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Mixed Results: How Kentucky Derby Winners Have Fared In The Travers Stakes

Here's why Saratoga Race Course has earned its reputation as the 'Graveyard of Champions.'

Kentucky Derby
Keen Ice beating out Triple Crown winner American Pharoah to win the 2015 Travers Stakes. (NYRA)

The first Saturday in May—the Kentucky Derby—is horse racing’s equivalent to the Super Bowl. Known as the Run for the Roses and the Greatest Two Minutes in Sports, the Derby has captured racing fans’ imagination since 1875—and mine since the late 1980s. What got me hooked? The trifecta of successive winners: Alysheba in 1987, Winning Colors in 1988 and Sunday Silence in 1989. The icing on the cake? Watching Super Saver win the 2010 Derby at Churchill Downs. 

Immediately after a winner is crowned at the Derby, racing fans begin speculating about a possible Triple Crown run. Could the Derby winner take the Preakness Stakes? The Belmont Stakes, even? For me, though, there’s a third question: What about the Travers Stakes?

I’m always thinking ahead to that day in August—this year, it’ll be Saturday, August 24—which is Saratoga’s Super Bowl. What makes the Travers so unique is that the majority of Derby winners who’ve raced in it—16 of 26, to be exact—have lost it, contributing to Saratoga Race Course’s reputation as the “Graveyard of Champions.” Case in point: Aristides, who won that first Derby in 1875, came into the Travers a sure bet, only to
lose to an obscure colt named D’Artagnan, who never won a race before or after. On a much grander scale, in 1930, Gallant Fox became the first Triple Crown winner to enter the Travers, but was soundly defeated by 100-1 long shot Jim Dandy. 

But Saratoga’s “graveyard” hasn’t always been the site of funerary proceedings. The first of ten Derby dandies to win the Travers was Baden-Baden in 1877, and four years later, Hindoo won the Derby and Travers as part of an 18-race (!) win streak. Derby winners Twenty Grand (1931), Whirlaway (1941) and Shut Out (1942) all won the Travers, successively, with Whirlaway being the lone Triple Crown winner to have ever taken Saratoga’s gem. Following Shut Out, there was a 51-year gap before another a dual victory, which Sea Hero snapped in 1993. Fast-forward to the 21st century, and five Derby winners have shown up at the Travers, with only Street Sense able to accomplish the one-two punch in 2007. 

Luckily, this year’s Travers doesn’t need a Derby winner’s win to make it historic: It’ll be the 150th running of the race. But I’ll still be rooting for one—or another massive upset.  

Take a look at the historical results below.

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