Does NYRA really need to boost Travers purse to attract American Pharoah?

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Jen Caldwell

August 1st, 2015

The New York Racing Association announced on Saturday a purse increase to the August 29 Travers S. (G1) if Triple Crown champion American Pharoah starts in the 10-furlong race.

The purse will jump from an already lucrative $1.25 million to $1.6 million if the popular bay colt heads to Saratoga for the Mid-Summer Derby. That’s an increase of $175,000 for the winner, up from $675,000 to $850,000.

The big question is this: Does the money really matter?

Don’t get me wrong, that’s a lot of money, but in horse racing that sometimes comes second in comparison to the prestige and history bestowed by certain races. Besides the three Triple Crown events, I can’t think of any other three-year-old restricted race on the calendar that comes close to the Travers.

And, before anyone starts shouting, the Haskell Invitational (G1) – the race American Pharoah is scheduled to start in Sunday at Monmouth Park – does has a history and prestige all its own.

However, that history only dates back through 48 runnings come Sunday whereas this year’s Travers will take place for the 146th time!

The Travers is the major event during the summer for three-year-olds, hence the nickname “Mid-Summer Derby.” As NYRA President and CEO Christopher Kay said, “New York loves a champion,” and the Travers is the perfect place to showcase that.

Is there really any other incentive needed to run in the Travers than the honor and esteem that comes from running in the Travers?

Well, here’s a couple more.

The only other major event on the calendar for American Pharoah around the same time is the Pacific Classic (G1) on August 22.

That’ll only give the champion colt three weeks off instead of the four he’d receive if he ran in the Travers. It would also pit him against older runners for the first time, though over the same 1 1/4-mile distance.

And the fact is that the Pacific Classic’s $1 million purse is already less than the Travers’ original offering (though I’m sure in the next few weeks we’ll be hearing about a rise in the Pacific Classic purse).

The way it stands now I can come up with only two reasons why American Pharoah wouldn’t go next in the Travers.

First, his connections decide to give the colt a rest before facing the final major fall events leading up to the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1). Second, the Pacific Classic takes place at trainer Bob Baffert’s current base of Del Mar and they won’t have to ship.

Based on all this, I think NYRA is trying too hard. Call me naïve, idealistic or just plain dumb, but I really don’t really believe money will have any factor in the decision of where American Pharoah runs next.

American Pharoah photo courtesy of Bill Denver/Equi-Photo