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Horse Racing Stories

That Crazy 1987 Travers

Rinaldo Del Gallo, III

Rinaldo Del Gallo, III

By: Rinaldo Del Gallo, III

The 1987 Travers was run on August 22nd of that year.  Alysheba was having a rivalry with Bet Twice.  Alysheba took the Kentucky Derby and Preakness with Bet Twice coming in second in both races.  Bet Twice won the Belmont when Alysheba was out of the money.  Bet Twice had faced Alysheba in the Haskell, which Bet Twice won and Alysheba came second, beaten only by a neck.  And this is where it became strange, for in that 1987 Travers, the Kentucky Derby winner and Preakness winner came in last in the Travers (6 of 6 runners).

Stranger still, Bet Twice, the second horse in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and winner of the Belmont came in 5th of the 6 horse Travers field.  Which brings us to Java Gold.  Java Gold did something that horses don’t do anymore.  He ran in the Whitney and won beating older horses (although, Gulch came in 2nd and was also 3 years of age), and then Java Gold ran in the Travers.

The Whitney win was on August 8th of that year, making the races just two weeks apart.  The Whitney is open to three-year-olds but few try their luck anymore. The last three-year-old to win the Whitney was Easy Goer in 1989.

Java Gold was sired by Key to the Mint, the winner of the 1972 Travers.  Java Gold was from the St. Simon sire line, and it was around the “beginning of the end” as they say of that great sire line. As for other horses that won the Travers from the St. Simon sire line, a horse named “Playfellow” won the 1983 Travers.  In 1925 Dangerous won, also of the St. Simon sire line.   Java Gold is the last horse from the St. Simon sire line to win the Travers, and I suspect that will be it for the St. Simon Sire line winning the Travers for eternity, unless there is some highly unexpected development with the very limited opportunities still available.

Speaking of Easy Goer, he was the middle leg of three generations of sires that would win the Travers.  Easy Goer’s son Will’s Way won the Travers in 1996.  Easy Goer’s father Alydar won in 1978 when Affirmed was placed second by disqualification—I saw that race at the track with my Dad and wrote about it elsewhere.

While Aldyar’s undefeated father Raise a Native did not run in the Travers (he only ran in 4 races), Alydar’s grandsire Native Dancer also won the Travers—4 winners in 5 generations of sires ain’t bad.  As mentioned, Easy Goer won both the Whitney and Travers in his 3 year old year, also on 2 weeks rest.  Secretariat famously lost to Onion in the Whitney which contributed to his ducking the Travers.

There is one low quality video of that 1987 Travers on YouTube. It is an odd race, in that neither Alysheba nor Bet Twice were part of the 2 horse duo that was 10 lengths ahead on the back stretch.  The early pace was set by Temprence Sil (a horse that beat Alyseba when they were two in the Grade 1 Holywood Futurity) and Gorky.  It has been said Gorky was a rabbit for Gulch, a horse that came in 4th.  But Alysheba and Bet Twice were not caught in the speed duel. Nonetheless, Alysheba lost the 1987 Travers by a country mile. Alybsheba then would come in second in the Breeder’s Cup Classic that year against Ferdinand, and then would win the Breeders’ Cup Classic the next year.  Alysheba was to avenge Ferdinand when he won the Santa Anita Derby in 1988.  The Breeder’s Cup Classic, the Santa Anita Handicap, the Kentucky Derby–these were all run at the Travers distance of 10 furlongs, or a 1 1/4 miles.

Alysheba won at that classic 10 furlong distance 7 times, and also took the 9.5 furlong Preakness.  And there was that close second in that first Breeders Cup.  So Alysheba clearly could go the 10 furlong Travers distance. Yet there was that inexplicable last place in the Travers.  Alysheba lost the Travers by 20 ¼ lengths—perhaps it was the slop that got him, as it did Gallant Fox when he was beaten by Jim Dandy in 1930.   Still, Alysheba did win the Breeders’ Cup Classic the second time, it was on a muddy track.

Alysheba was to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1993.  While the Travers was going to be a race that American Pharoah, Gallant Fox, Affirmed, Pleasant Colony, Exterminator (who came in 4th) all lost, Alysheba’s Travers was an inexplicable clunker, as was Bet Twice’s effort.  Of the Triple Crown winners, only Whirlaway has won the Travers.

Saratoga is said to be the Graveyard of Champions.  But it was that and more in that 1987 Travers.

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