The Triple Crown might be over, but that doesn't mean you have to wait for next year's Derby to witness a world-class horse race. This coming Saturday marks the 144th running of the Travers Stakes, the oldest thoroughbred race in the country, in Saratoga Springs. With a purse set at one million dollars, this 10-furlong (1.25 mile) race for three-year-old horses will pit Kentucky Derby winner Orb against Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice.
Travers has a more laid-back, resort vibe than the Triple Crown races, but offers as much - if not more - history than its more well-known brethren. "The Saratoga Springs race course is to horse racing what Wrigley or Fenway are to baseball. It's a historic classic," says Eric Wing, of the New York Racing Association. "So many legends of the sport have competed or made their reputation here."
Indeed, winning the Triple Crown and Travers gives a horse what's called the Superfecta, a feat that has only been achieved once, by Whirlaway in 1941. And although there are no Superfectas to be had this year, a showdown makes for even more drama.
"The main storyline is the showdown between Kentucky Derby winner Orb, Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice, and Verrazano, who didn't fire his best shot on Derby day, but has won every other race he's run this year," says Wing. "This race is essentially a rubber match – it's safe to say that the winner will be points leader when it comes to champion three-year-olds."
The way to do Travers is simple. Throw on some decent-looking duds, pack a cooler full of food and drinks (no glass, and pack water, because man can't thrive on alcohol alone), then head down to the track early. Saratoga Race Course opens at 7 a.m., which is when you'll need to be there if you want to get a picnic table. If you don't feel like lugging around a Styrofoam box full of booze, the track has plenty of good food and drinks stalls. Either way, five bucks gets you in the door.
Once you're through the gate, your move is simple: "If you've never been, the first thing you should do is walk around and get a feel for the track. Figure out where your home base for the day is, whether it's a bench, reserved seat, or picnic table," says Wing. "After that, grab a program – it'll have all the info you'd ever need to enjoy the race, from wagering odds, to info on the jockeys, trainers, and the horses' past performances."
The first race starts at 11:35 and a series of smaller competitions leads up to the main event, which begins at 5:44 and will likely end roughly two minutes later – maybe even earlier given this year's talent.
Pace yourself, because when the ponies are done for the day, you won't be. There are plenty of great places to grab a bite in Saratoga. Because restaurants are bound to be crowded, our best advice is to find a place that looks good, grab a cocktail, and patiently wait for a table. Afterwards, hit the area around Caroline Street, where you'll find no shortage of drinking establishments. And, hey, if your horse wins, maybe you'll have enough extra cash to buy the bar a round.