The Travers Stakes at Saratoga and Kentucky Derby Runners
The Travers (G1), along with the preparatory Jim Dandy (G2), are the signature events for three-year-olds at Saratoga, the country's most popular and prosperous race meeting that begins July 21.
While fans that tuned into the Kentucky Derby (G1) in May are more likely than not to see familiar names contest one or both stakes, success at Churchill Downs in the spring has often proved difficult to replicate at the historic upstate New York venue.
Only three horses in the past quarter century have won the Kentucky Derby and Travers: Sea Hero (1993), Thunder Gulch (1995), and Street Sense (2007). Before Sea Hero, you had to go all the way back to Shut Out (1942) to find a colt that won both races.
While not applicable to any three-year-old running this year, Triple Crown winners are not immune to falling victim at the "Graveyard of Favorites." American Pharoah's loss in the 2015 Travers was the only one of his three-year-old season, while Affirmed (1978) was disqualified from first and placed second in the Travers after causing interference to arch-rival Alydar. Even the mighty Secretariat (1973) famously lost to older rival Onion in the Whitney (G2).
In addition to aforementioned Alydar, other horses that ran second in the Kentucky Derby and later won the Travers include Native Dancer (1953), Gallant Man (1957), Sword Dancer (1959), Arts and Letters (1969), Honest Pleasure (1976), Forty Niner (1988), Easy Goer (1989). This year's Derby second Lookin at Lee will look to end the long drought but will first prep in the July 29 Jim Dandy.
The Jim Dandy was first run in 1964, thus it's a century younger than the Travers. Reigning Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming will look to become only the third horse to wear the roses and win the Jim Dandy. The others were Affirmed and Street Sense.
Secretariat's participation in the Whitney back in 1973 was a bit of a one-off for a reigning Derby winner and it's become much less fashionable to race three-year-olds against older horses in early August. However, it's not unusual to see Derby runners from previous years run in Saratoga's biggest race for older horses. War Admiral (1938) and Carry Back (1962) are the only two horses to win both races, but the Whitney's been taken by Derby runners-up Alydar and Easy Goer (as three-year-olds) as well as Victory Gallop (1999). Last year's Whitney winner Frosted ran fourth to American Pharoah in the 2015 Derby.
Given the prestige of the meet, trainers will often unveil their most talented juveniles at Saratoga, and the track's maiden races, graded stakes, and occasional allowances for two-year-olds will often yield major contenders, if not the winner, of the following year's Kentucky Derby. However, success in races like the Hopeful (G1), Saratoga Special (G2) and Sanford (G3) no longer translate into victory at Churchill Downs as they once did. Affirmed was the last horse to pull off the Hopeful/Kentucky Derby and Sanford/Kentucky Derby doubles, while Bold Forbes (1975-76) was the last Saratoga Special winner to take the Derby.
Photo of Arrogate at Saratoga by Coglianese Photos