With no California Chrome knocking on the door, the field for the Travers Stakes (I) will determine at least part of the Three-Year-Old Eclipse picture with Belmont (I) winner Tonalist returning off a respectable defeat to Wood Memorial (I) winner Wicked Strong in the Jim Dandy (II). But alas, they are not alone: Bayern unleashed a monstrous run to win the Haskell (I) at Monmouth and is looking to be the likely favorite as he stretches out again, and for the first time, to 10 furlongs. A lot of if’s, and’s, or but’s make this Travers an interesting and possibly profitable edition. Due to inclement weather and minimal strong sunshine, I’m handicapping this race for a “good” track.
$1.25 million Travers Stakes (I) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/4 miles on dirt at Saratoga Race Course. Post Time: Saturday, August 23 at 5:45pm EST.
[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]
1) Commanding Curve - Shaun Bridgmohan, Dallas Stewart - A promising improver in the spring, the Master Command colt ran strong to be 2nd in the Kentucky Derby and has since been on a downward slide, finishing 4th in the Jim Dandy (II) with little excuse. Deserving longshot.
2) Bayern - Martin Garcia, Bob Baffert - The Offlee Wild colt bounced off some pretty shoddy form back into business, romping in the Woody Stephens (II) at 7 furlongs before dominating the 9-furlong Haskell (I), both by 7 lengths after establishing early superiority. Numbers-wise, he’s the one to beat and has some distance pedigree to back up his stretch-out. Off the board just once in 7 starts this year. Despite Baffert’s dominance in the Haskell, he has won the Haskell-Travers double just once with Point Given. Bayern could run home with the win should he establish an uncontested lead as he has done in the past.
3) Charge Now - Junior Alvarado, Bill Mott - A half to Derby winner Super Saver sired by Tiznow, Charge Now flies the WinStar stable colors with high hopes after just 5 career starts, winning 2 and placing in 2 with no stakes wins. He was barely beaten last out in the Curlin Stakes to V. E. Day after going wide into the stretch. While improving, he is probably not quick-footed enough to win and has demonstrated dislike of off goings.
4) V. E. Day - Javier Castellano, James Jerkens - Jerkens’ back-up gun, the English Channel colt surprised many winning the Curlin Stakes to go three in a row for his stakes debut. He upgrades jockeys to Castellano, the current meet leader, and has all the makings of a great improving horse. Huge value horse with a win on an off-track. Upset potential is here.
5) Viva Majorca - Julien Leparoux, Ian Wilkes - The Tiago colt sports Whitney connections and missed the win in the Curlin Stakes by just a length, finishing 4th in that event but was steadied at one point. He does have some good back form and could close into the competition. I’m not loving the lack of success among Wilkes and Leparoux though on an improving horse.
6) Tonalist - Joel Rosario, Christophe Clement - The Belmont-winning Tapit colt was much the best in June and showed he could handle the off-going before then in the Peter Pan Stakes (II). Wide throughout, he disappointed in his return, running a clearly bested 2nd to Wicked Strong in the Jim Dandy (II). Tonalist could benefit from a tighter trip, but the question is if he’ll get it and strengthen back into his beast form. Keep him in your top 3 thoughts.
7) Wicked Strong - Rajiv Maragh, James Jerkens - The Hard Spun colt sports some class with two graded stakes wins and has an edge as the Jim Dandy (II) winner coming into this race. He was at his best in the Jim Dandy (II) and really wasn’t that far off the win considering his trip in the Kentucky Derby when the 10-furlong question comes up. Jerkens has Wicked Strong ready to roll in workouts and seeing as this colt is adaptable and can do off-goings, he can’t be forgotten about.
8) Kid Cruz - Irad Ortiz Jr, Linda Rice - The Dwyer (III) winner comes back for another go after running 3rd in the Jim Dandy (II), which was not helped by a wider-than-usual trip. This will be the Lemon Drop Kid colt’s first shot at 10 furlongs and given the pace scenario, his best will come late and I would not be surprised if he does amazingly well. Irad Ortiz Jr has been doing phenomenally well all meet as well. Value horse.
9) Ulanbator - Brian Hernandez Jr, Ian Wilkes - The “other” Offlee Wild of the field, He has one win in 8 career starts at a mile at Gulfstream Park and was 5th in the Jim Dandy (II), beaten some 9 lengths. He does his best running late, but is still very much a longshot.
10) Mr Speaker - Jose Lezcano, Shug McGaughey - The Pulpit colt was at his roaring best in the Belmont Derby (I) going 10 furlongs on grass, and with runner-up Adelaide’s recent win in the Secretariat Stakes (I), he is obviously the best American turf three-year-old. Trainer McGaughey is adamant this horse has a shot on the dirt. A tiring 7th in his lone dirt start… DOES this horse have a shot? It’s up to you to decide, but I’m giving him the nod as long as he can handle dirt in his face since the plan is to attack from off the pace.
