Alpha & Golden Ticket Run A Dead Heat In The Travers Stakes

A straight dead heat is a rarity in thoroughbred racing and that’s illustrated by the finish at Saratoga Race Course in the Travers Stakes. In 142 previous Travers Stakes races, only once has it ended in a dead heat, that is, until this past Saturday. Long shot Golden Ticket, a pedestrian colt trained by Ken McPeek, wasn’t expected to have much of an impact in this contest, but he was able to pull off a huge coupe by finishing nose to nose with arguably the top three-year-old still racing, Alpha.

Golden Ticket entered the race with a lone career victory which came on his fourth attempt at a maiden special weight win. In his seven races prior to Saturday in Saratoga Springs, he finished second four times, including the Tampa Bay Derby. He was jockeyed for the first time by David Cohen, one of the leading riders on the New York Racing Association circuit. Kiaran McLaughlin and Godolphin racing brought their prize colt, Alpha, into this race as the favorite, looking to improve on a 2012 season that has seen him win four of six starts, including three graded events.

As the horses were loaded into the starting gate the favorites were Alpha at 2-1, the Jerry Hollendorfer trained Nonios at 4-1, and Chad Brown’s Street Life was a 3-1 wager. Before a crowd of over 46,000 on a beautiful New York state summer day, the starting gates flew open and the horses bolted towards history. Around the first turn Speightcity, Golden Ticket, and Stealcase were up front as the race settled in with Speightcity setting the early pace. Alpha moved up a bit taking the third spot away from Golden Ticket as they came into the back stretch. Those four held their places moving past the ½ mile mark, but that started to change as Golden Ticket and Alpha started making ground up against the frontrunners on the turn. Speightcity was able to fend off Alpha momentarily and Golden Ticket was holding his own along the rail, just behind. As they turned for home, Golden Ticket was essentially on his own along the rail, and surged into the lead, with Alpha over taking Speightcity, who seemed to be out of gas. With one furlong to go, Golden Ticket moved almost two lengths ahead, but he wasn’t able to hold it as Alpha was really coming on strong, with the Nick Zito trained Fast Falcon blowing through the field with his eyes on the leaders. Golden Ticket was fading, but Alpha and Fast Falcon had run out of track. Golden Ticket and Alpha finished in a dead heat with Fast Falcon, who closed out tremendously, finishing in third place, just over a neck behind.

The only other dead heat in the history of the Travers Stakes, which is America’s oldest continuous race for three-year-olds, came in 1874. In that contest Acrobat and Attila crossed the wire together and were lined up again for a run-off which Attila won. The days of the run-off are long gone and lifelong friends McLaughlin and McPeek would have to settle for sharing the “Mid-Summer Derby” victory. The share for each horse is in the neighborhood of $400,000, but the bettors who held a winning ticket had their winnings vary greatly. Alpha paid off $4.10 to bettors, while Golden Ticket paid $26.80.

Immediately following the race, Godolphin Racing and McLaughlin were not certain where the next run for Alpha would take place. A couple of good options are the Pennsylvania Derby and the Grade I Jockey Gold Club Cup at Belmont Park. Both races hold $1 million purses, but the Jockey Gold Club Cup, which is open to all horses, three-years-old and up, is seen as the most prestigious. A win in one of those races would really start the horse of the year chatter for Alpha, who has maintained his health and consistency throughout the season, despite a disappointing 12th place finish in the Kentucky Derby. As for the newly famous Golden Ticket, it is widely assumed that his next turn will come in the Pennsylvania Derby on September 22nd at Philadelphia Park.

2012 Travers Stakes: Dead Heat Between Alpha & Golden Ticket

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