Travers Day 148: Brilliant Racing in the Stakes–but Life Lessons from the Maidens…

 Another year, another Travers Day.  Man, oh, man, the past several years of Travers Stakes have come to give us huge expectations–tremendous joys for some, gigantic disappointments for others.  But it’s safe to state that every person who floods through the gates of Saratoga Race Course on Saturday, August 26th, 2017  will do so with expectations–hopes–crossed fingers and rituals of some sort.  Whether that includes simply seeing some world-class horse racing, or winning enough money to pay off the mortgage–everyone will go through with something special expected, tucked into their (our) hearts.

At any rate–whether you desperately needed American Pharoah to win the Travers in 2015, or cashed in your Keen Ice ticket with the ecstatic utterances of a Medieval Mystic–your Travers 146 was filled with emotion and rail-pounding.

Arrogate, 13 1/2 lengths in front… (C) 2016, Dan Heary

And last year–who could forget the otherworldly moves of the monster,  Arrogate, who smashed his competition–both winning the Travers by a tremendous 13 1/2 lengths, AND breaking the track record??  His time,  1:59.36 for 1 1/4 miles,  was a track record, stomping with all four hooves on the mark of 2:00 set by General Assembly in the 1979 Travers.  

Tomorrow’s Travers has just as many hopes and dreams pinned to every horse in the big race, itself–and in all the other undercard races.

Yes, the Travers, itself, will feature the winners of all three Triple Crown races for the first time in 35 years:  the last time, in 1982,  Gato Del Sol, Aloma’s Ruler and Conquistador Cielo won the Kentucky Derby; Preakness and Belmont, respectively–then met again in Saratoga.  None of the three Classic race winners beat the track, but the Canadian Runaway Groom did.

Always Dreaming wins the Kentucky Derby (C) 2016, “New York Times.”

Of course, I have a favorite–I really, really want McDreaming (Always Dreaming) to win.  I just love that horse.  As I watched him run in the Kentucky Derby, my heart soared down the stretch atop his muscled back.  I’m so excited to see him race past me, live:  I know that I’ll cry, because that’s how I respond when I observe the majesty of the Creator, riding on the back of His special steeds.

That race will wipe me out–so it’s good, that it’s near the very-end of the race day, because I’ll be emotionally drained by the time the winner hits the wire.

But tomorrow’s entire race card is filled, a like a mixed bag of candy:  Equine Delight.  Some of the greatest horses in North American racing will share the dirt with maidens–anxious little maidens,  who’ll hit that stage in the hours before the stakes races begin at 2:23PM for Race 6, the Personal Ensign.  Ahhhhhm the Personal Ensign, when the lovely and uber-bird, Songbird, will duke it out with the accomplished  Forever Unbridled, Going for Broke and two other brave souls.

Uber-bird, Songbird, grabs a snack after winning the Alabama, 2016.

What a lovely thing.  The first five races are maidens, allowances and allowance/optional claiming shows.    A microcosm of a horse’s career, really:  first a maiden, then an allowance–perhaps a claimer–then, if it all works together, The Big Dance.  Races like the Personal Ensign, the Ballerina, Sword Dancer, Forego and then, the Travers.

(I’d like to note here that I’ll be rooting for Chad Summers and his Mind Your Biscuits in the Forego–I met Chad two years ago, when Biscuits was just a baby–long before Chad took the charming, cheeky four-year-old New York-bred to Dubai and won the Dubai Golden Shaheen.  I was so proud of our own Chad Summers that cold day in March, when he stood in the Meydan winner’s circle!)

We all know that these maidens and allowance races happen earlier in the day, because the day starts very early–and NYRA wants to give fans ample time to get to the track for The Big Show, the Travers.

BUT…now, hear me out…BUT I hope that, even as you plan your day tomorrow–getting to the track, and all–that you will decide to get to the track to watch ALL The Beautiful Horses.  As of this writing, 51 horses are in line to run in these first five races.  And those 51 horses all have owners who love them.  Trainers, who’ve worked very hard to get them to this place, at this time.  Grooms, hotwalkers, barn foremen/womyn, assistant trainers and family members–so many human hearts, whose hopes and dreams for Their Horse–their beautiful, magnificent, stately, muscular, spiritual, intelligent–horse–have been the subject of hundreds (thousands?) of hours of work, prayer, worry and sweat.

In other words:  the horses in those maiden, allowance and allowance/optional claiming races–are just as important to their connections, just as loved–and carry the hopes and dreams of so many humans–as will the strong, accomplished, polished, beautiful backs of Songbird, Lady Eli, Gunnevera, McDreaming, Mind Your Biscuits  or any of the other overachievers whose races will grace the rest of the afternoon, into the evening.

Everyone’s got a dream, and every single one of those wildly-accomplished Champion horses–started as a maiden.  Every.One.

So the maidens and allowance horses racing on Travers Day–as on any big race day–deserve your attention; your keen eye; your bet–and, might I add–your notes in your program.  The maiden you pick today could win the Triple Crown next June.  Then, you get bragging rights, to say that “[you] saw her win at Saratoga, last August…!”

Every Champion starts as a maiden–so please, give Travers Day’s maidens your respect.  They’re not sloppy seconds, they’re someone’s baby–and they’re worthy of Saratoga, or they wouldn’t be here.

Yes, I am thrilled–out of my damaged little mind, in fact–that I will get to see Songbird race again tomorrow.  How should I be so blessed, to get to see her, live, win the Alabama last year, then race tomorrow in the Personal Ensign?  And thrilled to my core, to see McDreaming.  Blessed to see Biscuits and Idaho race on the most beautiful track in the world.

To be sure:   I’ll spend the first five races cheering on the maidens, for one or more of them may go on to take next year’s Triple Crown;  Breeders’ Cup;  Dubai World Cup.  Or,  perhaps Hong Kong Cup, and Royal Ascot.  Because this is horse racing, and anyone can win.

Everyone starts out in this sport as a maiden–that includes fans, owners, trainers and race track administrators.  No one, horse or human, was born a Champion.  Every one of them–every one of us–got into the gate with no track record.  It’s what we did with our maiden races that counts.

If the horses teach us nothing else, it’s that important Truth:  make the most of your gate training, then, go, break your maiden. And break it, BIG.


Photo Credits:

Arrogate wins the 2016 (147th) Travers Stakes, (C) 2016, Dan Heary

Always Dreaming wins the 2017 Kentucky Derby, (C) 2017, New York Times

Songbird, snacking after her Alabama win, 2016, my CrackBerry.