From Mary Lou to Tom; Jim Dandy to Fourstardave; Siro’s to backyard tailgating; and morning workouts to give aways; Saratoga has a cast of heroes, customs, and institutions which make it, in our opinion, the most unique sporting venue on Earth. Over the next 40 Days, we will profile 40 of these legends and traditions, adding our own memories and experiences from 30 plus years of summering at the Spa. It’s our Salute to Saratoga. We hope you enjoy following along.
I heard about the 1962 Travers long before I actually saw the replay. In fact, I remember vividly the first time I was told about what many consider to be the greatest race ever run at Saratoga. I was 12 years old and standing behind Section C in the Saratoga Club House, talking with a fellow track rat.
“I was watching this movie on Saratoga” the kid started, “and they showed a Travers from a long time ago where two horses were never more than a nose apart the entire way around the track. They even set a track record. It was awesome.”
It sounded like a fish tale. Although I was only 12, I had seen enough races at that point to know that stretch duels didn’t endure for a mile and a quarter. But as confirmed by my dad that day, and years later confirmed visually when I finally found the replay, this was no tall tale.
The long time ago, of course, was 1962. The two horses were Ridan and Jaipur. The margin may have expanded to a neck at one point, but was otherwise razor tight. And the pair did indeed equal a track record.
Oh, and that track rat? Fifteen years later I stood in the exact spot where this conversation had occurred, watching him ride in the Grade 2 Honorable Miss. It was future jockey Jonathan Joyce. But back to the subject at hand.
The 1962 Travers was billed as the showdown to determine three year old horse of the year. It pitted the favored Jaipur—winner of the Withers and Belmont Stakes—with Hall of Fame connections Bert Mulholland and Bill Shoemaker, against second choice Ridan—1961 two year old of the year and defeated Kentucky Derby favorite—trained by Leroy Jolly and ridden by another hall of famer, Bill Hartack.
As the gate opened for the 1962 Travers, the two favorites rocketed to the front, where they immediately began to duel in unison. They ripped through a first quarter in 23 and 4/5 seconds. The duo continued to battle down the back stretch, completing a half mile in 47 seconds and change. Neither Ridan nor Jaipur would relinquish an inch as they rounded the far turn, and an already narrow margin somehow became even tighter. The two horses were in perfect harmony down the Saratoga stretch, two prize fighters exchanging punches, a lead change occurring with every head bob. Jaipur, on the outside finally established a slight lead at the eighth mile pole, but Ridan refused to quit. The tandem hit the wire together, with only a photo evidencing that there was a winner (Jaipur) and, for lack of a better term, a runner up (Ridan). It was a Travers, horse race, and sporting event for the ages.
Relive the 1962 Travers here
The race chart said it best—“Jaipur raced on even terms with Ridan from the break….in a torrid duel.” Jaipur “won narrowly in a race in which neither horse gave way.” Ridan “raced courageously to the end and was beaten narrowly in a thrilling duel.”
As a result of his narrow victory, Jaipur earned champion three year old honors. The following year, however, the pair met again at Hialeah, with Ridan defeating Jaipur as well as the great Kelso. Despite each being a champion at some point in their careers, neither Ridan nor Jaipur are enshrined in the Hall of Fame (interestingly, only the last place finisher in the 1962 Travers, the filly Cicada, is in the Hall of Fame). Individually, Ridan and Jaipur are great horses, but not legends. Their epic battle in the 1962 Travers, however? That’s the stuff wide eyed kids born twenty plus years after the race still talk about in disbelief.