Timeline: 1980-1989

 

1980-1989

By BRIEN BOUYEA, Communications Officer, National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame

The Travers Stakes has long enjoyed a reputation as one of the most prestigious races in America, annually drawing the top 3-year-old thoroughbreds to the historic Spa oval each August. The 1982 edition of the Midsummer Derby furthered that tradition, as it attracted the winners of that year's Kentucky Derby (Gato Del Sol), Preakness Stakes (Aloma's Ruler), and Belmont Stakes (Conquistador Cielo).

A Canadian invader, however, played the familiar role of Saratoga spoiler and stole the show from the accomplished field. Runaway Groom, a 13-1 shot, turned in a spectacular performance en route to the rare achievement of defeating the winners of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont in the same race.

Business was booming at Saratoga in the 1980s. A slew of attendance and handle records were set during the decade, and total handle surpassed $100 million for the first time in 1984 when Aqueduct began simulcasting Saratoga races. Purses were also soaring, especially the pot for the Travers, which eclipsed $1 million for the first time in 1987.

The first $1 million Travers proved to be another exciting chapter in the rich history of Saratoga's signature event. Fifteen years after his sire, Key to the Mint, won the Travers, Java Gold followed in his father's hoofprints by defeating the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, Alysheba, as well as the Belmont winner, Bet Twice. It was also the second of a record-tying four Travers victories for Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day. Java Gold and Day also won the prestigious Whitney Handicap that summer.

On the topic of legendary riders, the jockey colony was dominated by another future Hall of Famer, Angel Cordero, Jr., who ruled the Spa standings throughout the 1980s. Both charismatic and fiercly competitive, Cordero had won 11 consecutive riding titles at Saratoga when his streak was snapped by Jose Santos in 1987. Cordero, however, took back his perch at the Spa in 1988 and closed out the decade with his 13th title in 14 years in 1989.

The training titles during the 1980s were much more evenly distributed than the annual riding crown. Hall of Fame members D. Wayne Lukas (three), Jonathan Sheppard (two), and Frank Martin (two) each won multiple Saratoga titles in the 1980s. The remaining training championships were won by Hall of Famers Sidney Watters, Jr., Phil Johnson, and Woody Stephens, who shared the top spot in 1981 with Robert DeBonis.

Fan favorite Fourstardave made his Spa debut in 1987, beginning an eight-year love affair with the fans at the historic track by winning the Empire Stakes. Known as the "Sultan of Saratoga," Fourstardave won at least one race at Saratoga for eight consecutive years. The old warrior raced 100 times and eventually was honored with a stakes race in his name at the track where he secured his unique legacy.

Easy Goer helped close out the decade in style with scintillating victories in the 1989 Travers and Whitney. It was the second time in three years that Day's mounts won both the Travers and Whitney in the same summer.

 

August 26, 1982

Zaccio, champion steeplechaser in 1980, 1981 and 1982, wins the New York Turf Writers' Cup after finishing second to Quiet Bay in the Lovely Night Handicap twenty days earlier.

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1982 NY Turf Writers Cup Video:

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Video Footage © New York Racing Association, Inc.

August 13, 1983

Slew o' Gold, champion 3-year-old male in 1983 and champion handicap horse in 1984, finishes second to Play Fellow in the Travers.

 

1983 Travers Video:

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Video Footage © New York Racing Association, Inc.

August 4, 1984

Slew o' Gold wins the Whitney.

 

1984 Whitney Video:

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Video Footage © New York Racing Association, Inc.

August 24, 1984

Four-time Eclipse award winner Flatterer wins the New York Turf Writers' Cup.

 

1984 NY Turf Writers Cup Video:

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Video Footage © New York Racing Association, Inc.

August 27, 1984

Mom's Command finishes fourth to Tiltilating in the Spinaway. All sixteen of her career starts were in stakes races; she won eleven of them.

 

1984 Spinaway Video:

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Video Footage © New York Racing Association, Inc.

1984

City Center opens. For the first time in 19 years the city has a venue for conventions. This was a vital component necessary to attract national conventions to Saratoga Springs.

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August 9, 1985

Lady's Secret wins the Ballerina after winning the Test, with Mom's Command finishing second, eight days earlier. In 1986 she won Eclipse awards for older filly/mare and Horse of the Year.

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August 10, 1985

Mom's Command wins the Alabama in her last career start.

1985

Work begins on the building of the Carousel Pavilion, in two phases, that lasts until 1991.

1985

Saratoga Convention and Tourism Bureau formed

August 2, 1986

Lady's Secret wins the Whitney.

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1986 Whitney Video:

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Video Footage © New York Racing Association, Inc.

1986

National Museum of Dance opens.  Pictured are C.V. and Marylou Whitney at the opening.

CV and Marylou Whitney At Dance Museum Opening

August 16, 1987

1986 male turf champion Manila finishes second to Talakeno in the Bernard Baruch.

 

1987 Bernard Baruch Video:

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Video Footage © New York Racing Association, Inc.

August 22, 1987

Alysheba finishes sixth to Java Gold in the Travers on a sloppy track. Alysheba was named 1987 3-year-old male champion after winning the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, and followed that by being named 1988 best older male horse and Horse of the Year.

 

1987 Travers Video:

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Video Footage © New York Racing Association, Inc.

August 6, 1988

The filly Personal Ensign wins the Whitney. She ended her perfect thirteen-for-thirteen career with a stirring win against Winning Colors in the 1988 Breeders' Cup Distaff.

August 3, 1989

Safely Kept, winner of the 1989 sprinter Eclipse award, wins the Test.

 

1989 Test Video:

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Video Footage © New York Racing Association, Inc.

August 12, 1989

Open Mind, champion 3-year-old filly of 1989, wins the Alabama.

 

1989 Alabama Video:

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Video Footage © New York Racing Association, Inc.

August 19, 1989

Easy Goer wins the Travers after winning the Whitney two weeks earlier. A champion at two, Easy Goer won seven stakes in 1989, including the Wood, Belmont, Woodward and Jockey Club Gold Cup, but still lost 3-year-old honors to his arch rival Sunday Silence.

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1989 Travers Video:

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Video Footage © New York Racing Association, Inc.