Top 3 Picks in Order (with preferable odds):
1) Mr Speaker (8-1)
2) Wicked Strong (3-1)
3) V. E. Day (12-1)
Because of a lot of “maybe this, maybe that” going on in the field this year, I am going to go against the favorites. Yes I think Bayern could do it, but I think his calling is a dirt mile. I’m going with my study strategy that landed me with picking Wicked Strong for the Wood— everyone hates Gulfstream, and I’m guessing Mr Speaker did too. He has the best dirt pedigree of the field for going 10 furlongs and has a chance to prove it in spades. Wicked Strong and V. E. Day pack some bruising connections when it comes to dirt routes and both have tactical advantages in one way or another to get up there. Bayern is 4th choice.
Value Pick: If you’re not buying into Mr Speaker, V. E. Day overpowered a sluggish pace to win the Curlin Stakes and is set to improve from there. I mean, Javier is riding him, c’mon!
Princess of Sylmar breezed with a gray workmate preparing for the Personal Ensign (I)
More Saratoga photo blog time! I spent August 15, 16, and 17 at Saratoga Race Course recently with camera in hand as a planned birthday gift to myself. Each day will get its own blog using photos I took for each one.
The great thing about Saratoga is that no matter what, something good always happens there.
A pearl of wisdom shed by my own brain cells, it was a sentence that would live on throughout the weekend’s peaks and valleys at one of America’s most treasured racetracks. And to me, the happiest place on Earth—a little shred of paradise called Saratoga Race Course.
On track to get that $30 season pass to pay for itself (it is $5 general admission this year at Toga), Fabulous Fillies Day on August 15 would mark my 5th visit to the track this meet with the following two days marking days 6 and 7 as the ideal birthday gift to myself. With two Grade 1 events lined up for the 3-day weekend, the ultimate part about going to Saratoga is finding that what you expected to be great was not nearly as great as the things that you weren’t expecting.
I awoke in a sluggish food coma that morning, dragging myself out of bed somewhat sickly to make that dark drive to catch the golden light of dawn at the Oklahoma training track. Never again will I attempt a Double Whopper with Cheese plus a Red Robin bacon cheeseburger plus birthday cake in a 5-hour span.
Obviously everyone got the memo about wearing pink.
But Friday was not so much about catching the light as I thought it would be; whatever fragments of light showed up in the early morning hours quickly made like Houdini behind a blanket of clouds for the rest of the day. It was so unusually cold, it had me thinking it was September as I pulled on a hooded sweatshirt, which would stay on for the rest of the day. Familiar face and fellow railbird/pony paparazzi fourfurlongs aka “Homeslice” arrived just before me. “You just missed Mr. Speaker!”
It was no great surprise, or not much of a loss really. I had already caught the Travers hopeful on camera, and on a much prettier summer morning on the Oklahoma training track. Wet dew coated the grass and dampened our shoes as we got in some morning hour shots with whatever available light we could. One of my favorite things about hanging out with the Slice is her carefree attitude and nonchalant approach to everything. We talked about our hopes for the future, recent stories from our everyday in-between-Saratoga lives, horses, and photography. If you’ve seen her work around here and elsewhere, Slice has a very distinct style and knack for the extreme close-up. I remarked trying to replicate it or get into it, but it was a lot harder than I thought it would be. Half-jokingly, I tried the “unusual angle” stylings of Slice, which produced one of my favorite frames of the Saratoga meet thus far:
It began to rain here and there, forcing us onto the roofed corner patio— dare I nickname it the “mini Whitney viewing stand”— and made us wary of catching any turf workouts that day. But, the turf ponies came out soon enough inside the grassy oval, making it look like they were playing rather than galloping or breezing.
Trainer Tom Morley and Maggie Wolfendale (the future Maggie Morley) galloped in the rain.
Friday was the one and only day I chose to not buy a program, seeking to just enjoy the day and whatever it had to offer. With pink being the color of the day, the hat hawkers were out in force more than usual, trying to sell passing ladies— and yes, even gentlemen— an expensive, poofy hat. "I actually don’t own any pink… I checked before I got dressed this morning."
Homeslice: “Me neither.”
We came not for the hats or the Escada boutique on the grounds, but for the ponies dammit! With just one stake on the card— the John Morrissey for New York-breds— I was content to snap pictures all day while intermittently judging people, which I love almost as much as paddock judging, which I was forced to do without a program on hand to sniff out past performances.
Lady Bling and Irad Ortiz Jr on their way out of the paddock. Lady would act unladylike at the gate before going on to win her race.
