A crowd of more than 46,000 at the Saratoga Race Course on Saturday were treated to a sight that hasn’t been seen in almost 140 years: The 143rd running of the Travers was a dead heat between Alpha and Golden Ticket.
It was the first time the race ended in a tie since 1874.
Jim Vella, 56, of Long Island, has been coming to the track since he was a child and had never seen anything like this finish, which he described as a rare type of excitement. Even more special from his seat in the clubhouse, nearby bettors were vocal winners.
• Two noses meet at the wire. Click HERE.
• Rare dead heat a highlight of Travers Day. Click HERE.
• Dead heat made meet for two trainers. Click HERE.
• To view a video of the early-morning rush for picnic tables, read reporter David Lombardo's post on the Capital Region Scene blog by clicking HERE.
• To view a photo gallery of the rush, click HERE.
• To view a gallery of photographer Patrick Dodson's pictures, click HERE.
• To view a gallery of Lombardo's photos, click HERE.
“It was fun because the woman in front of us had bet the longshot and won and the guy next to us had the favorite to hit the Pick 4 and they both won,” Vella said, “and so did we.”
Betting at the track on all of Saturday’s 13 races was up 7 percent from last year. This year’s total was $8.7 million, compared to last year’s total of $8.2 million.
Gambling on the day’s races was up an even larger percentage with all the outside sources, including Off-Track Betting, Aqueduct, Belmont and other options. The all-sources handle was $36.6 million, a 10.8 percent increase from last year’s $33 million.
These positive trends were also matched by an increase in paid admission from last year’s crowd of 43,050. Paid admission Saturday was 46,528, an 8.1 percent increase and almost twice the crowd for this year’s opening day card.
Part of that growth was due to first-time visitors, like 25-year-old John Salov, who traveled to the event from Westchester County at the invitation of a college friend. He and a small group were assembled in the backyard, where they were enjoying alcohol, watching women and betting.
“It’s Ocean City [Maryland] and gambling,” Salov said, implying that the combination was close to perfection and unlike any other experience in his life.
Part of that unique experience is made by people like Ann Pugh and Rick Hayes, both of Vermont, who were sitting on benches by the rail and sporting clothing adorned with losing tickets from past years. Pugh wore a subtle sash covered in tickets, which she had created for this year, while Hayes was wearing a variation of a straw hat, as well as a suit coat and pants, that were all covered in tickets.
After a struggle to put on the pants over his shorts, with the crowded section rooting him on, he showed off the odd outfit to a delighted crowd.
Pugh explained the pair only came to the track for the Travers, and as such, the outfits are part of the celebration.
“You have to have fun,” she said.
The experience for Jim Vella and his two sons was much more mundane, sharing a prime clubhouse view and some smuggled liquor. Vella said he hoped his kids would pass on the tradition to their children, in much the same way he took up the hobby.
“Some people take their kids camping, we go to Saratoga. It’s great,” he said. “We love it up here.”
The one thing that has changed, for the better, Vella added, is that his children are old enough to enjoy the Saratoga Springs nightlife with him after the race, instead of retreating to their hotel room.