Monthly Archives: August 2015

OK, So He Lost …

Sometimes we are remembered more for what we didn’t do, than what we did.

If we do something remarkable, historic even, then fall short later sometimes there are better stories to tell. Debates begin. Legend and lore grows. This is racing. Who doesn’t love a really good “bad beat” story?

American Pharoah lost the Travers last Saturday and the racing community exhaled in defeat together. I was one of them. I was disappointed and sad and sick to my stomach for a day or two. Then late Sunday afternoon I was washed over with a burst of clarity.

Big whoop.

Big bleeping whoop.

He lost. So what?

He is only three. Saratoga is over a hundred and fifty. The old girl and her ghosts did it again and showed us who is in charge. It ain’t us humans. Never was and it never will be. It’s the racing gods.

If you take a couple of minutes and watch that race again you will see in defeat how good American Pharoah is. You’ll see how good Keen Ice was, too. Really good in fact and Javier Castellano is a ridiculously talented rider. But watch the big horse closely.

Watch him get challenged by an aggressive, and equally impressive, ride by Jose Lezcano.

Frosted and Lezcano did exactly what they were supposed to do. Race! He HAD to challenge AP and Victor Espinoza. Had to. If he didn’t and let him out on his own, they never would have caught the champ. But they run these races to win them, not so others can keep grabbing headlines.

In mid-June American Pharoah forever etched his name in racing immortality. One of only 12 Triple Crown champions. For the first time in 37 years a three year old thoroughbred was able to best the grueling schedule of three races in such a short period of time. He did it in style, he did it with class and he did it to the loudest roar of a horse racing crowd, likely, ever. The screams of joy that echoed through Elmont, NY that day continued long after he crossed the wire and it was magnificent.

He wheeled back and took the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park with the greatest of ease.

In 27 days and two trips across the country we asked him to impress us again. To dazzle us. To show us no one can touch him. Challenge him? Yeah, you can try. He will simply turn them away. Go be that amazing horse the country is so excited about. “Do it again, man,” the country cried to him. We can’t get enough.

I was one of them. Unabashedly thrilled to hear the Travers and #Pharoahtoga were one.

But we asked too much. I asked too much. The Zayats and Bob Baffert gave the people what they wanted. They couldn’t have been more gracious. They couldn’t have been more generous. The big horse in the MidSummer Derby. wow.  it’s happening.  Curses and ghosts of favored past champions, may you all be damned. THIS is American Pharoah.

But history doesn’t like to be challenged. At the very least, not at Saratoga Race Course.

But here is the thing. I would make an argument that he further solidified his legendary status by not winning.

His Triple Crown victory sets him apart from every other crop in 37 years. But this? Well, this makes him even more renowned in racing’s history books.

Man o’ War lost here. The only place he ever lost. Gallant Fox lost here in the Travers, to a 100-1 shot.  Secretariat, the first horse in 25 years to win a Triple Crown back in ’73 lost here to a relative unknown named Onion. Affirmed, another Triple Crown winner crossed the wire first, then was disqualified in the Travers. These were amazing racehorses. Some of the best to ever put a hoof on the track. Every single one of them lost.

Now we add his name and I can’t help but think…

… what a privilege it must be for those legends to be in the same company as American Pharoah.

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GoPro with Pharoah

This may be one of the best things I have experienced as a racing fan.

Jorge Alvarez, the exercise rider for Triple Crown champion American Pharoah, wore a helmet GoPro camera while breezing the big horse this morning.

My love for Saratoga is well documented.  To have stood in the winners circle at the Spa and get a win photo with a horse that I have a connection with, was my ultimate childhood dream recognized in 2011.

But to think I could experience what it would be like to gallop a horse around this oval is something entirely different.  I am 6′ 1″ tall man who weighs in at two hundred-and-never-you-mind-how-many-more-than-that pounds.  I am not getting a leg up on any thoroughbred anytime soon, or ever.  But today the New York Racing Association (NYRA) posted a video of what it would be like to gallop the oval aboard the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.

THAT was pretty cool.  Here it is:

The Namesake of My Favorite Race

William R Travers - The First President of the Saratoga Association

William R Travers – First President of the Saratoga Association

Five years ago to the day I wrote a blog post on William R. Travers for  With the expected appearance of Triple Crown Champion American Pharoah coming to The Spa to run in this year’s edition, I thought it would be a good time to revisit that piece.

Travers was a man of great wit who could take a joke as quickly as he could fire one off.

When he died at the age of 67, the New York Times proclaimed William R. Travers “may have been the most popular man in New York.”

He was, in a word, adored.

We know Travers as a founder and the first President of the Saratoga Racing Association, and the namesake for the single longest actively running sporting event in America – The Travers Stakes.

We know him as the owner of Hall of Famer Kentucky, that race’s first winner.

We know him as a brilliant financier on Wall Street.

But what you may not know, in spite of his wealth and success, Travers was arguably better known for his wit, charm and self-deprecating way.

A New York Times article published two years before his death noted his “wit never screens malice but it frequently stings, being at times near the truth.” In his obituary, it added “his defect of speech, which is well known, added to the effectiveness of his utterances.”

