Dating to 1864, the Grade 1 Travers Stakes has a rich and storied past. The centerpiece of each summer at Saratoga, the 1 1/4-mile test is without fail a hugely anticipated race. Each year it acts as the all-important bridge between the Triple Crown of the spring and the Breeders’ Cup of the fall.
Win the Travers and you’ve accomplished something, and this year’s edition is setting up to be crucial in determining the top 3-year-old in the land.
Set for Saturday, Aug. 26, all the preps have been run and now it is just a waiting game until the big day in upstate New York. The last two winners of the $1.25 million affair, Essential Quality and Epicenter, were named champions at the end of the year. There’s a good chance it will happen again in 2023.
This year’s edition of the Travers will include all three winners of the Triple Crown series, and none of them will go favored.
Although Mage, National Treasure and Arcangelo each have an important victory on their recent past performances. It is Forte who remains the horse to beat.
A decisive juvenile champion in 2022 with three clear-cut Grade 1 victories to close his season, the Todd Pletcher-trained son of Violence has not had things quite so easy in his sophomore campaign.
Forced to the sidelines for the Kentucky Derby and Preakness because of a minor hoof bruise, the champ was in the field for the final leg of the Triple Crown. Although he did not win, he was valiant in defeat in his runner-up finish behind Arcangelo in the Belmont Stakes.
That is Forte’s only loss in his last seven races. He had to fight tooth and nail to make it to the wire first in the recent Jim Dandy Stakes (G2), but he got the win, and the determined effort should set him up nicely for the Travers. It also won’t scare anyone off either.
Kentucky Derby winner Mage has lost twice since his big win in Louisville. In the Preakness, caught behind slow early fractions, he could not make up the necessary ground down the lane and finished third. In the Haskell (G1), he made a strong move but was out finished by Geaux Rocket Ride, who was likely more geared up for that particular afternoon.
In my opinion, the Derby winner has lost little luster with those two defeats, and the Gustavo Delgado-trained son of Good Magic could be sitting on a big one for the Travers.
National Treasure, meanwhile, is the least heralded of the three classic winners. A son of Quality Road, he has run plenty of solid races, but the Preakness, where he was able to control the early fractions, remains his only stakes win. Trained by Bob Baffert and having good early speed, he must be respected.
Finally, Arcangelo could wind up being the best of the bunch. The Belmont Stakes winner has not raced since his big win two months ago but has been making a good impression in preparation for the Travers.
The handsome son of Arrogate allowed Jena Antonucci to become the first female trainer to win a Triple Crown race, but he looks to be much more than a notation on the record books. Five races into his career, he is getting better every time out and rides an impressive three-race winning streak into the Travers.
Talented runners such as the recently retired Two Phil’s and the lightly raced Geaux Rocket Ride, who is staying in California for his Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) preparation, will be missed.
Still, the Travers will feature a highly regarded champion taking on all three winners of the Triple Crown series. And besides the big four, capable stakes winners Tapit Trice, Disarm, Scotland and Reincarnate are on schedule for the summer’s most important race.
Only two horses in history have defeated the three winners of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont in a single race. It first happened in the 1982 Travers, when the Canadian champion Runaway Groom defeated Gato del Sol, Aloma’s Ruler and Conquistador Cielo in Saratoga’s signature race. West Coast repeated the accomplishment in 2017, also in the Travers.
Forte will be favored to become only the third horse to complete the feat. It will not be easy. This year’s Travers Stakes promises to be the race we’ve all been waiting for.