered his only defeat in twenty one starts while racing at Saratoga Race Course. Secretariat was defeated at Saratoga Race Course by a horse named Onion after winning the Triple Crown. Gallant Fox, a Triple Crown winner, was defeated by 100-1 long shot Jim Dandy in the 1930 Travers Stakes.
- The track has only been closed four times in its history, on August 2, 2006 due to a heat wave which had hit the Eastern Seaboard. It closed for three entire seasons duringWorld War II and in 1911 and 1912 when it was not economically viable following New York state legislation which outlawed all forms of wagering on horse racing.
- A lake in the middle of the track contains a canoe that since 1961 has been painted annually in the colors of the winning stable for that year's Travers Stakes winner. The canoe itself has been a fixture at the track since 1926.
- Prior to each race a bell is hand rung at exactly 17 minutes prior to scheduled post time for each race. This is to call the jockeys to the paddock.
- The Race Course is the setting of a scene early on in the Ian Fleming James Bond novel Diamonds Are Forever where the mob he is trying to infiltrate attempt to use a fixed race to pay him for a job.
- Footage for the 2003 film "Seabiscuit" was filmed at the Saratoga Race Course.
- Saratoga Race Course has some unique features including the fact that patrons can get close up views of the horses being led to the paddock as the path from the stables runs through the picnic grounds (this is how my Mom got her up close picture of Rachel Alexandra!).
- The voice of Saratoga Race Course, announcer Tom Durkin, 59 has been calling races here for over 20 years, and our good friend Sam the Bugler has been playing at Saratoga for over fifteen years.
- Susan Lee, a Saratoga native, creates the blankets of flowers that adorns the winner of the Travers Stakes, and has been doing so for more than 15 years. She starts with thin swaths of felt and cotton and approximately 1500 flowers.
- The trophy, known as the Man O' War Cup, was designed by Tiffany and Co. The wife of Man O' War's owner Samuel Riddle donated the trophy as the permanent award for winning the race. A gold-plated replica is presented to the winner each year by a member of the Riddle family.
- The speed record for the Travers Stakes is still held by General Assembly (1979) at 2:00.00.
We're going to be there today Mamatogians, soaking up the history and excitement of this famous race (and some sun before Irene moves in!), will you be there too? Don't miss out on one of the oldest, most historic sporting events at the oldest organized sporting venue in our country, right here in our very own town! You might not be guaranteed to pick a winner, but you are guaranteed to have a fantastic time!