Travers, 1919

Aug 26th 2009 11:00 am |

In 1919, Saratoga Race Course hosted the 50th running of the Travers Stakes. Hannibal, the son of Olambala, easily beat his five opponents – stopping the clock at 2:02 4/5 just a few ticks off the track record set by Sun Briar in 1918. (It is safe to say that the track played fast in 1919 — records were broken or challenged throughout the meet).

What was most notable about the 50th Travers was who do note compete. Sir Barton – the first colt to sweep the three races that would come to be known as the Triple Crown – did not run in the 1919 Travers. The other top three-year-olds – Purchase, Billy Kelly, and Mad Hatter – also skipped the Travers. In Joe Palmer’s recap of 1919 – written in 1941 – Hannibal merits nothing more than a brief mention in his review of the three-year-old class.

While the race itself proved forgettable, Travers day in 1919 must have been memorable for those in attendance.

Here is how the New York Times described it on August 17, 1919:

“It was estimated that 30,000 persons were present at the course today. Not only were the stands packed until it was almost impossible to move through the aisles but the crowd was so dense on the lawns that it was difficult to find an open space in the great enclosure. Many visitors from nearby towns and from New York had come up for the weekend, and so many automobiles arrived at the grounds that it was necessary to throw the paddock open for parking space. The crowds poured into the stands for two hours before the racing began, and in order to give all a chance to see the sport from the very beginning, the first race was not run until 3 o’clock”

A few days later the Daily Racing Form had this:

“In the great throng of Saturday, which overcrowded the grandstand and clubhouse and fringed the homestretch and the turns for a half mile, were several old time turfmen who had seen most of the fifty races for the Travers Stakes. W. S. Vosburgh, for thirty years official handicapper of the Jockey Club, was one of them, his first visit to the Saratoga races having been in 1869.

“John A. Morris, of Kentucky, came in the early 70s and recalled the annual race in which the negro trainer Ansel, a famous turf character of old slavery days, led the ‘man eater’ Tom Bowling to the post for the Travers with a long rope which he deftly cut to free the horse as the flag dropped, and the son of Lexington ran the race with a piece of it dangling about his heels.

“But the oldest old-timer of them all was Leon N. Salmon, a veteran of the Civil War, who was scales and acting secretary of the races in John Morrissey’s day and is now an officer of the Supreme Court in Brooklyn. Looking scarcely old enough to antedate the first Travers race, Mr Salmon said he had seen them all, his summers having been spent in Saratoga since boyhood, and he is now in his seventy fifth year.”

It is amazing to think that the Travers already had a rich history way back in 1919. And here we are 90 years later, getting ready to run it again.


“Travers and Spinaway Day,” Daily Racing Form, August 17, 1919

“Wilson’s Fleet Three-Year-Old Hannibal Wins Travers,” New York Times, August 17, 1919

“Saw Every Running of Travers,” Daily Racing Form, August 20, 1919

Since I will be in attendance, I was selfishly hoping Rachel Alexandra would run in the Travers, but I am thrilled that her connections have decided to point her to the Woodward. As I wrote in this post, a three-year-old filly beating older males is a significant milestone. No matter how you rank the current handicap division, if she wins the Woodward you can carve her name in stone as one of racing’s greatest fillies.

Looking forward to arriving in Saratoga on Thursday morning for three great days of racing. Hoping the weather holds up. Watch out for a Bird exacta in the Travers. (REVISED 8/26 9:45. Mine that Bird is a no go for the Travers. OK, time to hit the road!)

Many thanks to those of you who follow Colin’s Ghost. It is always gratifying to read you comments and emails so please keep them coming!


Filed in Hannibal,saratoga crowds,Saratoga Race Course,thoroughbred racing history,Travers Stakes, 1919

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