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The faces of today’s Travers Stakes

The faces of today’s Travers Stakes

The Travers Field Heats Up

With heavy rain and wind in the northeast forecast (thanks a lot, Irene), the Travers Stakes may or may not be the definitive three-year-old race we were all hoping for. There are four horses here who could snag year-end honors with just this win, while the rest are largely considered underdogs looking for experience or seeing if they’re Grade I company or not. 

$1 million Travers Stakes (I) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/4 miles on dirt at Saratoga Race Course. Post Time: 5:45 pm on Saturday August 27. Travers coverage on NBC starts at 4pm.

[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics. All carry 126 lbs]

1) Bowman’s Causeway - Ramon Dominguez, Chad Brown - Lost the Prince of Wales Stakes by a narrow nose, an improvement from his Queen’s Plate fourth place finish. The distance is just right, but can he step up his game in this field?

2) Rattlesnake Bridge - John Velazquez, Kieran McLaughlin - The lone gray in the field, this colt has been improving like clockwork since his sophomore debut against Uncle Mo in the Timely Writer, where he finished second. Since then he’s been warmed up extensively with up front finishes, capped by a win recently in the Long Branch Stakes (III). He can rate off the pace and seems to do better as the distance gets longer. He could upset a few horses here with Johnny V, a Saratoga pro, in the irons.

3) Moonshine Mullin - Emma-Jayne Wilson, Reade Baker - I felt he got a lot of flak in the Jim Dandy, and he wound up showing the moves capable of a Canadian invader by finishing a hot second ahead of Dominus. A very good horse. If any of the outsiders could spring an upset, keep an eye out for his black blinker hood.

4) Ruler On Ice [pictured] - Jose Valdivia, Kelly Breen - 3-for-5 and never off the board in his career, “Ice” finished third in the Haskell and showed he’s a great slop horse when he won the Belmont. This horse is the one to watch for— sits right off the pace and relishes the distance. Watch your back, Thirsty!

5) Malibu Glow - Rajiv Maragh, George Weaver - Falling short in stakes company, Malibu Glow showed Weaver his stuff in a 3/4 length allowance win in late July at Saratoga. The longest shot of them all here. Weaver’s put him in based on good workouts and good stats (i.e. Ragozin numbers). Not counting on it.

6) Raison d’Etat - Eddie Castro, Bill Mott - An up-and-coming A.P. Indy son, he’s been slow to progress but is getting there slowly. His worst performance was a fourth in his debut, and he recently came in second in the 1 1/8 mile Curlin at Saratoga. A proven horse at the track and getting to that distance, but he’s probably still too inexperienced to seriously challenge this field.

7) Coil - Martin Garcia, Bob Baffert - Coil’s on a roll this year, unleashing a fantastic 4-for-5 wins with one close second. He was absolutely fantastic in his Haskell win last month where he came to win off his usual position and off a rocky start. He should like the distance and is the best horse here, in my opinion. The thing that might trouble him though is the rain, since he’s never run in the slop before.

8) J W Blue - Cornelio Velasquez, Tony Dutrow - Second in the Barbaro Stakes at Delaware, Jay-dub wins my mini award for favorite pedigree: by Sky Mesa and out of a Dynaformer daughter. He’s the blue-collar guy in this field— not impressive, but he’s getting to be a better closer bit by bit. He may find himself outclassed here.

9) Stay Thirsty - Javier Castellano, Todd Pletcher - Slow to improve, but an awesome distance horse who obviously just needed a bit more time to blossom. He ran second to Ruler On Ice in the Belmont and won the Jim Dandy Stakes last month in dominating fashion. A great and tenacious competitor who relaxes quickly and moves when asked. He has established he loves Saratoga, so he’ll win in dominating fashion again should racing luck prevail.

10) Shackleford - Jesus Castanon, Dale Romans - The most consistent three-year-old all year, “Shack Attack” has been relentless, winning the Preakness and coming up second to Coil in the Haskell. He’ll be out on the lead first, as he likes it. He tries hard, which is his greatest attribute. But, I strongly feel 1 1/4 miles is still overshooting his capabilities in a highly able field like this, and from the far outside he’ll have to spend more energy early on. He’ll finish third or fourth most likely.

Why Animal Kingdom Lost the Preakness (Plus a Belmont Update)

I was on Team Animal Kingdom for the Preakness Stakes, but even going into that race following his effortless Kentucky Derby win, I knew there would be a few detractors that could affect how easily his victory would or wouldn’t come. With Shackleford outlasting him in the final strides to the wire and a few other tidbits I grasped pre-race, it boils down to several reasons why Animal Kingdom did not have his day at Pimlico:

  • Pimlico favors inside/middle runners - With its tight turns, any horses running on the outside are at an immediate disadvantage. Animal Kingdom was in the 11 spot and was even more disadvantaged as a closer who would have to swing wide around those strict turns. However, knowing Graham Motion preferred the outside as opposed to the middle here as well as the fact Animal Kingdom likes to lag behind, it provides even less of an excuse.
  • Competition favored the distance more - Put Animal Kingdom in a 1 1/4 mile race, I’ll go with him. Anything shorter, and now I’m skeptical, especially with horses in the field that like a 1 1/8 mile distance like Dialed In and Shackleford. There were plenty of horses in that field who liked the distance more… Animal Kingdom needs time to stretch out coming for home.
  • Late to ship - I’m aware a lot of trainers will choose to spare their horses the stress of the racetrack by training them somewhere quiet, but this is one of those scenarios where Animal Kingdom should not have shipped same-day. Pimlico is a unique kind of track, and with a field and race that demanding, he should have been acclimated to it beforehand.

Other factors also contributed to the loss, like breaking poorly and trailing far back due to the dirt, but I wouldn’t list it with the others. Shackleford fell to his knees at the start and Animal Kingdom wasn’t the only one suffering dirt in the face. He ran an incredible race toward the end; his post-training and recovery from that race should say a lot about where he’ll be at the end of the Belmont coming up.

Update on Belmont Starters

Animal Kingdom has been confirmed for the Belmont Stakes, and will ship to the track the week of the race. Also added as “possible” starters to the field (up to 16 horses) are Stay Thirsty (twelfth in the Derby), Monzon (sixth in the Peter Pan), and Ruler On Ice (second in the Frederico Tesio at Pimlico).

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Tracks visited: Calder, Saratoga, Belmont, Suffolk, Aqueduct.

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