Godolphin Racing’s Alpha became the latest Grade 1 winner and millionaire to have trained over the Aiken Training Track. But the bay colt broken and trained in Aiken by Tim Jones left a number of people in suspense as to whether or not he won Saturday’s Grade 1 Travers Stakes at historic Saratoga Race Course. Among those hanging in suspense was Jones.
That’s because Alpha, now trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, finished in a dead heat with the Kenny McPeek connditioned Golden Ticket. The decision, made official after a photo finish, allowed Alpha to score his second consecutive stakes victory, claiming a piece of the 11/4-mile $1 million Travers Stakes.
“I was delighted and tickled to death,” Jones said after the race on Saturday, the first dead-heat finish in 143 runnings of the Travers Stakes. “I honestly thought he finished second both times I watched the race.”
Jones wasn’t the only one who was uncertain about the finish. According to an Associated Press report from the track, the crowd was also wondering who won for several minutes as the photo finish sign flashed on the infield toteboard. A few minutes later, the numbers of Golden Ticket and Alpha appeared, with the words dead heat alongside.
Alpha and Golden Ticket finished a desperate neck in front of the third place finisher Fast Falcon. Atigun was fourth, followed by Nonios, Neck ‘n Neck, Stealcase, Speightscity, Liaison, Five Sixteen and Street Life. The winning time for the 11/4 miles was 2:02.74.
Alpha, the 2-1 favorite, returned $4.10, $5.10 and $3.90, and 33-1 long-shot Golden Ticket paid $26.80, $26.40 and $11.80. Fast Falcon, trained by Nick Zito, returned $13.60.
Alpha, the son of 2006 Travers Stakes winner Bernardini, made a head bob at exactly the right moment at the end of the race. That enabled Alpha to hit the wire simultaneously with Golden Ticket, completing a comeback as Golden Ticket took a clear lead as the field turned for home. Alpha’s the second consecutive son of the Classic winner to win the Travers, as Stay Thirsty captured the Mid-Summer Classic in 2011. Bernardini was the 2006 Eclipse Award winning 3-year-old male.
Ridden by two-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey Ramon Dominguez, Alpha raced off the pace set by Fast Falcon. Alpha went four-wide uncoiling a powerful turn of foot, and closed with great determination to catch Golden Ticket, a result that was only reached after a photo finish. McLaughlin and McPeek stood next to each other in the owners’ boxes and high-fived after the final result was posted.
A four-time stakes winner during his sophomore campaign, Alpha won his last start at Saratoga. He triumphed in the 11/8-mile $600,000 Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes, prevailing in gate-to-wire fashion by 2-lengths over an off track on July 28. Alpha also captured the Grade 3 Withers Stakes and Count Fleet Stakes this winter.
Alpha has five wins and two second-place finishes from nine starts, and has bankrolled $1,260,000.