THE US sees several significant races headlining the race cards at Saratoga this weekend, among them are the two Gr1s, the Travers and the King’s Bishop Stakes. Several of the nation’s top horses including Preakness winner Exaggerator and multiple Gr1 winner Mohaymenwill be in action at the “graveyard of champions”, reports LISA BARRETT.
Of the two races, the King’s Bishop is the new “boy” on the block, having only been inaugurated in 1984, and then as a Listed Stakes race. It was only in 1999 that the King’s Bishop became a Gr1 event on the racing calendar. The race was named for King’s Bishop, a colt sired by the brilliant Round Table, considered by many to be one of the greatest turf horses in American racing history. King’s Bishop, a moderately successful racehorse himself was owned by Craig Cullinan Jnr, the founding president of the Houston Astro’s Major Baseball League team.
Despite being relatively new to the racing calendar, The King’s Bishop has become known as a “stallion making” race, with several of its winners going on to become influential stallions: Tale Of The Cat, More Than Ready (sire of Summerhill stallion Traffic Guard and the new Varsfontein star Gimmethegreenlight) & Visionaire (former champion Freshman sire) now based at Lammerskraal Stud in the Western Cape) are among his luminaires.
This year’s running promises to be an interesting one with multiple Gr2 winner Mohaymen heading a somewhat underwhelming field of horses. Surprisingly, the 4-1 favourite Drefong, whose grandsire Tale Of The Cat won the 1997 running, is ranked above Mohaymen. The son of Gio Ponti is a three time winner of his four starts for Hall Of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, and many feel the colt has yet to show his best form. Also with the legendary Mike Smith on board, anything is possible.
Summer Revolution and Economic Model, both rated at 6-1 are also in with chances, as is Fish Trappe Road at 8-1, all could give Mohaymen a good run for his money in the race. Moyahmen is something of an enigma, showing promising form, but never quite getting there, despite winning four Gr2 events. His much publicised rivalry with Nyquist has dominated racing talk, however the son of super sire Tapit, has not yet delivered on his early promise.
The highlight though of the racing at Saratoga has to be the Travers Stakes, which is being run for the 152nd time, having first been inaugurated in 1864. Named for William Travers, President of the Saratoga Race Course Association, the race is open to three-year-old fillies, colts and geldings. Over the years it has been run over many varying distances from 1⅓ miles in 1864 to 1 ½ from 1890 to 1892 to the present 1 ⅟4 or ten furlongs (2000m).
The Travers has enjoyed a colourful history over the years: from a betting scandal in 1921 to Whirlaway who won the “superfecta”, the American Triple Crown plus the Travers, the only horse to ever do this, not even American Pharaoh could manage this achievement, being defeated by Keen Ice in the 2015 running.
The 1962 running is rated by many as one of the most thrilling, when Jaipur won by the bob of a head over the more fancied and talented Ridan, after a monumental battle. In 2006 Bloodhorse listed the race as one of Horse Racing’s top moments of the past century. The 2012 running saw the first and only dead heat in the race when Alpha and Golden Ticket hit the wire together, the two couldn’t be separated, so the race was awarded jointly to both horses.
The trophy for the Travers Stakes is known as the Man O’ War Cup and was made by the famous jewellers Tiffany & Co. Named after its 1920 winner, the great Man O’ War, the cup was donated by the wife of Man O’ War’s owner Samuel Riddle, and is presented each year to the winner by a member of the Riddle family.
The 2016 renewal promises to be a cracker when Preakness winner Exaggerator heads a top field including Belmont winner Creator who should relish a fast pace which is predicted for the race. Another horse who could mount a good challenge is Connect, a son of Curlin, who is coming off a three race winning streak after beating the talented Gift Box. Last of the possible and likely threats to Exaggerator is Destin who finished just behind Governor Malibu in the Gr2 Jim Dandy Stakes, the son of the “iron horse” Giant’s Causeway shows his best form in the dying strides of the race, with a helluva kick, something which could surprise many.
The roll of honour of Travers winners reads like the who’s who of successful commercial stallions, with names like Native Dancer (1953), Buckpasser (1966), Arts & Letters (1969), Alydar (1978), Forty Niner (1988), Easy Goer (1989), Holy Bull (1994), Thunder Gulch (1995), Medaglia D’ Oro (1999), Bernadini (2006) and Street Sense (2007) engraved on it.
No matter who wins at the “graveyard of champions” as Saratoga is fondly known, it is sure to be a spectacle of great racing and the excitement of witnessing the emergence of future sires on the breeding and racing scene is one to be savoured.