Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, New York, has a storied history and is home to one of the biggest horse races in America. Opened in August 1863, Saratoga is the oldest organized sporting venue in the United States. Open from July 15 to September 3, Saratoga hosts more than 40 stakes races and a variety of festivals. Chief among the Saratoga summer activities will be this weekend’s Travers Stakes on August 25.
Affectionately known as the Mid-Summer Derby, the Travers Stakes is the oldest major thoroughbred race in America. This year marks the 143rd running of the Travers, which comes with a $1 million purse for the winner. If you’re planning on watching the Travers Stakes this weekend, here’s what you’ll need to know to follow along.
The Travers Cooler
Every major race has its signature drink, and this derby is no different. Following the Toast to Travers contest in 2008, the official drink of the stakes race is the Travers Cooler. Race fans at Saratoga can enjoy the Cooler, which is a blend of vodka and lemonade. If you want to make one at home, the drink is: one part vodka, ½ part triple sec, lemonade, 5-7 muddled mint leaves and a lemon wedge for garnish. Simple and refreshing!
Four-legged winners of the Mid-Summer Derby are draped with a blanket of red and white carnations. The blanket of red carnations has a large “T” in white for the Travers Stakes. The blanket tradition first began in 1994 when Saratoga native Susan Lee wondered why the race did not have a signature blanket. The blanket uses more than 1,500 carnations.
The Man o’ War Cup
Each year the winner of the Travers Stakes is presented with a solid gold trophy known as the Man o’ War Cup, better known as the Travers Trophy. Designed by Tiffany and Co., the cup is named after Man o’ War, the winner of the 1920 Stakes race who later defeated Sir Barton, the first winner of the American Triple Crown. The original cup was donated to the race by the wife of Man o’ War’s owner, Samuel Riddle. Each year, a member of the Riddle family helps present the trophy.
The Travers Canoe
Every year since 1961, the colors of the Travers Stakes winner are painted on a canoe that floats in the infield lake at Saratoga Race Course. The canoe remains painted throughout the year until a new winner is crowned. Winning jockeys are memorialized with custom lawn jockey statues painted in the jockey’s silk colors. The statues are displayed at the course entrance for the next year and are considered good luck to all riders. Susan Lee, the creator of the Travers blanket, also paints the jockey’s statue.