SARATOGA SPRINGS — For its 100th edition in 1969, the Travers Stakes purse had a value of $100,000 for the first time. It was fitting for the rich history of the race that a horse with the credentials of Rokeby Stable’s Arts and Letters won the centennial renewal of the Midsummer Derby.
A Virginia-bred son of Ribot out of the Battlefield mare All Beautiful, Arts and Letters had a breakout performance in the spring of 1969, winning the Blue Grass Stakes at Kentucky’s Keeneland Race Course by 15 lengths. He was then a close second to the undefeated Majestic Prince in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, losing by a neck in the Derby and a head in the Preakness. Arts and Letters then turned the tables on Majestic Prince in the Belmont Stakes, winning by more than five lengths.
While the Belmont was Majestic Prince’s final race, it was part of a torrid win streak that vaulted Arts and Letters to Horse of the Year honors. Following the Preakness, trainer Elliott Burch, as he had with Quadrangle and Sword Dancer, put Arts and Letters in the Metropolitan Handicap, which he won by more than two lengths over the outstanding older horse Nodouble.
After the Belmont, Arts and Letters arrived at Saratoga and crushed his opposition in the Jim Dandy Stakes by 10 lengths. He was in top form for the Travers. Under Braulio Baeza, Arts and Letters equaled the track record of 2:01⅗ with a 6½-length victory before a crowd of 28,017 at the Spa. Dike was second and Distray third. The heavy favorite paid $2.40 to win. It was the third Travers victory for Burch and the second for both Baeza and Paul Mellon’s Rokeby Stable.
Following the Travers, Arts and Letters won the Woodward Stakes and Jockey Club Gold Cup, the latter by 14 lengths at two miles. At the end of the year, Arts and Letters had won eight of 14 starts and was never out of the money. He was named Horse of the Year and also recognized as champion 3-year-old male, and champion handicap male.
As a 4-year-old, Arts and Letters raced three times, winning once, that coming in the Grey Lag Handicap at Aqueduct. He was retired with a record of 11-6-1 from 23 starts. Arts and Letters stood at Greentree Stud/Gainesway Farm and sired 30 stakes winners, including Preakness winner Codex and multiple Grade 1 winner Winter’s Tale.
Arts and Letters was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1994. He was pensioned from stallion duty the following year and was euthanized in 1988 because of the infirmities of old age when he 32. Arts and Letters was one of many standouts owned by Mellon. Along with his racing success in America, Mellon had a prominent European division of horses, including champions Mill Reef, Glint of Gold, and Gold and Ivory. Virginia-bred Mill Reef won the Epsom Derby and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, among other Group 1 events. Mellon is the only individual to win the Kentucky Derby, Epsom Derby, and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. Mellon won the Kentucky Derby in 1993 with Sea Hero, who later added a victory in the Travers.
Brien Bouyea is the Hall of Fame and Communications Director at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame and a former Saratogian sports editor. He is the co-author, along with Michael Veitch, of the new book “The Travers: 150 Years or Saratoga’s Greatest Race.” To learn more about the book, visit www.traversbook.com