In horse racing, an industry in which being the best could net you millions of dollars in purse money and eventually, stud fees, it only makes sense that the competition to be the best would extend beyond the actual flat track itself. And for some, including Saratogians, “the best” is synonymous with “having been around the longest.”
A quick Google search of “oldest stakes race in America” turns up several different answers. The Belmont is the oldest of the Triple Crown races, dating back to 1867, but the Kentucky Derby, which came about eight years later, is the oldest continuously run race
in the US. The Phoenix Stakes is older than both but has had some significant gaps in its history. Canada’s Queens Plate is the oldest continuously running race in North America, dating back to 1860. A few sources, including Affirmed: The Last Triple Crown Winner, a book by Lou Sahadi, claim that the Travers is the oldest continuously run stakes race in the country. And a search result from saratogaracetrack.com, a website run by Mannix Marketing, which is not affiliated with the New York Racing Association or Saratoga Race Course, claims the Travers is the oldest major Thoroughbred horse race in America, period.
A little bit of homework, however, reveals that neither of these “facts” about the Travers is exactly true. There were several years around the turn of the 20th century when the race didn’t run, and the Phoenix—though it may not be as “major” as the Travers—is certainly older, having been run for the first time in 1831 (the first Travers wasn’t until 1864). But—and this is the biggest but for anyone looking to claim Saratoga’s famed Travers is the best—the Phoenix is for horses three years and older. The Travers, on the other hand, according to Brien Bouyea, the communications director for the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame and Saratoga Living’s sports editor, is indeed the oldest stakes race in the country specifically for 3-year-olds.
So, there you have it: The Travers is, unequivocally, the best.