Travers always seems to deliver a memorable race

Every Travers has been enjoyable.

I haven’t missed too many Travers since my first one in 1987.

I know there are a lot of people out there who have seen many more Travers than I have, but I believe I still qualify for Dusty Artifact status in this historical place.

Java Gold won it in the slop, and this was back when the Daily Racing Form used to print what was called a mud mark, a big asterisk, next to any horse’s name who you’d expect to thrive in wet conditions. He had one, so I bet $5 to win, got $20 back and was one hooked


That was an easy one to remember, but there have been others over the last two decades that are indelibly stamped on my brain.

A few winners that come to mind are Easy Goer, who gawked at the stands as he romped down the stretch as the 1-5 favorite in 1989; Unshaded, who just got up to catch Albert the Great and complete what will probably stand forever as the greatest betting day I’ve ever had at Saratoga; and Birdstone, the 2004 Triple Crown spoiler who you could barely see through a torrential rainstorm until he passed through the photo-finish lights.

In the last two years, we’ve enjoyed the brilliance of Bernardini and the duel between Street Sense and Grasshopper, Calvin Borel peeking over at Robby Albarado with his big grin just past the wire.

This is the YouTube moment that I could watch 100 times and never get sick of it, though: 1994, Holy Bull.

Holy smokes.

It started in the paddock. The blackish-gray Holy Bull circled and circled around his designated tree, head down like a stalking pred­ator.

A fellow writer made the mistake of commenting to trainer Jimmy Croll after the race that he had thought Holy Bull looked a little listless in the paddock, and Croll said, “Well, I don’t know what the hell horse you were looking at.”

I’m no expert, but I didn’t think that. I thought he looked scary and intimidating.

The race itself was one for the mythology of horse racing, comp­lemented by Tom Durkin’s

dramatic call.

Picture a boxer who has slugged it out for eight rounds, then gets a fresh opponent for the final four of a 12-round fight.

Ridden by Mike Smith, Holy Bull cannonballed through a :461⁄5 half-mile to catch Commanche Trail (who was “hellbent on the lead”), then left him behind through what should have been an exhausting 1:103⁄5 for three-quarters of a mile.

Enter Concern.

The late closer and jockey Jerry Bailey were still 10 lengths out of it as Holy Bull hit the middle of the final turn, but that would change in a flash.

Concern exploded into second place, prompting Durkin to roar the classic, “But there is cause for Concern,” as Holy Bull passed the quarter pole.

It was the perfect set-up, except Holy Bull never got a copy of the script, and dug in and refused to let the other horse by, while Durkin frantically called him “as game as a racehorse can be.”

A few more desperate strides.

Where’s the wire, where’s the wire, where’s the . . . and, bang.


A really, really small nose.

If we don’t see a race and a finish like that today in the 139th running of the Travers, we’ll still see history.

They can’t all be as good as 1994, but each one is the Travers, and that will always be good enough for me.

Categories: Sports

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