Ever since Kentucky won the illustrious race in 1864 for owner William Travers, Travers Stakes has been a racing tradition at Saratoga. As the oldest GI stakes race in the nation, it is a tradition in itself. Known as the Midsummer Derby, the GI $1M race brings together the finest 3-year-olds in the country summering at the Spa. It’s often the summer stake of choice for Triple Crown contenders; in 1941 when Whirlaway won the coveted purse he became the only horse to win the racing “Superfecta” of the Triple Crown and the Travers. This year, once again we will enjoy the competition over the 1 ¼ mile race amid the traditions that have originated over the course of the almost century-and-a-half of Travers.
The Midsummer Derby: The moniker is bandied about quite a bit, but truth be told, the Travers Stakes was actually renamed the Travers Midsummer Derby for six years, from 1927 to 1932. While the name was officially dropped, it still held sway as the race to win at the August place to be. In 1987, when NYRA raised the purse to exceed the purse of Run for the Roses, it started being referred to as the "Midsummer Derby" once more.
The Trophy: The Travers Trophy was designed by Tiffany & Co. and awarded to Mrs. Samuel D. Riddle in 1920 upon Man o’ War’s match race victory over Sir Barton, the first-ever winner of the Triple Crown. Mrs. Riddle gifted the gold “George III” Man o’ War Cup to the Saratoga Association as a permanent trophy for the Travers Stakes. The one request Mrs. Riddle made was that a member of the Riddle family make the presentation each year. The original trophy is engraved with the names of all of the 141 winners of the Midsummer Derby and each year the winning owner brings home a gold-plated replica of the Cup.
The Canoe: The canoe that sits in the infield lake at the Saratoga Race Course was first mentioned in The Saratogian in 1926. At the time two canoes graced the lake, but it seems they may have been removed from the peaceful lake to make room for swans. The graceful birds did not last long, however, because it was feared they might attack picnickers in the infield, and in 1930 the swans were replaced with a lone canoe. Still, the canoe had no relation to the famous race and it was not until 1961 that the colors of the Travers winner should be painted on the canoe. So the colors currently decorating the canoe are the brown and white of Gainesway Stables, which Afleet Express wore to victory last year. What colors do you think the canoe will bear next summer?
The Travers Festival: Each year the Travers Stakes is preceded by a week of events leading up to the big race. I’m not entirely sure when this tradition was established, but it’s sure to have an event that will entertain you. It officially begins with the Saturday before the Travers and the running of the GI TVG Alabama Stakes for 3-year-old fillies (the Mid-Summer Oaks, perhaps?). Saratoga Restaurant Week kicks up this week, with select area restaurants celebrating the inaugural year of the Travers, 1864, by offering special menus priced at $18.64. Sunday, is a Track Giveaway Day, usually the best gift of the season; this year it was a Saratoga Sports Bag—so you can look forward to next year’s racing all year long. Wednesday brings fun for the whole family with the annual Ice Cream Eating Contest sponsored by Stewart’s Shops. The winner in each of the child, teen, or adult categories win gift certificates for Stewart’s Shops ice cream. Things start to rev up a bit with the 13th Annual Ronald McDonald House Fashion Show (benefitting the Capital Region Charities) at the Saratoga Race Track where the well-heeled can enjoy luncheon and fashion for a good cause.
Later on Thursday, the track festivities continue with the 11th Annual Travers Celebration, also known as the Travers Ball. Gourmet food, music, and dancing for owners, trainers, locals, and fans, this year’s “Moonlight in Saratoga” cocktail party (sponsored by Macy’s and Northeastern Fine Jewelry) will benefit the Backstretch Employee Service Team (B.E.S.T.) and the Times Union Hope Fund. The 14th Annual Battle of the Brews kicks off the weekend party on Friday in the track’s backyard. Some of the best area microbrews are featured and the proceeds go to the Adirondack Saratoga Chapter of the Red Cross. The festivities continue downtown with the Travers Eve Party. NYRA and the Saratoga Chamber of Commerce team up to host an evening of entertainment downtown in preparation for the big day on Saturday. Jockeys are present downtown to sign autographs, and musical entertainment aplenty!
The Race for Tables: While some traditions are planned, others simply evolve. One of the bigger Travers traditions among the thousands of racing fans that flock to the track on race day is the race for tables. The picnic tables in Saratoga’s backyard are prime real estate and have made for countless family memories over the years and so securing the prime tables is paramount. So when the gates to the track open at 7:00 am on Saturday morning there will open to crowds of visitors who will literally race to their favorite tables to set up for another great day of memories that awaits them.
Dressing to the Nines: The biggest racing day of the meet brings out the cream of the racing crop, racing celebrities—both human and equine—and moments to see and be seen. It’s only natural then that it also brings out the finest of fashions too. Men and women alike take this opportunity of our very own “Derby day” to celebrate the fanfare in style.
The Post-Race Drinks and Dinner at Siro’s: While Siro’s is a racetrack custom in Saratoga on most racing days, it’s especially traditional on Traver’s night. It’s where owners and trainers will gather to celebrate not only the victories of this, the biggest racing day of the meet, but also to celebrate another great season at the Spa.
Even though one more week remains before the last horses cross the wire in the final race of the meet, the Travers Stakes is for many the unofficial end of the season. The summer winds down and the barns will slowly empty, and eventually, the main track will close. We’ll have to wait another year for the excitement to return, but with the memories we’ve made this Travers weekend, and all summer long, it won’t be too difficult.