Life can pose many questions. As we navigate through it all there are certain things we begin to wonder about. The meaning of life…the definition of happiness… and of course what was the mystery meat they fed us at the 4th-grade lunch counter?

There is one question that has perpetuated a perplexing situation for many years now. Saratoga Race Course in upstate New York has long been known as the graveyard for favorites. Since 1863 they have contested Thoroughbred racing at “The Spa” with many of the sports greatest toeing the track. But why is it difficult for favorites to win at this iconic oval?

Saturday, July 15 marked the first weekend of racing in 2023. In each of the three Stakes races on the card, an odds-on favorite went to post. The grade 1 Diana saw In Italian go off at odds of 1 to 5 only to be beaten by a nose. The grade 3 Kelso featured a 4 to 5 Annapolis scuttled with a second-place finish. Finally, there was the grade 3 Sanford Stakes where Gold Sweep stubbled at the start and he could do no better than second at 2 to 5 odds.

In each race, a heavy favorite walked into the gates only to be buried at the wire as second best. Thusly the age-old nickname, but the question remains why does it happen here at this haven for horse racing? Increased level of competition at the starting gates…unfamiliar track conditions… EL Nino?

We can probably rule out El Nino, but this is a phenomenon that has been around for almost as long. Just to name a few of the historical victims, Man o’War suffered his only career loss in 1919 to you guessed it, Upset, 1930 triple Crown winner Gallant Fox was beaten in the Travers by 100-1 longshot Jim Dandy, Secretariat lost to Onion in the 1973 Whitney, Rachel Alexandra was beaten in the 2010 Personal Ensign, and in the 2015 Travers Stakes American Pharoah melted in the stretch and lost to Keen Ice.

“Saratoga is a place where everyone wants to run so everybody brings their best”, says Carl Nafzger, who beat the curse when he saddled Street Sense to wins in the 2007 Jim Dandy and Travers as the favorite. “The favorites have a target on their back and people don’t bring a horse to Saratoga unless it is doing well. Also, some of those horses earn favoritism because they ran well in the spring, and by the time Saratoga rolls around things have changed with them and with their competitors.”

For those who enjoy the speculation aspect of the game, this means smiling faces for those with a winning ticket. The 50-cent late pick 4 on July 15, which featured two of the aforementioned Stakes races, returned a tidy $6033.25. The Saratoga payouts can be nice, if you guess right, that is.

So, enough of the rhetoric, WHY is Saratoga the graveyard for favorites? Is it because everybody wants to run there so the competition is much stiffer? That is a likely scenario, but in the end, it may be like how many licks to get to the center of a tootsie pop…the world may never know!

Triple Crown winner American Pharaoh was beaten in the 2015 Travers Stakes