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By Tom Pedulla, America’s Best Racing

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – One canoe will no longer do.

The New York Racing Association will need a second canoe to do justice to Saturday’s $1 million Travers Stakes (G1) after favored Alpha and 33-1 longshot Golden Ticket produced the first official dead heat in the 143-year history of the “Mid-Summer Derby”.

PHOTO FINISH IN TRAVERS

DeadHeatImage

There also was nothing separating Attila and Acrobat in the 1874 Travers. But Attila won the runoff and was formally awarded the victory.

Much of the prerace talk this time revolved around top 3-year-olds that are no longer competing, namely Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness Stakes (G1) winner I’ll Have Another and Belmont Stakes (G1) victor Union Rags. Both were retired with career-ending injuries.

One of the great joys of Thoroughbred racing, though, is its unpredictability. The Travers’ wild finish – Did Golden Ticket get the head bob or did Alpha barely overtake him? – reminded everyone of that.

“They were worried about it not being exciting,” said Kiaran McLaughlin, Alpha’s trainer. “They got their money’s worth. It was a great race.”

So great that neither David Cohen, aboard the third-longest shot in the field of 11, was not sure who got a nostril in front in a furious fight to the finish line. Neither was counterpart Ramon Dominguez.

“I don’t think either really knew,” Dominguez said. “When we both realized it was a dead heat, we were pretty relieved and pretty happy at the same time.”

Fast Falcon, 10th after the opening mile, closed sharply over the final quarter of a mile to take third for patient rider Junior Alvarado. In the only negative aspect of the blue-skies afternoon, well-regarded Street Life was never a factor and was vanned off after he crossed the finish line.

Golden Ticket’s presence in the Travers is as remarkable as the dead heat notification that lit up the scoreboard and had the crowd abuzz. The son of Speightstown was a $100,000 purchase at Keeneland’s April sale of selected 2-year-olds in training and required six starts to break his maiden, finally accomplishing that on Feb. 11 at Gulfstream Park.

He followed that with a runner-up finish in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2), weakened to fifth in the Lexington Stakes (G3) and missed by a neck an allowance race at Churchill Downs as part of the Kentucky Derby undercard.

Trainer Ken McPeek, who grew up in Lexington, Ky., with McLaughlin and knew him well, first contemplated an allowance race and then the Bernardini Stakes for his colt’s return to competition. Neither race filled.

McPeek called Carter Stewart, who heads Magic City Thoroughbred Partners, to tell him that the youngster was thriving and to ask whether he wanted to call an audible and run in the Travers or hope that an allowance race would go on Sept. 2.

“Whenever I called an audible,” Stewart told him, “I always threw deep.”

McPeek had the answer he wanted.

“You know me,” he said. “I always take a shot if they’re doing good.”

That left Stewart to make travel plans from his Billings, Mont., home to upstate New York.

“I didn’t even know where this was until Monday,” he said. “I knew it was in New York, and that’s it.”

Alpha was a rising star in the division before he endured an awkward start in the Kentucky Derby and never was a factor in struggling home 12th. He rebounded to bang out a gate-to-wire triumph in the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2). Although he almost surely needed a clear-cut Travers victory to keep alive hopes for year-end honors as champion 3-year-old male, McLaughlin did not seem to mind.

“We are not really worried about honors,” he said. “We are just happy with the win today. It was a great win.”

No wonder the unprecedented Travers dead heat produced broad smiles all around. The connections of each winning horse were awarded $400,000.

For an Equibase chart, click here.

IMAGES FROM HISTORIC TRAVERS

ALPHA CLOSED TO COLLAR GOLDEN TICKET FOR A TRAVERS DEAD HEAT

TraversDeadHeatInside

Photo Courtesy of HorsePhotos.com

STEAMROLLING TO THE FINISH LINE IN TRAVERS

New Travers Image

Photo Courtesy of HorsePhotos.com

PACKED WINNER'S CIRCLE
TraversWinnersCircle

The connections of Golden Ticket (left) and Alpha (right) hoist the trophy together after winning the Travers Stakes (G1). Jockey David Cohen (green, blue, orange silks), who rode Golden Tiucket, and Alpha's rider Ramon Dominguez raise the trophy.

Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire

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