Remembering the Travers field with eight Grade 1 winners...and Gorky
With nearly 150 years of Travers (G1) to look back on, singling out one for having the best and/or deepest field in history can be a dicey proposition. Having a respectable (for lack of a better term) quantity of starters isn't necessarily a prerequisite to being considered. Half the 1978 field, for example, consisted of Affirmed and Alydar. What more in that year was needed?
One candidate for such an honor was the Travers held 30 years ago in 1987. Like the 1978 renewal, in which Affirmed was disqualified and placed second behind Alydar, the race itself wound up producing an unsatisfactory result inasmuch as the rainy and sloppy conditions didn't bring out the best in all runners and stifled several of the more important ones.
There's no doubting, however, the substance of the lineup for what was the first Travers contested for a $1 million purse. There were eight individual Grade 1 winners in the field. Here they are listed by saddlecloth number:
1. GULCH -- Grade 1 winner of the Hopeful, Futurity, Wood Memorial and Metropolitan Handicap. Second in the Belmont Stakes (G1) and the Whitney Handicap (G1) two weeks prior to the Travers. Later the champion sprinter of 1988. Sire of 1995 Travers winner Thunder Gulch (himself the sire of 2001 Travers winner Point Given).
2. POLISH NAVY -- Grade 1 winner of the Cowdin and Champagne at two. First in the Jim Dandy (G2) 13 days before the Travers and hero of the Woodward (G1) two weeks afterwards. Later the sire of 1993 Travers winner Sea Hero.
3. CRYPTOCLEARANCE -- Grade 1 winner of the Florida Derby and placed in the Flamingo (G1), Preakness (G1), Belmont, and Jim Dandy prior to the Travers. Won four more Grade 1s in his career, including the 1987 Pegasus Handicap over Lost Code, arguably the most notable absentee from this field.
4. JAVA GOLD -- Grade 1 winner of the Remsen and Whitney, the latter over older horses. Relished the mud to win this Travers by two lengths and later added the Marlboro Cup (G1) before exiting the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) with an injury.
5. FORTUNATE MOMENT -- An Illinois-bred outsider at 23-1, but entered this race undefeated in six appearances including a score in the American Derby (G1) at Arlington Park.
6. ALYSHEBA -- Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness winner, and runner-up in the Haskell Invitational (G1) three weeks previously. Eventually named divisional champion after scoring in the Super Derby (G1) and narrowly losing the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1). Horse of the Year at four and retired as North America's all-time leading money winner. The only Hall of Fame inductee in the field.
7. TEMPERATE SIL -- Grade 1 winner of the Hollywood Futurity (over Alysheba), Santa Anita Derby, and Swaps in a generally feast-or-famine career.
8. BET TWICE -- Grade 1 winner of the Arlington-Washington Futurity and Laurel Futurity at two. Second in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and then won the Belmont Stakes by 14 lengths and the Haskell Invitational. Later first in the 1988 Pimlico Special over Alysheba, Lost Code, and Cryptoclearance.
The 1987 Travers field wasn't perfect, though. There was one other starter.
Entered as a rabbit for Gulch, Gorky applied generous pressure to pacesetter Temperate Sil down the backside before backing out. Unsurprisingly, he trailed the field of nine, 43 lengths behind Java Gold.
Like Java Gold a son of 1972 Travers winner Key to the Mint, Gorky ultimately never won a stakes. He concluded his career in California three years later in a $40,000 claiming race.
Gorky's minor connection to the present day Travers? He made four of his last five starts for a trainer relatively new to the Thoroughbred side of the business at the time and whose made noticeable progress since.
Bob Baffert will be seeking his third Travers on Saturday with West Coast.