Second Travers dead heat makes 2012 stakes an instant classic
Saturday’s 143rd Travers Stakes was one for the ages. YNN's Matt Hunter has more on the historic dead heat between the race's favorite and unlikely longshot.
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SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY -- "A magnificent struggle ensued to the goal...Atilla and Acrobat were together...the judges, however, decided it was a dead heat."
Those words appeared in the July 25th, 1874 issue of the New York Times; offering readers an account of the thrilling finish in the 10th running of the Travers Stakes.
138 years later, the Midsummer Derby followed an almost identical narrative. In the 143rd installment of the Travers, a longshot, Golden Ticket, led the 11-horse field into the stretch. Nipping at his heels was the regally bred favorite, Alpha.
"When he [Golden Ticket] cut the corner and made the hole at the head of the lane, I thought 'Wow, he's coming through, we've got a big chance here," said Ken McPeek, trainer of Golden Ticket.
"I looked up at the eighth pole and saw Kenny's horse two [lengths] in front of us and I turned to my son and said 'I don't think we're going to get there," said Kiaran McLaughlin, trainer of Alpha.
"I'm like 'oh wow, I hope he doesn't get tired. Hang on, hang on!'" McPeek said.
"When Nick Zito's horse [Fast Falcon] came up on the outside, I think it urged us, Alpha, along and then boom! Right on the money together," McLaughlin said.
"If somebody put a gun next to my head and said you've got to pick from between the two, I would've given the edge to Alpha,” said NYRA track announcer Tom Durkin, who called Saturday’s race. “But I wasn't about to say it."
"At first they put up 3-6 [on the tote board] and it was like 'Oh shoot,'” McLaughlin said. “And then it was dead heat a few seconds later, so it was just fabulous, it was great."
"It's neat,” McPeak said. “I don't ever recall a Derby, a Preakness, a Belmont or a Travers that was that close and that exciting and of course, opposite ends of the spectrum, a favorite and a longshot at the wire."
By dawn Sunday, two freshly painted statues honoring both winners sat side-by-side in Saratoga's paddock, just as the two were when they crossed the wire the evening before.
For both trainers, it was a decades-long journey that began together as kids in Lexington.
"We actually played midget football together at 10, 11, 12 years old,” McLaughlin said. “I'm 51, so we've known each other 40 years."
"If I was going to dead heat in a race, he'd [McLaughlin] definitely be one of the guys I'd want to be in there with,” McPeek said. “It's a pretty cool thing, we're never going to see that again."
The dead heat was only the second in the storied history of the Travers. In the first in 1874, Acrobat and Atilla raced in a second heat that same day in which Atilla prevailed.
A race known for its gripping finishes, this year’s duel may stand alone.
"When you're the announcer, it is exciting but you can't get into it and start screaming like 'COME ON, LET'S GO, GO, GO GO!' You can't do that, you have to be a little even handed," Durkin joked the morning after the race.
"I think a lot of people thought it wasn't going to be a top race without Paynter and some other horses and I'll Have Another, some of the best three-year-olds who weren't there,” said McLaughlin, whose horse, Alpha, won the Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes earlier in the Saratoga meet. “But it was a very exciting finish and we'll all remember that finish."
"Hopefully they're reading and writing about this 50, 100 years from now,” McPeek said.