With Triple Crown winner American Pharoah installed as the morning-line 1-5 favorite for the $1.6 million Grade I Travers on Saturday, the rest of the field can be considered one big long shot.
Long shots, though, sometimes come through in the 1 1⁄4-mile Travers. Saratoga Race Course is, after all, known as the “Graveyard of Champions.” One need look no farther back through the pages of history than last year, when 19-1 V. E. Day won. But where in the all-time great long-shot winners does he fit in?
Here’s a list of the Top 10 long-shot winners of the Travers. The placement of each is up for debate — all except maybe Numero Uno.
No. 10: Crewman, 1963. Crewman won at odds of 19-1 by 1 1⁄2 lengths over another 19-1 runner, Hot Dust. The old chart books in the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame say he “took command” entering the stretch and established a good lead by the eighth pole, then “retained a clear margin while under strong handling.” Crewman returned $41.90 on a $2 win bet.
No. 9: Chompion, 1968. Chompion was bred and owned by Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney and won the Travers as a 14-1 long shot, beating 4-5 favorite Forward Pass by 1 3⁄4 lengths. He kicked in nearing the stretch, “won going away.” He paid $31.20 for the win.
No. 8: Gold Foam, 1935. At 12-1, Gold Foam wired the field and beat 3-2 favorite St. Bernard by two lengths. Gold Foam was coming into the Travers off a victory in the Hyman Purse, a one-mile race at Saratoga, but that didn’t sway bettors. Perhaps because the Hyman Purse was run just two days before the Travers.
No. 7: Blues, 1901. Eight days before the Travers, Blues was eighth in the Saratoga Handicap. Perhaps that’s why he wound up at 20-1 for the Travers, but perhaps he was just saving himself for the Mid-Summer Derby. He caught 6-1 pacesetter Dublin and beat him by a head.
No. 6: V. E. Day, 2014. As mentioned above, V. E. Day was 19-1. His victory paid $41.00, which is cause enough for inclusion on this list, but the manner in which he won raises him to sixth. He had a ton of kick left as came out at the sixteenth pole, passed 5-2 Tonalist and caught 5-2 barnmate Wicked Strong at the wire by a nose.
No. 5: Adonis, 1945. Speaking of VE Day, the actual day — May 8, 1945 — happened just a three months before 25-1 Adonis won the Travers by two lengths over 21-1 Burning Dream. This Travers was run at Belmont Park, because Saratoga Race Course was closed for the 1943, ’44 and ’45 racing seasons because of World War II. Favored Pavot set a fast pace, but the chart says he “quit badly in the final furlong.” Two long shots were there to clean up after him, and Adonis “won under pressure” to pay $53.50, $20.30 and $9.20. Burning Dream paid $16.20 and $7.70, FYI.
No. 4: Willow Hour, 1981. Having won the Jim Dandy, the traditional Travers prep race, 13 days earlier didn’t impress bettors. Willow Hour went off at 24-1, setting up just off the pace set by Prince Fortune, part of a 3-2 favorite coupled entry with Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Pleasant Colony. Willow Hour got his head in front after the first mile and had to hold off Pleasant Colony the rest of the way, prevailing by a head to pay $50.20, $13.20 and $5.20.
No. 3: Golden Ticket, 2012. That sounds familiar. Golden Ticket (33-1) first took the lead after the first mile, then had to hold off 2-1 favorite Alpha. Only, well, he didn’t. Alpha and Golden Ticket traded headbobs through the final jumps and finished in a dead heat for the win. Golden Ticket returned $26.80, $26.40 and $11.80. It’s worth noting that 32-1 Fast Falcon finished third, back from that nose-to-nose finish by just a neck. He paid $13.60 to show. The trifecta was a monster payout: Tickets with Golden Ticket on top of Alpha and Fast Falcon paid $5,275 for a $2 bet, while those with Alpha at the top paid $2,696.
No. 2: Runaway Groom, 1982. Runaway Groom was 13-1, which may beg the question, “Why is he No. 2?” Here’s why. In 1982, Gato Del Sol won the Kentucky Derby, Aloma’s Ruler won the Preakness, and Conquistador Cielo won the Belmont. All three ran in the Travers. All three were beaten in the same race. Know how often that’s happened in the history of the world? Once. Schenectady native Albert Coppola, owner of Runaway Groom, had a heck of a lot to be proud of when Runaway Groom closed to beat Aloma’s Ruler by a half length. The chart said he “finished strongly to wear down the leaders,” who were Aloma’s Ruler and Conquistador Cielo. He paid $27.80 for the win.
No. 1: Jim Dandy, 1930. The 1930 Triple Crown winner, Gallant Fox, came into the Travers looking to hook up with rival Whichone, whom he had beaten in the Belmont. Gallant Fox romped in the Dwyer before coming to the Travers. Maybe he would have prepped in the Jim Dandy, if that had been a race back then instead of a horse so many saw as an also-ran in the upcoming Mid-Summer Derby. All eyes, and most of the dollars, were on Gallant Fox and Whichone, and Gallant Fox hit a muddy track (the track listed on the chart as “heavy”) as the betting favorite at 1-2, with Whichone at 8-5. Eight days prior, Jim Dandy had run eighth in the Burnt Hills Handicap, and opened at 50-1 on Travers Day. When betting closed, he was 100-1. When the race ended, though, it was with Jim Dandy eight lengths ahead of Gallant Fox. He had “shook off the leaders” entering the stretch, and drew away to win.