The 2019 Travers Stakes is on August 24th at Saratoga Race Course. The inaugural Travers in 1864 was won by the colt Kentucky, who was co-owned by two of the founders of the Saratoga Racing Association, William Riggin Travers and John Hunter. William Travers (1819-1887) made a fortune on Wall Street and was the first president of Saratoga Race Course. Since 1864, the race named after him has been run annually except for six years in the late 19th century and early 20th century. It is widely regarded to be the third most prestigious race for 3-year-olds in the United States, trailing only the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes, and has been won by such greats as Native Dancer and Buckpasser.

This year’s renewal is particularly relevant because there is no clear-cut candidate for champion 3-year-old colt or gelding. The winners of the Kentucky Derby (Country House) and Belmont (Sir Winston) are out of action and the Preakness winner War of Will is being prepped for the Pennsylvania Derby instead of the Travers. Disqualified Kentucky Derby winner Maximum Security is not entered. Omaha Beach has not raced since being scratched as the pre-race favorite in the Kentucky Derby. The absence of a dominant colt makes for a challenging and attractive race to watch and bet.

Following are the twelve entries and their morning lined odds:

Chess Chief 30/1
Code of Honor 4/1
Endorsed 15/1
Everfast 30/1
Highest Honors 10/1
Laughing Fox 30/1
Looking at Bikinis 10/1
Mucho Gusto 6/1
Owendale 6/1
Stars are Cool 30/1
Tacitus 5-2
Tax 6/1

Tacitus, who broke poorly in the Jim Dandy at Saratoga but rallied to finish second, is a real threat at 1 ¼ miles, as is Code of Honor, who last month won the Dwyer at Belmont Park. The race has live longshot contenders like Owendale and Laughing Fox.

The Travers traditionally has drawn the crème de la crème of American 3-year old Thoroughbreds. The race has not been kind, however, to many of them. Whirlaway is the only Triple Crown champion to win the race. In 1978, Triple Crown winner Affirmed crossed the finish line first, but was disqualified for interference and placed second behind his arch-rival Alydar. And in 2015, American Pharoah was upset by Keen Ice.


On August 14, 1938, trainer Mary Hirsch, daughter of Hall of Fame trainer Max Hirsch and sister to Hall of Fame trainer W. J. “Buddy” Hirsch became the first woman to saddle the winner of the Travers Stakes, sending out Thanksgiving for owner Anne Corning. Mary Hirsch was also the first woman in North America to be licensed as a horse trainer and the first woman to saddle a starter in the Kentucky Derby.

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The proprietors of Saratoga Race Course in its earliest years wanted to honor William Cottrell of Mobile, Alabama by naming a race for 3-year-old fillies after him. The English-born Cottrell was a prominent owner and breeder of his day, and his Buchanan won the 1884 Kentucky Derby. The self-effacing Cottrell requested the race be named after his adopted home state of Alabama instead of him. In 1872, the inaugural Alabama was won by August Belmont’s Woodbine. Today, the Grade 1 Alabama is the third leg of the New York Triple Tiara, the first two legs being the Acorn Stakes and the Coaching Club American Oaks.

Saturday, August 17, 2019, is the 139th edition, as the race was not run on nine occasions in the late 19th century and early 20th century. The prestigious race is contested at a distance of 1 ¼ miles on dirt. The undercard includes the 1 1/16 miles Grade 2 Lake Placid on turf for 3-year-old fillies and the Smart N Fancy, a 5 ½ furlong turf race for fillies and mares 3 years old and up. A TVG Promo Code offers incentives to wager.

The leading contenders for the $600,000 Alabama are: Dunbar Road, winner of the Mother Goose Stakes on June 29th; Lady Apple, third in the Kentucky Oaks and first in the Iowa Oaks; and Point of Honor, second in the Coaching Club American Oaks and first in the Black Eyed Susan at Pimlico.

