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.

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.

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.

Screen Shot 2016-08-25 at 3.00.52 PM.png
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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