Thursday, 24 August 2023 12:55

The Travers & the Winner’s Circle

By William G. Gotimer, Jr. | Winner's Circle
Photo provided. Photo provided.

Saratoga Race Course enters its biggest week with a star-studded card on Saturday anchored by the meet’s most important race The Travers. Known by the monicker – The Mid-Summer Derby – The Travers is a late season race for three-year-olds at the classic distance of a mile and one-quarter. Its placement on the calendar provides an opportunity for a decisive race among the late blooming three-year-olds that missed or underperformed in the Triple Crown classics and those that established their bona fides in those earlier races. It is rare when the winners of the Triple Crown races maintain their form and health to make it to square off in August but this is such a year.  The winners of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes – respectively Mage, National Treasure and Arcangelo are all entered Saturday. Jockey Javier Castellano who rode Mage to victory in the Kentucky Derby and then Arcangelo in the Belmont Stakes will ride Arcangelo in the Travers. Luis Saez picks up the mount on Mage. The field is completed by Forte, Disarm, Tapit Trice and Scotland.

This year’s Travers is reminiscent of both the 1982 and 2017 editions where the winners of all three triple crown races faced off but were beaten by Runaway Groom and West Coast, respectively. The morning line favorite this year is Forte, the two-year old champion, despite not winning one of the Triple Crown races. 

The most memorable Travers include 1962 where Jaipur and Ridan ran head to head for the entire mile and one-quarter; 1978  where Triple Crown winner Affirmed again defeated Alydar only to be disqualified for interference; 2004 where Mary Lou Whitney’s Birdstone won in apocalyptic weather conditions;  2012 when Alpha and Golden Ticket finished in a dead heat; and 2015 where Triple Crown winner American Pharoah was raced into submission by Frosted (who was ridden more to beat the favorite than win himself) and was worn down in the final yards by closer Keen Ice. 

(For a very interesting read that may have included skullduggery take the time to acquaint yourself with the 1921 running of the Travers.)

The Travers’ undercard, as usual, will feature top-class racing throughout the day and a large crowd is expected. Those coming to Saratoga Race Course to see history made should come early and expect to see many fans festooned in “Barbie” pink. 

Of circles - and friends - and circles of friends. 

The circle plays a huge role in science, physics, and philosophy. Geometry defines a circle as a plane in which all spots are equidistant from the center; Pi - the constant that measures a circle’s circumference in relation to its diameter - has so confounded mathematicians that it is said that it is “impossible to square the circle” (don’t ask me - I don’t know what it means - I just know you can’t). Philosophically, the “circle of life” represents no end and no beginning, while your circle of friends defines your life and greatly influences (for better or worse) your life choices.   

To horse race fans the “circle” that matters is the winner’s circle. Only the worthy (or their invitees) are permitted inside - and that entrance must be earned each and every time.

Unlike other exclusionary areas, the Winner’s Circle has no permanent occupant. Win a race and it is yours - but only for a moment of time.  It can’t be possessed; it can’t be reserved - but it can be shared. And that’s where the circles of friends intersect (pun intended) with history, accomplishment, and sportsmanship. 

The pursuit of a trip to the Winner’s Circle is made by people for differing reasons. For those with extraordinary means it’s a way of seeking meaning in a world where other material wants are easily satisfied. To those with lesser means it represents success on a large canvass without much paint. 

For some it is a victory after overcoming, or amid, personal adversity - for the very few it comes as easily as the rest of their lives. What binds together all who enter the Winner’s Circle, however, is a connection to history, a sense of accomplishment and a hope to return once more - and those things are best shared generously and freely. 

This week at Saratoga I witnessed and participated in Winner’s Circle celebrations that saw tears of gratitude, smiles of relief, and shows of pride for jobs well done. (I also saw a bright yellow sports jacket with a lucky horseshoe pattern that might have been visible from outer space). But what I mostly saw were moments in time where friendship was extended, accepted and strengthened - and the location, as temporary as it was, was meaningful and memorable. 

It can seem frivolous at times and somewhat flippant but there really aren’t too many places like it. Circles of friends, circles of joy, circles of life. 

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