August 27, 2012
The best sports moment of this past weekend went completely unnoticed by the mainstream media.
A dead heat in the running of the 143rd Travers Stake in Saratoga, N.Y., saw the favorite Alpha make a late push on long shot Golden Ticket for an indeterminable photo finish. The Travers Stakes represented a chance for Alpha to live up to his billing with a major win, especially with none of the major Triple Crown contenders in the race. Alpha hung with the leaders from the start of the race, running third on the outside through the first half-mile before making a move towards the top. But at the stretch, Golden Ticket shot up the middle and moved ahead as the 52:1 horse looked certain to give jockey David Cohen the win.
It was a win that would end up being shared as Alpha had a little magic left and at the wire made a push as Golden Ticket began to tire. The late surge let the favorite ridden by Ramon Dominguez and the long shot cross the finish line at the same time.
"I had my head down. I probably rode past the wire, if anything. I took a look to my right and there was Alpha, and Ramon. Ramon asked me 'Do you think you won it?' Right then and there, you start questioning yourself — 'well, maybe it was pretty close.' I had no clue how close it was," Cohen said.
"But it definitely took a while for them to give us the result. When we found out that it was a dead heat, it was a victory for both of us. I was very, very happy. I'll take it. Definitely."
Despite having to share the spoils, it was a bit of vindication for Alpha after a turbulent season.
In May, Alpha was being talked about as a contender for the Kentucky Derby, coming off a second-place showing behind Gemologist just weeks before at the Grade 1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. Following a disappointing 12th at Churchill Downs, Alpha did not run in the Preakness or at Belmont but did recently win the Grade II Jim Dandy at Saratoga in late July.
Between the running of the Belmont Stakes in June and the Breeders Cup in the fall, the Travers Stakes is arguably the most prestigious race in the nation. Saturday afternoon's result at Saratoga is the first time that two horses have had a dead heat at the Stakes since 1874.
For Alpha's trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, the shared spoils was bittersweet.
"At the 16th pole, I thought we were second-best. I didn't think we were going to get there," McLaughlin said. "Then, at the last lunge or two, I thought we got there. The photo indicated a tie, and I said, 'We'll take it.'"
Follow Yahoo!Sports Kristian R. Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer