Travers Day, 2010

Yesterday’s Travers will likely have no significant effect on racing. It won’t determine the three-year-old champion; it didn’t set any records; and its winner might not even go on to race in the Breeders’ Cup in November.

Alan at Left At the Gate has pointed out today that the race isn’t going to win any awards for aesthetics, and that it wasn’t a Travers for the ages.  Fair enough.

But as I watched the race from the Saratoga roof, with the horses of two New York trainers gutting it out in the stretch, none of that really mattered to me. The day was resplendent, and the place was packed with nearly 46,000 who had come to see Saratoga’s signature race.

Earlier in the day, someone had asked me whom I liked (clearly someone who has never heard of my idiosyncratic method of picking winners, which could only generously be called “handicapping”).  I listed a few horses, talked about some potential wagers, and then said, “But if Jimmy Jerkens’ horse wins, I don’t care what else happens.”

Jimmy’s horse, Afleet Express, went neck and neck with Nick Zito’s, Fly Down. From I stood, it was impossible to tell who won. We watched the replay; we still weren’t sure. “Think the inside horse got him.”  “You think? I thought it was the outside horse.”

We waited, and we waited. And when the numbers went up, it was indeed the inside horse. Jimmy Jerkens had won the Travers, a race his legendary father has never won, a race his father said that he’d like to win as much as he’d like to win the Kentucky Derby.

Afterwards, Jerkens was asked to put this win in the context of other significant victories. The man who won the 2005 Breeders’ Cup Mile on his home track with Artie Schiller, and who won the 2007 Met Mile with Corinthian, said that winning this race was the highlight of his career.

At the barn a couple of hours after the race, the blanket of carnations took pride of place, accompanied by a bottle of celebratory Scotch.

Barn help was jovial and celebrating; the trainer himself was walking the shedrow, feeding each of his horses by hand, scooping oats from a bucket and placing a portion in each stall. The Travers winner himself munched his hay as if nothing particularly extraordinary had just occurred.

Several miles away, Susan Lee, the force behind that floral blanket, got to work painting the jockey outside her family’s restaurant, the Wishing Well. Bye, Drs. Jayaraman; hello, Gainesway Farm and Mr. Cherry.

And inside the Well, the Lees awaited the arrival of Antony Beck, president of Gainesway Farm and son of the man who bred Afleet Express.  When he walked in, the piano player struck up a special Travers song; the bell was rung, and the crowd in the bar applauded the owner of this year’s Travers winner as he made his way to his table.

It wasn’t Jaipur and Ridan. It wasn’t Affirmed and Alydar. It will hold no place of esteem in racing history. But Jimmy Jerkens won his first Travers, and from the roof at Saratoga, overlooking the oldest and most beautiful race track I’ve ever seen, on a day when so much about racing seemed right, that was more, much more, than enough.

8 thoughts on “Travers Day, 2010

  1. I caught your appearance on OTB Sunday. You are well-spoken and it’s nice to see that in this business. I will make more of an effort to come back to this site.

    So happy for Jimmy and his Dad.

  2. Handicappers and historians can say what they like about the race but it’s one I’ll remember fondly for a long, long time (and not just because I boxed the exactor!)

    That was a gutsy fight to the finish between two hard-trying horses. I enjoy that type of result whether it’s a claimer or a champion crowner.

  3. I saw your appearance on the OTB channel. You were very articulate and poised. I enjoyed hearing your comments and perspective. They were very refreshing. I couldn’t help thinking that you would/could be an excellent moderator for a racing show, like even the one that you were a guest on. I believe that you have the capacity to bring “the rest of the story” to racing enthusiasts. Being a woman in a largely male sport, although it is changing slowly, I think others would appreciate hearing your stories and input. Charlsie Canty and Jan Rushton were very good, why not Theresa Gennaro?

  4. Brian and August, thanks for the kind words. I appreciate Nick and Tom giving me the opportunity to come on, and I’m glad that you enjoyed it.

    And Brian, thanks for sharing your memories of the Chief, here and on the other post. Just more examples of what a generous man he is.

    Keith: Don’t even ask me about my betting of the Travers. Woulda, coulda, shoulda…

  5. Some of the other pieces of the Afleet Express story are pretty remarkable, too. He was bought for $245,000 by Gainesway and Martin Cherry, and other partners. But, the other partners wanted out. Afleet Express was slated to be sold at another sale to dissolve the partnership but, no one wanted to pay $185,000 for him at the sale and, he was retained. Gainesway and Cherry would subsequently buy out the others, who were no longer interested in owning him.

    How unfortunate was it that Graham Beck, who bought Gainesway Farm from John Gaines in 1989, passed away this year on July 27? As Antony, Beck’s son said, “He would have been very happy and proud.”

    And how cool is it, that Gainesway has stood Afleet Alex, the second crop leading sire, for $15,000? What are the chances that the sire fee for 2011 is about to change?

    • So many cool things about the story–I was lucky enough to visit Gainesway earlier this summer, and I love that a “son” of the farm took Saratoga’s big race. Bitttersweet for Mr. Beck, but such great news for Jimmy Jerkens.

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