Dunbar Road, the lightly raced daughter of Quality Road, has a career record of three wins in fours starts and was impressive in the Mother Goose by closing to win by 2 ½ lengths.

Point of Honor is well suited for the 10 furlongs, being by Curlin out of a Bernardini mare. Her second-place finish in the Coaching Club American Oaks was to her stablemate Guarana, who will likely start next in the Grade 1 Cotillion at PARX on September 21st.

Once the Alabama is in the books, fans can quickly turn their attention Saturday to Del Mar in southern California, where the TVG Pacific Classic will be contested on dirt at 1 ¼ miles. Del Mar’s preeminent race is for 3 year olds and up.

In addition to the Pacific Classic, Del Mar has carded four graded stakes, making Saturday’s program worth over $2 million: the $300,000 Grade I Del Mar Oaks; the $250,000 Grade II Del Mar Handicap; the $100,000 Grade III Torrey Pines Stakes; and the $100,000 Grade III Green Flash Handicap.

Barring a scratch, ten horses will contest the $1 million Pacific Classic. The favorites are likely to be California-based Pavel and Kentucky-shippers Seeking the Soul and Quip.

Pavel has raced against some of the best racehorses in the world and in some of the world’s richest races, though he did not finish in the top three spots in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Champions Cup in Japan, or the Dubai World Cup. Seeking the Soul and Quip finished first and second in the closely contested June 15th Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs. Seeking the Soul’s achievements include second-place finishes in the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Churchill Downs and in the Pegasus World Cup in January 2019 at Gulfstream Park. The horse that beat him in both races, City of Light, is now retired.

Copyright © 2019 Horse Racing Business


While on a recent leisure trip to Ocean City, Maryland, I visited nearby Ocean Downs harness track in Berlin, a city that was once home to the renowned Thoroughbred breeding farm Glen Riddle, owned by industrialist Samuel D. Riddle (1861-1951). Today, the farm is the site of a housing development and Glen Riddle Golf Course, which consists of two 18-hole courses, a public course named for Man O’ War and a private course named for War Admiral, Samuel Riddle’s famous racehorses.

The past performances in a pacing race at Ocean Downs were eye-catching. The number of lifetime starts for the eight fillies and mares were as follows: 73, 18, 105, 294, 200, 135, 99, and 157. These numbers demonstrate durability and longevity on the racetrack and, additionally, every one of the eight entries are still turning in times below two-minute miles on a half-mile racetrack.

The average number of starts per year for a North American Standardbred is about 17 times, or every 21.5 days, compared to 6.2 starts and 58.9 days for Thoroughbreds. Approximately three weeks vs. two months between races.

In the 2019 Kentucky Derby the average number of starts for the twenty 3-year-olds was 5 with a range of 4 to 8. By contrast, in last Saturday’s Hambletonian for 3-year-old trotters, the average number of starts for the sixteen entries in the two elimination heats was 13.4 with a range of 8 to 21. Since the Kentucky Derby was run three months earlier than the Hambletonian, a slight adjustment would have to be made for the time disparity, but even so the trotters still had well over twice the number of starts as the Thoroughbreds.

Significantly, unlike the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont, the Hambletonian prohibited Lasix.

Due to the spate of horse fatalities at Santa Anita in late 2018 and into 2019, horse racing has come under intense public scrutiny and withering criticism. Unfortunately for harness racing, it is included under the generic label “horse racing” even though it does not have the same fragility issues as flat racing.

Because the average number of fatalities per 1,000 starts are recorded and made public for flat racing in North America but not for harness racing, it is not possible to directly demonstrate that the average number of fatalities per 1,000 starts for harness racing is a small fraction of the average number of fatalities per 1,000 starts for flat racing. However, the number of starts per year for Standardbreds vs. Thoroughbreds–and the average age of trotters and pacers in races vs. Thoroughbreds in races–suggest that the Standardbred fatality rate is much lower.

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