The Travers Stakes: 80 years with the Man O’ War Cup

Tomorrow is the 147th Travers Stakes, the oldest graded race in America first held in 1864. It is named for William Travers, Saratoga’s first President and the least interesting of the track’s founders (others being John Morrissey and Cornelius Vanderbilt.) William actually won that first running with his horse Kentucky. Today, the trophy presented to the winner wasn’t even meant to be used for the Travers.

In 1920 it cost $5,000 (about $60,000 today) for Tiffany and Co. to design the trophy for Abe Orpen of Kenilworth Park. The occasion? The Race of the Century between Man O’ War and Sir Barton.

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Man O’ War drinking from the Kenilworth Cup held by his trainer Louis Feustel (left) and owner Samuel D. Riddle (right)

Winner of 19 out of 20 races at the time, Man O’ War was borderline unbeatable. Unfortunately, horses were dodging him like crazy and filling racing he was in was impossible. As a three year old the biggest field he ran in was four in the Potomac Handicap.

There were two other standouts that year, Triple Crown winner Sir Barton who was coming in hot off a five race win streak, and the sensational gelding Exterminator.

Kenilworth Park offered up $50,000 ($600,000 today) for a race between the three horses. Matt Winn of Churchill Downs offered up $75,000 ($900,000) to have the race in Louisville. Kenilworth Park eventually upped their offer to $75,000 and made the race 1 1/4 miles which the Man O’ War and Sir Barton camps agreed on. A disgruntled Exterminator dropped out of the race for a few reasons, you can read more about it here.

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Sam Riddle with the trophy and jockey Clarence Kummer with the base after defeating Sir Barton

In that race rumor has it Sir Barton was given cocaine beforehand but it didn’t help him much. Man O’ War led the whole way around and won by seven lengths in a hand ride.

The race would be Man O’ War’s last, he then lived out his days at Faraway Farm in Kentucky as a wildly successful sire.

Sir Barton would race three more times that year, didn’t win any and was retired. A failure at stud, he lived out his days with a $10 stud fee with the military. They gave him a statue when he was buried in Douglas, Wyoming but apparently its just plastic and is some stock one anyone can buy of a random horse. Poor Sir Barton.

Sixteen years later Elizabeth Riddle, wife of Sam Riddle, donated the Kenilworth Trophy to Saratoga in 1936. The track made it the trophy for the Travers Stakes, a race Man O’ War won in 1920.

Some online sources say Mrs. Riddle donated the trophy after her husband’s death in 1951, while most don’t give a date at all. 1951 is unlikely since she passed away before Sam in 1942. The trophy itself says it was donated in 1936 and the Chicago Tribune reports that the Belair Stud colt Granville was the first to be presented the cup in 1936.

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Clearly says 1936

Elizabeth donated the cup on one condition: that every year a member of the Riddle family will present the trophy to the winner. To this day, the tradition continues. On top of that, the winning owner of the Travers receives a mini replica of the Man O’ War Cup to keep.

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Man O’ War Cup being used for the Travers and 96 years since the Kenilworth Cup. However, it will be the 81st time a replica trophy is given out since in 2012 two were given out after Golden Ticket and Alpha dead heated.

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Richard Mandella undecided on if he should drive his car tomorrow

Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella was visibly upset today when talking to the press on whether or not his car will be fit to drive tomorrow.

Earlier today his 2014 Mercedes lagged a bit when he tried to accelerate getting on to I-5 after the works at Del Mar. After some encouragement, the car finally shifted to a higher gear just in time to merge. “It was weird, I’ve never seen it that dull before,” Mandella said this evening.

With Beholder finally set to run in the Pacific Classic on August 20, because YOLO, the Hall of Famer thought his problems were behind him.

“It is probably low on transmission fluid, but who knows. We’re gonna get it scoped and checked out before I take it out on the road again. Don’t wanna drive unless it is 100%.”

Mandella plans on taking Uber until he gets it sorted out.

Shades of Morvich in Nyquist

Nothing like an undefeated champion two year old winning Derby and never winning again, right? Nyquist is on track to being the second horse to accomplish that feat.

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The Ugly Cripple

In 1921 a black California-bred colt named Morvich stunned the racing community when he went 11 for 11 at two. Before he started racing he was given the nickname “the ugly cripple” and was 30-1 in his first race! At least he was a fast cripple.

Morvich did not race in 1922 until the Kentucky Derby which he won with ease. He likely would have run in the Preakness as well but considering in 1922 they were run on the same day that would have been tricky, especially back then.

After the Derby there were talks of whether or not he was as good as Man O’ War. (Fun fact: In that Derby was My Play, a full brother to Man O’ War.) Some guy named “Honest” John Kelly said, “I will wait before he has completed this season’s work before calling him a greater horse than Man O’ War.” Hmmm.

Morvich lost his first two after the Derby to Whiskaway in the Carlton Stakes at Aqueduct and the Kentucky Special at Latonia a week later. Whiskaway would go on to become the champion three year old of 1922.

One race all he had to do was beat one horse. The seven furlong Greenwich Handicap had 11 horses entered but everyone else scratched, Morvich ended up getting crushed by Surf Rider. He had one more race in September at Belmont where he finished last in the Fall Highweight Handicap. His owner Ben Bock insisted he would come back in 1923, but he didn’t and retired in shame. He even stunk as a sire too. Tough to be Morvich.

Fast forward nearly 100 years and here we are with Nyquist. The undefeated champion two year old won the Kentucky Derby and has racked up over $5,000,000. Next thing we know he’s had two races since and lost them both, pretty soundly too.

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Not an ugly cripple

Are we seeing a repeat of Morvich? To Nyquist’s credit no one has ever called him a cripple or ugly.

Even though Nyquist has already been sold to stand at Darley, he will likely finish out the year with a stab at the Breeders’ Cup Classic and considering Reddam has an entry in the Pegasus World Cup he may run there as well. 

What’s crazy is all three horses who have come into the Kentucky Derby as an undefeated champ left with roses on their back. Morvich, Seattle Slew, and Nyquist. Since Nyquist didn’t win the Triple Crown like Seattle Slew, well,we can see where his career is heading. Because obviously, he only has two options. Triple Crown or lose forever.

Who knows how Nyquist will do the rest of the year. His last two races were basically the same, so he’ll probably bounce back eventually if he gets a fast track or gets off the rail.

Best of luck Nyquist, don’t end up like Morvich. (oops)

You can read more about Morvich in his autobiography here.

*As of the Pennsylvania Derby on 9/24/2016, he did not bounce back and if anything did even worse. Uh oh.

*As of 10/29/2016 he scratched out of the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Future undetermined, but will stand at Darley when he retires. Still winless since the Kentucky Derby

*As of 10/31/2016 Nyquist is officially retired and already at Darley. Its all over. Nyquist is the second coming of Morvich.