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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


By Peter Applebee

SARATOGA SPRINGS, August 29, 2021 – As I traveled to the track Saturday it struck me that I was going to be more a horseracing fan than a horseplayer this afternoon.  The Travers card was awesome with five reigning Eclipse Award winners running: Essential Quality, Channel Maker, Whitmore, Swiss Skydiver, and Gamine. 

I can’t imagine that this many reigning Eclipse Award winners have ever appeared on the same card outside of a Breeders’ Cup. As an indicator of the depth of these fields – only two of these Eclipse winners were post time favorites.

The racing was excellent all the way around and every winner of the six Grade Is earned a triple digit Beyer.  

The Forego was marred by Firenze Fire absolutely savaging winner Yaupon (103 Beyer) in deep stretch by repeating biting the bridle of his competitor.

There was a collective gasp in the grandstand as Firenze Fire seemed to lose the plot for about five seconds. The incident also probably cost Firenze Fire the race as he appeared to have the momentum before the “contact”.

Then there was the matchup between Jackie’s Warrior and Life Is Good in the H. Allen Jerkens Stakes. 

Life is Good broke the better of the two and took the lead. After a half mile Life is Good drew away by a couple of lengths and appeared to have bottomed out the field. But Joel Rosario didn’t panic and as Life is Good floated a bit wide coming off the turn, Rosario remained inside with Jackie’s Warrior and after a great stretch duel, Jackie’s Warrior narrowly prevailed. 

Jackie’s Warrior has now won all four of his Saratoga starts, and this win came with a 107 Beyer.

Somehow, Gufo (104 Beyer) was the slight favorite in a wide open Sword Dancer, but the board was correct as he held off fast closing Japan after Channel Maker and Tribhuvan dueled each other into submission on the front end by going 23.4 for the first quarter.

This was the seventeenth anniversary to the day of Birdstone winning the Travers, and I naturally wondered if we would have another Belmont Stakes winner taking down the Mid-summer Derby. 

Midnight Bourbon took the lead early on as Essential Quality sat off the pace setter.  As they reached the far turn Midnight Bourbon kicked away by four lengths and looked to be in control. But Essential Quality would not be denied and just kept on coming and coming, collaring the leader to win by a neck. 

After today’s win, Essential Quality (107 Beyer) may have already wrapped up the divisional honors for three year olds. He is five for six this year with all wins coming in graded stakes including the Grade I Belmont, the Grade I Travers, and two Grade IIs – the Blue Grass and the Jim Dandy. 

Essential Quality’s win was a very popular one. As he passed me at the eighth pole the crowd was loudly exhorting him, and there were cheers all around when he was first under the wire.

EQ is not a New York horse, but after pulling off the Belmont, Jim Dandy, Travers trifecta – I think we may have adopted Essential Quality as one of our own.

The announced crowd of over 44,000 was certainly the largest of the year but it was nowhere near as crowded as other Travers days.  As an example, the betting machines on the first floor of the grandstand were maybe two or three deep at best.  Typically on Travers day those lines are at least fifteen deep in those locations. 

There was plenty of room to move around and lot of places to sit – both on the track apron benches but also inside the Grandstand as well. In addition, the crowd did not grow as the day progressed, it actually dissipated a bit.  I saw numerous people leaving before the Sword Dancer around five pm. Must have had early dinner reservations. Sigh.  

Still, Travers Day served as an exclamation point to a wonderful summer of racing. Next weekend we will have four more Grade Is including the Jockey Club Gold Cup and the Flower Bowl that have been relocated from the fall Belmont meet along with and the traditional two year old meet ending stakes – the Hopeful and the Spinaway.

Those should be great races.

But, oh! What a Travers Day it was.

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5 Responses

  1. You stole much of my thunder, that’s the way we saw it, Peter. One of the best, if not the best Travers program I can recall.

    Interesting take on the crowd. We saw it the same way on cable, notably much standing room at the top of stretch apron.

    Toni and I wish we could have added two more to the attendance total, but after the fact was happy not needing to wait for a table on Travers night!

    1. It was really an all-star case of runners. I agree – I don’t recall a better Travers card, but I imagine someone with a better memory than me might recall one.


  2. PA–
    Thank you for a wonderful summary of the best race card thus far in 2021. Also worthy of note was that the new governor of NY presented the Travers trophy. Such a refreshing change from her predecessor!
    P.S. Was Firenze Fire channeling Andrew Cuomo down the stretch and attempting to give Yaupon a traditional Florentine greeting? In any event, it made for a memorable finish!
    P.P.S. JP and Toni–You were missed!!

    1. Well Chuck, that’s a lot to chew on. Sorry…couldn’t help myself.

      Your point about our new Governor is well taken. Part of being a Governor is to be a bit of a civic cheerleader for your state. We haven’t had that in New York when it comes to racing in a very long time. Kudos to her! She saw one heck of a day of racing.


  3. Peter
    Once again your article was very well done. Great to see the Governor at the races. The racing industry is a crucial piece of the New York economy that the previous Governor chose to ignore. She is clearly a breath of fresh air.

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