The former piece, published March 15, 1885, applauded Travers apologetic humor.  One could easily get the impression it made him more approachable and more endearing.

In short, Travers wasn’t just another stuffed shirt with money.  Travers was a funny guy … and he could take a hit too.

Take, for example, the story of him running into an old Baltimore acquaintance while walking on a street in New York City.

“Why, Bill, you stutter worse now than when you were in Baltimore,” his friend said.
“H-h-have to,” answered Mr. Travers.  “B-b-bigger city.”

One day Travers saw John Morrissey, the man who built Saratoga Race Course, standing by a horse.  Morrissey fancied himself the type who could spot equine talent however his results on the track begged a different argument.

“W-w-what have you g-got there, John” he asked.
“A race horse” he replied with an air of satisfaction.
“A race horse!” Travers exclaimed.
“Yes, Sir, a race horse.  Are you going to bet on him?”
“Yes, I’ll b-bet on him,” Travers replied decidedly.
“How?” Morrissey asked, somewhat in doubt.
“I’ll c-c-copper him.

One can only imagine the look on Morrissey’s face, mouth gaping and stunned at Travers shot across the bow.

Then there was the time he traveled to Brooklyn for the wedding of a friend’s daughter who lived on Montague Street.  Travers apparently took a wrong turn somewhere in his travels and got lost.  He stopped a gentleman and asked for directions.

“I desire to reach M-m-montague Street,” he said to a passerby.  “W-will you be k-kind enough to p-point the w-way?”
“You are g-going the wr-wrong w-way,” he stuttered in his reply.  “That is M-montague Street.”
“Are you m-making fun of m-me, m-mimicking me?” Travers asked sternly.
“N-no, I assure you” the man replied, with all due haste to repair an apparent lack of good manners.  “I-I am b-badly af-flicted with an ob-stru-struction of speech.”
“Why d-don’t you g-get c-cured?” Travers asked with mischief in his eyes.  “G-go to Dr. — and g-get c-cured.  D-don’t you see how w-well I talk?  He c-cured m-me.”

Poor fella.  Probably had no idea what to make of him.

Enter Henry Clews, a banker who often boasted he is a self-made man.  Travers overheard him speak of this and fixed his eyes on Clews bald crown in a sort of daydream like state.

“Well, what’s the matter, Travers?” he asked somewhat impatiently.
“H-henry,” Travers inquired “d-didn’t you say you we-were a self m-made m-an?”
“Certainly, I made myself” Clews replied warmly.
“Then, w-when you were ab-b-about it, w-why didn’t you p-put m-more h-h-hair on the t-top of your h-head?”

Insert a well time DOH here.

Travers had been approached by Clews as he sought advice for the famous Vanderbilt ball; an affair of full costume dress.  Travers suggested:

“Clews, w-why d-don’t you s-s-sugar coat your h-head and go as a p-pill?”

Travers, clearly, was not your run of the mill, well bred snooty sort.  Remember, he was quite capable of being on the other end of the jibe.

He was walking along the street with a bunch of brokers in tow.  He spots a man in front of St. Paul’s church selling parrots.

“H-hold on b-boys,” Travers said mysteriously.  “W-we’ll have some f-fun.”
Hailing the parrot seller and indicating one of the birds Travers asked “Can that p-parrot t-talk?”
“Talk?” the man replied with a contemptuous sneer.  “If he can’t talk better than you I’ll wring his blasted neck!”
“C-come on, b-boys,” Travers called out; “th-this f-fun is p-post-p-poned until another day.”

Naturally it is only fitting that the last of Travers’ anecdotes shared here deal with a gambler in the Spa City.

A plunger named Walton was introduced to Travers at The Spa in the midst of his best two years playing the horses.  He suggested that he and the financier do business together.  Walton told him of how he has earned over $350,000 these past two years, and with Travers being a whiz in the stock market he thought they could share a couple of points to help each other out, and add to their fortunes.

“You m-made three hu-hundred and fifty th-thousand on h-horse racing?” Travers repeated.
“Yes, sir. $350,000 in two years,” Walton said again.
“And you want m-me to g-give you a p-point on st-stocks?” Travers continued.
“Yes, if you please.  In return for my points on horses,” Walton said.
“Well, I’ll g-give you a first r-rate p-point,” Travers said.  “You m-made three hu-hundred and fifty th-thousand d-dollars in t-two years.  Then st-stick to your b-business.  Th-that’s a f-first r-rate p-point.”

Travers made a fortune on Wall Street.  He was one of the founders of Saratoga Race Course and it’s first President.  He was a long-time President of the New York Athletic Club, a member of 27 private clubs, a backer of Sheepshead Bay Racetrack on Coney Island and he made up one-third of Annieswood Stable, racing champions such as Kentucky and Alarm.

All this barely scraped the surface of what he accomplished.

But above it all, above his fortunes, keen financial acumen, racing accomplishments, all those club memberships and elite status, William R. Travers was best known for his good nature and wit.

Ain’t a bad way to go out, is it?

New York Times, March 15, 1885 Stories of Wm. R. Travers
New York Times, March 28, 1887 William Travers
Picture of Travers located at Barker Family Tree website