James Scully reflects on 30 runnings of the Travers Stakes: Coronado’s Quest vs Victory Gallop
I’ve been fortunate to attend 30 runnings of the Travers Stakes at Saratoga beginning with General Assembly’s track record-setting romp in 1979 and am excited to get back to the Spa on August 24.
In advance of the race, I’ll take a look back at some of my favorite memories.
The 1998 Travers featured a rematch between Coronado’s Quest and Victory Gallop. They met three weeks earlier in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park, with Coronado’s Quest posting a comfortable victory on moderate early fractions and Victory Gallop a rallying second.
To avoid a similar scenario, Victory Gallop’s connections (owner Prestonwood Farm/trainer Elliott Walden) entered a “rabbit,” sprinter Sheila’s Flag, to ensure a proper set-up. The overmatched entrymate never made it to the starting gate, with connections suggesting the presence of ample pace for Victory Gallop and that a rabbit would be unsportsmanlike when scratching.
The pace was slow (:24 3/5, :48 4/5 and 1:13) and rabbits continue to be a fabric of stakes races worldwide.
Coronado’s Quest raced up close from the start, tracking a deliberate tempo three wide into the first turn and along the backstretch. He seized command on the far turn and accelerated into the stretch with a clear advantage. Victory Gallop was closer than normal due to the slow fractions, about three lengths back in fifth after the opening half-mile, and began closing the gap in midstretch.
A furious fight to the finish ensued and Mike Smith asked everything from Coronado’s Quest, who dug in gamely to repel Victory Gallop by a nose. Late runner Raffie’s Majesty joined the fray in deep stretch and wound up another nose back in third.
It was a brutal beat for Victory Gallop, who had an opportunity to gain ground on Real Quiet with the divisional leader sidelined for the rest of the year. The bay son of Cryptoclearance opened his three-year-old season with wins in the Rebel Stakes and Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park but had to settle for second, beaten only a half-length by Real Quiet, when forced to rally extremely wide in the Kentucky Derby. Victory Gallop switched jockeys in the Preakness and arguably made a premature move at Pimlico, launching his bid on the far turn before giving way to Real Quiet in the stretch.
Victory Gallop parlayed a perfect trip into a nose win in the Belmont Stakes, overcoming a hard bump by Real Quiet in deep stretch to turn the tables on his rival, but could not amends for his Haskell loss in the Travers. He trained up to the Breeders’ Cup Classic and rallied from far back to be fourth in his seasonal finale.
Coronado’s Quest endured a tumultuous winter in South Florida, displaying unruly behavior before three consecutive setbacks in Gulfstream Park stakes races, but it turned out he was having trouble breathing and the Shug McGaughey-trained underwent throat surgery after returning to New York in late March. The Stuart Janney homebred didn’t display the same behavioral issues again.
A romping winner of the Wood Memorial, Coronado’s Quest skipped the Kentucky Derby and was installed as the morning-line favorite in the Preakness before being forced to withdraw due to a foot bruise. The son of Forty Niner brought a four-race win streak into the Travers, adding the Riva Ridge and Dwyer prior to the Haskell, and appeared poised to carry his form forward after the Midsummer Derby.
Instead, Coronado’s Quest looked over top when following with a dull fifth in the Woodward and never ran back to his courageous Travers victory.