The best of the best of the Travers

This is a collection of the 10 greatest horses of all-time who happen to have won the Travers, no sm
Man O'War runs to victory in the 1920 Travers Stakes.
Man O'War runs to victory in the 1920 Travers Stakes.

This is a collection of the 10 greatest horses of all-time who happen to have won the Travers, no small task in its assembly, but also a fun trip through the history of the Travers specifically and racing in general.

Some of the best horses ever, such as Secretariat, never even ran in the Travers. Only four of 12 Triple Crown winners have run in Saratoga Race Course’s signature race. Of those, only one can step forward as a winner (not so fast, American Pharoah).

Of the horses who have won the Travers, 22 have been inducted into the National Racing Hall of Fame, so I conveniently (and gutlessly) cut down my preliminary list of 147 Travers winners to 22. Easy, right? Right.

Following are the 10 greatest horses who have the Travers as a line item on their resumes:

MAN O’ WAR (1920)

Rated in many circles as the greatest racehorse ever in North America, the original Big Red won the Travers by 2 1 /2 lengths over Upset a year after Man o’ War suffered his only career loss in 21 starts — to Upset in the Jim Dandy at Saratoga. Man o’ War Fun Fact: In his first race after the Travers, the official chart says he won by 100 lengths over Hoodwink in a Lawrence Realization match race.


The only one of 12 Triple Crown winners to have also won the Travers (only four have even run in it). The Calumet Farm homebred won 32 of 60 races lifetime, including a walkover in the 1942 Pimlico Special. Saratoga bonus points for having run four times in a span of 28 days at the Spa as a 2-year-old in 1940, winning the Saratoga Special and Hopeful.


The Grey Ghost won 21 of 22 lifetime starts, made the cover of Time magazine and was the first horse to become a national superstar with the help of this newfangled contraption called a television. He was one widely criticized ride by his jockey and some controversial bumping away from being a Triple Crown winner, but after losing the Kentucky Derby by a head to Dark Star, Native Dancer won the Preakness, Belmont and Travers.

EASY GOER (1989)

Another horse whose greatness was self-evident, but all the moreso in reflection against another great horse. In Easy Goer’s case, his foil was Sunday Silence, who beat Easy Goer in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Breeders’ Cup Classic, by a neck, in one of the greatest Classics ever. But Easy Goer, a son of Alydar, beat Sunday Silence in the Belmont by eight lengths and waltzed to a Travers victory, while Sunday Silence stayed home.

ALYDAR (1978)

Like Easy Goer, Alydar makes this list because he was great on his own, but also as a reflection of a horse who actually finished first in the Travers and doesn’t have a career past performance line to show for it. That’s Affirmed, who beat Alydar to the wire but was disqualified. Alydar is a Hall of Famer who won 14 of 26 starts, including the Whitney by 10 lengths immediately before the Travers. It takes some doing to win five Grade I races in a career that dovetailed with Affirmed’s.

ROAMER (1914)

This beast ran 98 career races, winning 39 and finishing in the money 74 times. As a 2-year-old in 1913, he raced at Saratoga five times, and his only win was in the Saratoga Special. The following year, he won the Travers by 10 lengths over Surprising, still tied for the third-largest Travers win in history. Local note: In 1918, Roamer was third to George Smith in the Edgemere at Aqueduct, another old boy who won the 1916 Kentucky Derby for Amsterdam-based Sanford Farm.


Won 25 of 31 career races for purse money of almost $1.5 million at a time when the Travers total purse was $82,000. Won the 1967 Suburban, then closed out his career with a second to the great Damascus in the Woodward at Belmont Park (see below).


Holds the record, by a mile, for largest Travers margin of victory: 22 lengths. The next closest is General Assembly’s 15. Damascus won 21 of 32 lifetime races, won the Woodward by 10 lengths over Buckpasser (see above) and raced 12 times as a 4-year-old with six wins, including the Brooklyn.


Arts and Letters went off at 1-5 in the 1969 Travers and looked every bit of it, winning by 6 1 /2 lengths. The short comment on the Daily Racing Form’s historical past performances simply says, “Easy score.” His Travers win came in the middle of a winning streak that included the Met Mile, Belmont, Jim Dandy, Travers, Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup.

HOLY BULL (1994)

This is a makeup call by me. Holy Bull’s Travers win was the greatest Travers I’ve ever seen first-hand, and one of the best big races, period. But it didn’t make my ’Toga 10 list of best races ever at Saratoga. Holy Bull was 13-for-16 lifetime and had an incredible stretch in 1994 in which he won the Met Mile, Dwyer, Haskell, Travers and Woodward.

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