The Runhappy Travers Stakes is coming to Saratoga Race Course this Saturday, and if you’re planning to attend New York’s biggest day of summer racing, we have ten things you need to know before you go.
1. The Travers is also known as the “Mid-Summer Derby.”
Why is the Travers called the Mid-Summer Derby? Well, a couple of reasons: the Travers is restricted to 3-year-old Thoroughbreds, which is what defines a Derby; also, because the race attracts such an incredible field, you’ll be seeing some of the stars of Triple Crown season at Saratoga on Saturday. Notables like Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve winner Rich Strike, Preakness Stakes winner Early Voting, TVG.com Haskell Stakes winner Cyberknife, and Jim Dandy Stakes winner Epicenter are all pointed to this year’s Travers.
2. Reserve your Travers tickets ahead of time and save!
Fans who buy their Travers day tickets in advance save money! General admission tickets are $20 when purchased in advance, while the walk-up price on Travers Day is $25. Tickets may be purchased in-person at the NYRA Box Office by Gate A if you’re already in Saratoga, or online at NYRA.com/Travers. Please note that a limited number of Clubhouse admission tickets are available for $30.
3. Know all about the big race.
So, you already learned that only 3-year-old Thoroughbreds can run in the Travers; here’s what else you need to know. The Travers purse is $1.25 million, which is divided up thusly: $670,000 to the owner of the winner, $230,000 to second, $125,000 to third, $85,000 to fourth, $50,000 to the fifth-place finisher, $35,000 to sixth, $30,000 to seventh, and $25,000 to eighth. The Travers is a 1 ¼-mile dirt race, meaning the runners will both start and finish the race in front of the track’s grandstand, affording fans unparalleled views of the action.
4. Travers day is one of the most important racing days of the year.
If you’re in the mood for top-level horse racing, great news: Travers day is going to be amazing. That’s because – in addition to the Travers Stakes – there are five other huge races, including two that will earn their winners expenses-paid spots in the Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Keeneland on Nov. 5-6. Those races are the Resorts World Casino Sword Dancer Stakes (entry to the Longines Breeders’ Cup Turf), and the Personal Ensign Stakes (Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff). Basically, Travers day is a baby Breeders’ Cup and some of the best Thoroughbreds in the world will show up in Saratoga this Saturday.
5. There’s a boat involved.
Since 1961, the canoe floating in the Saratoga infield pond has sported the colors of the Travers Stakes winner’s silks. (Silks, for the record, are the jerseys that the jockeys wear in each race; every racehorse owner has their own set with colors and designs exclusive to them.) In 2012, two canoes were deployed to the infield pond: that’s because that year’s Travers had a dead heat for first with Alpha and Golden Ticket tying for victory.
6. Want a picnic table? Set an alarm, bring a newspaper, and limber up.
Travers day is the biggest day of the year in Saratoga, so if you want to score a free picnic table, you’re going to have to do a little work for it. First of all, plan on getting in line early: some people even camp outside of the gates overnight. That’s because there is an ironclad tradition in Saratoga: any picnic table or trackside bench with a newspaper on it has been claimed for the day, and fans want to make sure that they snag a good spot for Travers day by claiming their seats as soon as gates open at 7 a.m. for morning training on Travers day. When those gates open, it’s a race to the best spot, so maybe start stretching at 6:45 a.m. or so. Just remember: the newspaper is sacred. Never, ever move someone else’s newspaper. You don’t want to bring that kind of bad luck to your Travers day bets.
7. If you love an upset victory, the Travers Stakes is for you.
Betting small to win big is the absolute best in my book, and the Travers is the perfect chance to do just that. From 1901-2020, only 51 favorites in 117 fields have won – and in just the last decade, longshots have fared well: for a $2 win wager, 2014 winner V.E. Day returned $41, 2015 victor Keen Ice paid $34, 2012’s dead-heat co-winner Golden Ticket returned $26.80, and 2016 winner Arrogate paid his backers $25.40 while in the process setting a track record for 1 ¼ miles. Not a bad ROI on a $2 swing!
8. Javier Castellano is the winningest Travers jockey in history.
If you have no idea who to play in the Travers, just go with whoever Javi’s riding. Why? No jockey has ever won more Mid-Summer Derbys than Javier Castellano: he’s notched six wins in the historic race, including piloting Keen Ice to an upset victory over American Pharoah in 2015.
9. Things start a little bit earlier than usual on Travers day.
Unlike other Saratoga race days, Travers day starts early. As mentioned above, gates open at 7 a.m.; also, first post time for the first race of the day will be 11:35 a.m.
10. Explore a variety of dining options in picturesque Saratoga Springs.
Fans in town for Travers weekend will have no shortage of options for where to go to dine before or after the races. The town is abuzz with activity coming out of two summers that were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and restaurants are ready and willing to fulfill every craving at all price points for connoisseurs of elite horse racing and great food. Check out ABR’s dining guide for a list of recommendations.