While Ogden Phipps waited near the Saratoga winner's circle for Easy Goer to return from his three-length victory in Saturday's Travers, a tall, tanned granddaughter touched him on the elbow of his navy-blue jacket.
"Guess we'll both have a vodka on the rocks after this one," she said.
The 80-year-old Phipps comes from a family that owned half of Carnegie Steel in a partnership with Andrew Carnegie, but counting money isn't nearly as much fun as watching Easy Goer run. This is why, if the 3-year-old chestnut colt stays healthy, his breeder and owner will keep him on the track as a 4-year-old.
"I enjoy seeing him run," Phipps said, "and I'm not going to have the chance to have many more top horses. I just want to enjoy this one."
A crowd of 49,093, second largest in the 120-year history of the Travers, didn't get rich betting heavily favored Easy Goer, but they certainly enjoyed him right along with Phipps.
Easy Goer's barn is located in what's known as the "Oklahoma" section of the Saratoga backstretch, across the street from the track, and when trainer Shug McGaughey brought the colt over about 45 minutes before the Travers, thousands were crowded along Union Avenue to watch him. McGaughey, an avid golfer, compared the crowd to those who line the 18th hole of the Masters tournament at Augusta, Ga.
The whistling, yelling and general commotion caused Easy Goer to buck some, but by the time Pat Day boarded him in the paddock, the horse had calmed down and was ready for the business at hand.
The only 3-year-old in the six-horse field that McGaughey feared, Clever Trevor, gave ground grudgingly in the stretch and finished second, nine lengths better than Shy Tom. The rest of the field was also strung out, with Doc's Leader running fourth, followed by Le Voyageur and Roi Danzig.
On a track that was playing moderately fast, Easy Goer ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:00 4/5, the third-fastest time in Travers history. General Assembly holds the record of 2:00, set in 1979, and Honest Pleasure won the stake in 2:00 1/5 in 1976.
Being a favorite in the Travers had been a virtual kiss of death the last 11 years, with Chief's Crown in 1985 the only favorite to win here during that period.
But Easy Goer didn't disappoint his supporters. He paid $2.40, $2.20 and $2.10, with Clever Trevor, the second choice at 5-1, paying $3 and $2.10, and Shy Tom returning $2.10. A $2 exacta on Easy Goer and Clever Trevor was worth $5.60, and a $2 triple bet on the first three in the Travers returned $20. All of the horses carried 126 pounds.
Easy Goer's share of the $1-million race was $653,100, increasing his total to $2.7 million. He has won 10 of 14 starts, has won six major races and is undefeated in three tries at Saratoga, having won the Whitney Handicap against older horses here two weeks ago.
Many think Easy Goer has clinched horse-of-the-year honors, even though he was beaten two out of three times by Sunday Silence, losing the Kentucky Derby and Preakness before getting revenge in the Belmont.
McGaughey said that there would probably be only one race for Easy Goer before he runs in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Gulfstream Park Nov. 4. The options are two 1 1/4-mile races, the Woodward Handicap at Belmont Park Sept. 16 or the Super Derby at Louisiana Downs Sept. 24.
Sunday Silence, whose schedule has been compromised by a coughing spell at Del Mar, is headed for the Super Derby, where Louisiana Downs will double the purse, to $2 million, if Easy Goer also shows up. It's more likely that McGaughey will keep Easy Goer at home and run him in the Woodward.
Arguably, Clever Trevor has become the third-best 3-year-old in the country, and his attempt to win the Travers wire to wire impressed both Day and McGaughey.
Don Pettinger, a Midwest jockey making his Saratoga debut, sent Clever Trevor to the lead. He ran respectable early fractions, :46 4/5 for the half-mile and 1:10 3/5 for six furlongs. Roi Danzig, after trying to keep up, dropped out before the far turn.
Easy Goer and Le Voyageur were in close contention, about four lengths behind, in the run down the backstretch. Easy Goer left Le Voyageur with a burst as they came out of the turn, and in the same movement he overtook Clever Trevor with three-sixteenths of a mile to run.
Day, who also won the Travers with Play Fellow in 1983 and with Java Gold in 1987, hit Easy Goer once with his whip, about the time they took the lead.
"I would have liked to have waited until the head of the stretch to move, but I didn't know how far that horse (Clever Trevor) would carry himself, so I went after him," Day said. "We didn't go to the bottom of the barrel with my horse, we still had a lot left at the finish."
Clever Trevor, who earned $239,470, has 10 victories and three seconds in 16 races. He finished 13th in the Kentucky Derby, perhaps because it was his third demanding race in a month. But after a breather, the Oklahoma-bred gelding came here off of blowout victories in the St. Paul Derby and the Arlington Classic.
"He ran very well, and that's all you can ask of him," Pettinger said. "He tried real hard. You can't knock him. He didn't want to let the other horse get by him. I thought that Easy Goer was going to have to do some running to get by me."
In four previous Travers, McGaughey had finished second twice and third twice.
"This was a pivotal day for this horse, because of the consistency factor," McGaughey said. "I don't look back and second-guess about what happened before. I don't think Sunday Silence ran his best race himself in the Kentucky Derby, but he ran better than us that day. This horse is (by far) the best that I've ever had."
On breeding alone, Easy Goer had every right to win the Travers. His sire, Alydar, won the stake in 1978, although it took the disqualification of Affirmed for that to happen. Easy Goer's grandsire, Buckpasser, won the Travers for Phipps in 1966.
Phipps keeps ducking the question of whether Easy Goer is better than Buckpasser, who was horse of the year in 1966.
"Buckpasser was last, way last, when he won the Travers," Phipps said. "So you can say that Easy Goer won the Travers easier than Buckpasser did."
Horse Racing Notes
The on-track handle of $6.3 million was the largest in Saratoga history. . . . There was a $28,856 minus show pool on Easy Goer, money the track had to pay so that show players would receive their $2.10 payoff. . . . In another stake at Saratoga Saturday, Houston scored his first victory since the Derby Trial in Kentucky when he beat Fast Play, another Ogden Phipps horse, by two lengths in the $75,000 King's Bishop. Houston, ridden by Pat Day, ran seven furlongs in 1:22. That was the sixth stakes victory by trainer Wayne Lukas' barn in the last eight days. . . . For finishing fourth in the Travers, Doc's Leader earned $65,310, which is about the same amount he earned for winning the West Virginia Derby. . . . Easy Goer is the fifth horse to score a Whitney-Travers double. The others were Eight Thirty, Key to the Mint, Alydar and Java Gold.