When we think about horse racing, naturally the first thing that comes to mind is the Kentucky Derby.
While the Derby stands alone as the pinnacle event for the sport, Saratoga Springs is widely considered the preeminent track. The marvelous venue is the single oldest for an organized sporting event in all of the United States. Fans have remarkable views of the horses as they are being led to the paddock and there is a lake in the middle of the track with a canoe that is annually painted in the colors of the winning stable for the year's Travers Stakes winner.
Naturally then, the highlight of Saratoga is the Travers Stakes.
Legendary trainer D. Wayne Lukas has won four Kentucky Derbies, racked up 739 wins and holds a spot in the United States' Racing Hall of Fame. To this day, the trainer holds the Travers in particularly high regard.
"There are probably more expensive races [but] they can't get this status, because they don't have the tradition," he told The Huffington Post. "They don't have the draw of the Travers."
Such a "draw" defines this race and differentiates it from other elites.
"All the best horses down through history that have built our industry have participated," Lukas added. "Secondly you get such a fan base that appreciates the horse and racing more than most venues in the country. California can't get a race that would have nearly the status of the Travers. You hear people saying, 'My dad brought me here when I was six and I haven’t missed one since.'"
With an open field in 2011, there are several horses with legitimate chances to win this year.
Raison d'Etat (15/1) is in fine form and may present good value. The mare is being trained by Bill Mott. Both Coil (3/1) and Stay Thirsty (7/2), coming off a nice victory at the $500,000 Jim Dandy Stakes, are in great shape as well. But the biggest name in the field belongs to Shackelford, who won the Preakness at 12/1 and has shown fine form since coming off a two-week break. All four lead another excellent field for a race used to having superior talent.
Since it falls after the trio of Triple Crown races, the Travers often helps settle the score in determining who the premier 3-year-old is in any given year. Add the fact that we haven’t seen a Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978, and the stakes of this race only heighten.
"What has happened over the last 20-some years," Lukas said, "is that we haven’t had a definitive horse come out of the Triple Crown races, so now you roll into the Travers and it kind of settles the issue on the 3-year-old crop. It doesn’t always decide it, but it sure clears the picture up a lot. The Travers throws it wide open. Anybody that wins it gets a second chance. Suddenly, he's back in the picture."
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