The Strange Case of the 1921 Travers Stakes
The summer racing schedule at Saratoga is known for having a surfeit of quality stakes races. One of the more popular races on the schedule is the Travers Stakes, because it typically draws a high-quality, competetive field of starters.
In 1921, though, the field was not very competetive at all. Only PRUDERY, a filly owned by Harry Payne Whitney, was scheduled for the race. It looked like there would be a walkover until Arnold Rothstein (a young bookmaker and gambler) entered his colt, SPORTING BLOOD, to pick up the place check.
In those days, bookmaking was the primary form of racetrack wagering, and the bookies had PRUDERY at 1-4 with SPORTING BLOOD held at 5-2. But a few days before the race, Rothstein learned that PRUDERY was off her feed, and he might have a shot at the winning the big race after all.
Suddenly, the morning of the race, trainer Sam Hildreth entered GREY LAG in the Travers. As the leading three-year-old, he immediately became the favorite. PRUDERY was the second choice, and the bookmakers' odds on SPORTING BLOOD jumped up. Rothstein made his move, wagering about $150,000 on his horse at average odds around 3-1. Then, shortly before post time, GREY LAG was withdrawn from the race with no explanation.
The odds on PRUDERY fell back down to 2-7 by post time. The race began, and PRUDERY took an easy lead, holding it into the stretch, but SPORTING BLOOD made a move and overtook the ailing filly. Rothstein won nearly half a million dollars in wagers and the winner's share of the purse. Many believed that Sam Hildreth got a piece of the action from Rothstein for his role in inflating SPORTING BLOOD's odds, but it was never proven that the two conspired.
Rothstein was shot for cheating at cards in New York City in 1928. He is also credited with fixing the 1919 World Series, though he claimed to be innocent of involvement.