Remembering Damascus and The 1967 Travers

August 18, 2017 08:05am
Damascus 615 X 400
Photo: NYRA / Bob Coglianese

Last August at Saratoga, the image of Arrogate pulling away from the field in the stretch en route to demolishing his opponents by 13 1/2-lengths in record setting time in the Travers Stakes is one we shall never forget.


However, the sensational grey colt's margin of victory wasn't the largest in Travers history, nor was it even second best. The latter distinction goes to General Assembly, a 15-length winner in 1979, whose record final time of 2:00 minutes was wiped out when Arrogate hit the finish line in 1:59.36.


But the horse that owns the largest winning margin over all Travers winners was a colt named Damascus, who recorded a 22-length victory in the 1967 edition, stopping the clock in 2:01 3/5 which tied a then track record.


Although the 2017 version of the 'Mid-Summer Derby' is one-week away, this Saturday, August 19th, marks the exact date of the 50th anniversary of a powerful exhibit of devastation


As a 3-year old, the Edith Bancroft bred and owned Damascus had won 7 of 10 starts prior to participating in the 98th Travers Stakes, and was coming up to the Spa's signature event having won 5 of his 6 previous starts, including the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.


On that Saturday afternoon a half-century ago, just three opponents showed up to face Damascus, who was sired by Sword Dancer, a Travers winner himself eight years earlier. The crowds enthusiasm and confidence was at a fever pitch for the Frank Whiteley Jr runner as Damascus, with Bill Shoemaker riding, was sent away as the 1-5 betting favorite.


When the gates opened, a sprinter named Tumiga, and Gala Performance, the Jim Dandy Stakes winner, went right to the lead and raced in tandem, opening up a sizeable gap over Damascus who was in third, with Reason To Hail fourth.


After a half-mile had been run, the two leaders had even a bigger advantage over Damascus, who appeared uninterested in the race as he was fifteen-lengths behind. Although Damascus knew how to finish up a race, fans were beginning to doubt if he would be able to catch up on this day. Then with three furlongs left to be run, Shoemaker, who was unfazed by the deficit in front of him, urged his mount and instantly Damascus shifted in to high gear, putting all doubts to rest with a ferocious display of speed and a powerful move on the far turn.


Flying over the sloppy speed-favoring track, Damascus zoomed past the tiring leaders and kept widening his lead. With a quarter-mile remaining, he was now six lengths in front, extending the advantage to ten lengths at the top of the stretch.


His onward rush continued through the stretch. As he roared toward the finish line, his isolation and superiority dazzled the spectators. Damascus was greeted with a thunderous cheer from the crowd as he crossed the finish line 22-lengths to the good over Hail To Reason. Tumiga finished third.


Damascus went on to defeat older horses three times in the late summer and fall of that year, and for his brilliant campaign he took home championship honors for top 3-year old colt, and captured the 1967 Horse of the Year award.


Damascus assembled a remarkable career. Out of 32 lifetime starts, he compiled a 21-7-3 record. He was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1974.


The horse who carried the famed Belair white silks, with red polka dots and scarlet cap, ran many great races during his three seasons of competing, but his decimation in the 1967 Travers was extremely rare, jaw dropping, historic, and memorable for all-time. 



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Meet Nick Costa

Nick became instantly hooked on horse racing when his father first took him to the racetrack when he was 5-years old. As a racing fan, he's attended several Kentucky Derbys, Belmont Stakes and Breeders' Cups, and has visited several racetracks throughout the United States and Canada.

Back in the year 2000, Nick became a licensed owner and is currently still involved with the sport in that honored capacity. In 2010, Nick added another dimension when trying his hand at writing about horse racing for Horse Racing Nation, and thanks its readers for their support.

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