My first winner of the day came immediately in race #1 to kick off what I will remember as the most regretful weekend at Saratoga I’ve ever had when it comes to the betting department. Lady Bling made a beeline to the front coming off the hocks of favored Bebop Raindrop to score at 3-1 odds on the grass while breaking her maiden. Other successful maidens of the day included Flat Out lookalike and daughter of Flatter, Upstart, who just ran away from the field in open company and Trecastle, a handsome son of Medaglia d’Oro wearing the Darley colors.
Jose Ortiz keeps the Ortiz fever going with maiden winner Upstart.
Trecastle— wow! What a looker!
The highlight of the undercard came in the 9-furlong allowance for older mares, which was attended by just 6 horses, but really put the “filly” in Fabulous Fillies Day. Several entries exited unsuccessful bids in the Coaching Club American Oaks (I) last out, and I believe all but one entry all lost to Stopchargingmaria at one point or another. There were different pluses and minuses to say for each, and with a skewed analysis by Maggie Wolfendale, I went with a gut reaction pick after seeing one filly act cool and collected while looking pretty lean cuisine. “I actually like Penwith.” I’m not normally a picker of Bernardinis, especially struggling off-form ones, but she looked ready and had the pedigree to go 9 furlongs. And run she did, storming home by 5 lengths at 8-1 odds in front of Sheer Drama. Irad Ortiz Jr was on figurative fire, giving Darley one of its two wins of the day.
Penwith took off in the stretch easily enough under Irad Ortiz Jr.
To add to the pig pile of “nice win, wish I bet on it” moments, Maximova, a filly trained by Christophe Clement, also won her next race. I liked her enough to bet on her on opening day. She was throttled back in the field until late in the stretch, and just bounced away from that field, again with Irad Ortiz Jr in the irons. Yet another good New York-bred to watch for on the grass!
Everything built up to the feature race of the Friday, the John Morrissey Stakes for New York-breds going 9 furlongs on the dirt main. It was a pretty open race with a lot of different ways it could ultimately go, but the big favorite was Empire Classic Stakes winner and top New York-bred Saratoga Snacks, who would be breaking from the rail post.
Joel Rosario heard some little kids cheering on “number 1,” while jogging past on Brigand. They quickly changed their chant from “Go number 1… and go number 2, hustle!” #sometimeskidsarecute
The tempo was fast, with Weekend Hideaway taking advantage of a few missteps by Saratoga Snacks to grab ahold of the lead right out of the gate. Moonlight Song also broke well from the #5 post and went into a stalking position behind Weekend Hideaway, who set up sizzling fractions of :22 flat and :44 3/5 fractional times. Would a closer grab it?
Nope! Weekend Hideaway did it wire-to-wire by 2! Big Business was up for second with longshot West Hills Giant closing in for 3rd!
Sam the Bugler was always down to do a request, especially for the kids.
For a day mired in drizzle, overcast clouds, and pink (ugh) fashionistas, it turned out to be a memorable, lovable sort of day nonetheless. I think it was the first day I ever planned on definitely going to Saratoga where there wasn’t a big horse running or a big graded stake going down. I was there just to be there, and by the end of the day, I was way glad I was because it was going to be my last day with Homeslice, who I believe is in Maryland for goodness knows how long. After finding each other’s Tumblr accounts roughly a year ago, we met in-person at Belmont’s Super Saturday and since then, we have met up for the Cigar Mile, the Wood Memorial, the Belmont Stakes, and Saratoga’s opening weekend. It was depressing in the most uplifting of ways saying goodbye to my friend, who no doubt will go on to do great things as a professional in racing.
"Slice" and Barbara Livingston, who is also just finding out she’s LEAVING US!
To quote Arnie from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, “It’s not goodbye, it’s goodnight.”
Street Girl (her legs anyway)
A really stellar portrait of me at Saratoga done by the fabulous fourfurlongs in case you haven’t seen it yet!
I’ve attended a LOT more days at Saratoga than I originally anticipated, and as much as I absolutely love soaking in the scene over there I’ll be skipping both Personal Ensign and Travers days. The massive crowds, the driving back-and-forth, the inevitable price gouging, and me being scheduled to work is pushing me in the direction of enjoying the races from the couch.
BUT! I am making plans to attend Woodward Day as well as Tom Durkin’s last day at the end of the month. I also have a reservation for a photography workshop taught by Tod Marks on that Saturday, so the Saratoganess isn’t over yet.
Photo blogs and handicapping for Saturday coming down the pipeline as well. Do let me know if you have a Saratoga race you’re interested in me picking apart. I’m in the process of typing it, but I had that $1,000 pick 3 on Sword Dancer day… if only I hadn’t ragequit earlier in the card after losing another pick 3 by a head I’d be a lot happier right now!
Minorette and Joel Rosario after winning the Belmont Oaks (I)