Red Smith and the Travers, 1963

Aug 24th 2011 11:05 pm |

Crewman -- The 20-1 upsetter of the 1963 Travers Stakes

Nearly one hundred years after they ran the first Travers at Saratoga Springs, they ran another on August 17th 1963. Red Smith, one of America’s great sports writers, never let his readers forget the historical weight of a moment so he didn’t let the milestone century go unnoticed. In his syndicated column about the 1963 Travers, he quoted liberally from an 1863 article in the Spirit of the Times, one of the most popular racing publications of its day. In the span of Smith’s article, he manages to take a subtle jab at the attire of Saratoga patrons, find ‘comfortable assurance’ that the complaints of a 1963 railbird echoed a similar criticism one-hundred years prior, and, of course, provide a stellar account of that year’s Travers.

In an article under the headline “Saratoga Travers Stakes: Unexpected Again — 100 Years Later,” readers saw this history lesson and contemporary account from Red Smith in morning papers across the country on August 18, 1963:

The table of contents in Wilkes’ ‘Spirit of the Times‘ published Aug 15, 1863, listed the news of the day in order of its importance: “Impending War with France,” “The Epilogue of Treason,” and “Saratoga Races – Large and fashionable attendance – good running and unexpected incidents.” A minor disturbance later referred to as the War Between the States was in progress at the time but didn’t rate a mention.

The inaugural meeting conducted by honest John Morrissey, a saloon brawler and former heavyweight champion who later went on to Congress got all of Page One.

“The attendance was large,” the correspondent reported, “and the number of ladies, graced with every charm of beauty and elegant attire, was extremely gratifying. The truth is that the gentlemen of the turf like to run their horses in the presence of ladies, and we have a theory that the racers like it too:

“Gave me a glance of thine hazel eye,
If I falter in my race —
Give me a breath of thine honey mouth
Upon my heated face”

Saturday’s attendance in the creaking old kraal was large, too, and the elegance of the attire in the grandstand was enhanced by abundantly filled shorts and gorgeous magenta sports shirts with tails flapping in the breeze.

It was the 94th running of the Travers stakes, oldest horse race in the United States, and they were saying that never since Kentucky won the first Travers in 1864 had there been a field like this. They could be right, too, for the six starters included the first three finishers in the Kentucky Derby, the first three in the Preakness, and the first three in the Belmont Stakes.

The 1963 Travers brought together the four horses who filled out the top three slots in that year’s 3-year-old classics. Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner Chateaugay and Preakness victor Candy Spots would match-up against Never Bend (2nd in the Kentucky Derby and 3rd in the Preakness) and Choker (3rd in the Belmont). The other two entries who filled the six horse field were afterthoughts prior to the race,. As is the case sometimes with racing, the much heralded re-match flopped, none of the big four fired. The “other two” finished first and second. Crewman, called a “notorious quitter” by one newsman, won the 1963 Travers at odds of 20-1 and Hot Dust at 19-1 came in second.

Red Smith continues:

Though Candy Spots was the favorite in the morning line, there was solid support for the two-time conqueror, Chateaugay.

Mesh Tenny, a pious trainer who believes the devil finds work for idle horse, had Candy Spots out as usual for a morning stroll while 509 witnesses, the biggest breakfast crowd in many years, gummed eggs and blueberry muffins on the clubhouse terrace. ‘Don’t they ever give that colt a rest?” one kibitzer was heard to say. ‘You can count every rib.’

The remark gave comfortable assurance that the eternal verities [facts] are safe around the gambling hells. “Morrissey’s colt seemed to have shrunk up,” the Spirit of the Times man wrote 100 years ago, “and was suffering from a cold, in addition to which Mr. Clay afterwards informed us that he had been worked almost to death.” He meant John M. Clay, an owner, who seems to have been as gabby as Cassius.

Before post time for the first Travers — the stake was begun at Saratoga’s second meeting in 1864 — the horse Kentucky walked as though sore. To loosen him up for the ‘dash of a mile and three-quarters,’ his trainer sent him out for a four-mile gallop. He won.

Candy Spots wasn’t up to matching Kentucky’s performance, but neither were the other top ones. [George D.] Widener’s Crewman, which had been ducking the stars all year except for one race against Chateaugay in the Dwyer Stakes, finally got his chance to play against the big kids and he made it look easy, coming off Never Bend’s pace at the top and never looking back.

As if that weren’t surprise enough for the biggest crowd in Saratoga history, the lightly esteemed Hot Dust, at 19 to 1, closed hard to finish a length and a half behind the winner, with Chateaugay third and Candy Spots fourth, out of the tote payoff for the first time in his life.”

There is nothing better then the anticipation that comes before a big race day. In 1963, the Travers reunion of the 3-year-old spring classic stars was spoiled by a colt named Crewman. In 2011, it appears the big day might get washed out by a hurricane named Irene. I’ll be out of town and off the east coast this weekend, following the races (and the weather) on my phone and computer. For those who are heading to the Spa, I hope Mother Nature can work out a deal with the Racing Gods before Saturday. Otherwise, it looks like man and beast will be in for quite a day. Good luck!

Red Smith, “Saratoga’s Travers Stakes: Unexpected Again — 100 Years Later,” Boston Globe, 18 August 1963

Crewman scores upset victory in Travers Stakes,” Miami News, 18 August 1963

Crewman, $41.90, First in the Travers,” New York Times, 18 August 1963

Thanks for reading and good luck!

Filed in 1963,Saratoga,Saratoga Race Course,Smith, Red,thoroughbred racing history,Travers Stakes

3 Responses to “Red Smith and the Travers, 1963”

  1. Helene Conway says:

    Nice work Kevin

    my father recounted this race differently – focusing on a bad break for Chateaugay, catching his quarter, and never running his best race.
    Chateaugay came back a couple of weeks later to win the Jerome Mile,
    clinching the 3 year old championship.


  2. […] Google, you can travel back to the Saratoga musings of sportwriters Red Smith and Joe Palmer, or cruise the vaults of Sports Illustrated, or even better, the New Yorker. For […]

  3. […] Google, you can travel back to the Saratoga musings of sportwriters Red Smith and Joe Palmer, or cruise the vaults of Sports Illustrated, or even better, the New Yorker. For […]