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Travers Stakes: Saratoga's sensational "Mid-Summer Derby"

Travers Stakes: Saratoga's sensational "Mid-Summer Derby"

On-track handle is second-best ever for Travers
Travers Stakes: Saratoga's sensational "Mid-Summer Derby"
Julie Callies of Utica surprises an unsuspectiong race-goer at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

Julie Kallies became the second most famous filly at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday.

Kallies, 34, who lives in Utica, entertained herself, three friends and dozens of people by impersonating a race horse. All she needed was a latex horse mask and a fearless attitude.

"Whhinnnniiiieeeeeee!" she sang in a high-pitched voice, startling people she approached under the grandstand.

"I'm telling people to bet on me," the free-spirited Kallies said during a break in her comedy routine. "I'm the winner."

There were other winners on the track and in the park, as Saratoga hosted the 149th Travers Stakes on a sunny, breezy late summer day. The New York Racing Association announced a crowd of 49,418 people -- many of whom came early and stayed late.

They watched Catholic Boy, a 7-1 shot, pull away from Mendelssohn and win the famous "Mid-Summer Derby." Catholic Boy rewarded keepers of the faith with a $16.20 payoff for each $2 bet.

Wonder Gadot, the first filly to take on Travers stallions since 1979, finished last. Favorite Good Magic could only manage ninth place -- second last.

The Travers Day on-track handle was $11,466,264 -- up from the $10,862,095 wagered in 2017 -- the second best Travers Day handle ever. Saturday's figure was just short of the 2015 record: $11,472,451.

The total handle was a record $52,086,597, a figure that beat the previous Travers Day record of $49,668,754 by 4.9 percent. For the first time, according to NYRA, total money wagered on Travers Day exceeded $50 million.

The previous total handle record was set in 2015 -- the year Triple Crown winner American Pharoah was upset by Keen Ice.

The 2017 total handle was $47,870,987.

So it was a day for handicapping, investing, hitting and missing. Race fans participated in an all-day party that was equal parts family reunion, fashion show, college frat bash and celebration of summer.

"It's the atmosphere, man," said Kallies, in between whinnies. "Everything's awesome."

The day on track grounds started just before 7 a.m., when entry gates opened. Hundreds of people, some of whom arrived during the middle of the night, ran to claim picnic tables in the annual Travers morning rush.

Phil Lane, 53, of Rochester, got shut out. He was in line during the early morning, but people ahead of him grabbed all the prime real estate.

"I would have thought I would have got one," said Lane, who settled for a small parcel of bare ground near one of the betting centers. "We're going to order a table -- my wife and son are going to bring one."

But Lane didn't mope over early bad luck. He believes any Travers Day is great fun.

"It's the environment," he said. "You can't beat the experience. And it's nice to have in-laws who live 15 minutes away."

Jim Roper, 71, of Blackwood, New Jersey, claimed both picnic tables and ground space for chairs.  Most of his 11-person crew arrived later in the day.

"We've been coming up here for 30 years," Roper said. "We're horse players, our fathers were horse players.

"We love the restaurants, we love the ambience," Roper added. "And if you're driving back home, it's bumper-to-bumper. Here, they give you space. It's not like that in New Jersey, unless you have boxing gloves."

The 13-race card began at 11:35 a.m. There was one scary moment, before the start of the third race. Thoroughbred Silver Dust reared up and got tangled in the gate. All other horses were backed out of the gate; the start of the race was delayed.

Silver Dust eventually regained his footing and walked with a pony for several minutes. The horse was not hurt and left the track under his own power.

Some other stories from Travers Day:

-- Lisa Merolle of Latham kept her Travers streak alive. For the past 15 years, she and 20 friends have gathered for a back yard party, a new t-shirt for each gathering.

This year, the model was a multi-colored tie-dye shirt inscribed with a phrase inspired by the "Star Wars" movie series: "May the Horse be With You."

"Most of us went to college together at Niagara," Merolle said. "We've recruited family and friends and now our kids are here to carry on the tradition."

-- For Galynn Wilkins of New Scotland and New Oxford, Pennsylvania, the Travers was a new experience.

"I've been coming to the track for 40 years and this is the first time I've come to the Travers," she said. "It was the only day open in my schedule. I'm retired now and I'm so busy trying to squeeze things in."

-- Lisa Gayes, a Schenectady native now living in Albany, watched horses walk the long path from barn to paddock. She watches horses -- and people -- during her visits to the race course.

"It's just the ambience," she said of the Saratoga experience. "It's just a great place to be in the summer."

-- Roxanne Malloy of North Adams, Massachusetts, will celebrate her wedding to Jake Belanger next weekend. This weekend, she played "Wonder Woman" and celebrated with some early morning exercise.

"We were here at 2:30 in the morning," she said. "I was the only female in the front rows."

Malloy got her picnic table. Her father, Harold "Butch" Malloy, marveled at her moves and moxie to out-maneuver guys in the field. "Roxanne just powered through it all," he said.

-- Jennifer Nowicki of New York City dressed in a bright red skirt, sweater and red and white high heels. The topper was a bright red hat decorated with red flowers and red feathers.

"I've been planning this outfit for the past year," she said. "Today, I am Saratoga."

-- Karen Carito and her friend Mary Rosenberger, both of North Andover, Massachusetts, also made first trips to the Travers. They watched horses from a spot near the paddock path.

Both wore large, wide-brimmed hats favored by many visitors to the race course. While the women said they needed help making bets, they did not require any fashion assistance.

"We knew we couldn't show up without the hats," Rosenberger said.

-- Oi! Australians are supposed to be tough guys. That might be one reason James Willett, originally from Dubbo -- a city in the Orana region of New South Wales -- heard no bad reviews for his matching jacket and shorts. Both were decorated with pink flamingos, green palm trees and plenty of electric blue.

"It's just festive," said Willett, who now lives in New York City. "A guy wanted to trade me for the clothes. He said, 'I need that suit!'"

-- People were dressed more conservatively, but just as colorfully, in the box seats.

"It's electric," said Bonner Young of Travers Day.

"And it's fun if you're running -- in any race," added Bonner's husband, Tom.

The Youngs were running. They saddled Highland Sky in The Sword Dancer stakes. The horse finished fifth.

-- Tim Beckett of Saratoga Springs offered an equation for the Travers experience. "This place has the best horses, it has the best atmosphere and it has the best venue," he said. "What else could you want?"

Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]

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