Once again Horse Racing’s highlight race of the week takes us back to Saratoga Racetrack in upstate New York for the prestigious 2012 Travers Stakes, where Alpha has been listed as the 5/2 morning line favorite.
Called the Mid-Summer Derby, the Travers Stakes ranks right up there in prestige with the three Triple Crown races as it carries major weight with the folks who vote for year end championships.
First run in 1864, the race was named for William R. Travers, the president of the old Saratoga Racing Association and his horse,Kentucky, won the inaugeral running.
The list of past winners is a who’s who in the history of the sport. As I looked back at previous winners the list includes one of the greatest, if not the greatest horses ever, Man O’ War (1902). In 1941, Whirlaway became the only horse ever to win the “Quadruple Crown” that year as he not only won the Triple Crown (Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes) but won the Travers as well.
The great Native Dancer, who won an astounding 21 of 22 career races (his only defeat was in the Kentucky Derby where he was fouled repeatedly), won the race in 1953.
Arguably the greatest horse race on record took place in the1962 Travers when Jaipur won by a nose in track record time over Ridan after a long, stride for stride, head-to-head, nose to nose battle over the entire mile and a quarter. In case you’ve never seen it, here it is again…. It is quite a race.
Other past winners include Buckpasser (1966), the gorgeous Damascus (1967), Alydar (1978), Chief’s Crown (1985), the powerhouse Easy Goer (1989), Point Given, who was an absolute monster from where I sit (2001), the very handsome Bernardini (2006) and, of course, last years winner and Saratoga surface lover Stay Thirsty.
Want more than just the Travers? No problem, there are no less the five Grade 1 races being run from today (Friday) thru Sunday at Saratoga.
Today’s seven furlong Grade 1 Ballerina, the ninth race on the program, looks like a two horse race on paper as It’s Tricky, a winner of three straight graded stakes races, takes on Turbulent Descent, a winner of the Desert Stormer Handicap in her last race at Hollywood Park and, who in my mind, was not that far away from being named champion female sprinter last year.
Moving on to Saturday’s card, two races before the Travers are the Grade 1 Test Stakes which is a seven furlong sprint for three year old fillies. I like Contested, who had a four race winning streak snapped in her last start (the Mother Goose June 23), to bounce back in this one.
The next race on the card is the Grade: 1 King Bishop. The seven furlong sprint for $250,000 will feature the fleet three year old colt Trinniberg taking on nine others. It looks to me his biggest challenger might be Currency Swap.
The Grade: 1 $1 million Travers will follow the King’s Bishop on Saturday and going in, the race looks a little light to me after most of the elite three year olds are now retired. I mean, of the 11 runners, just four are graded stakes winners and only one horse (Liaison) has won a Grade: 1 race prior (and that was last year).
The fifth and final Grade: 1 Stakes for this weekend is Sunday’s $600,000 Personal Ensign Stakes. The 1 1/8th miles event will feature 2011 three year old champion filly Royal Delta. The now four year-old daughter of Empire Maker looks to be an overwhelming favorite come Sunday afternoon as she is a winner of 7 of 12 career starts including last years Breeders Cup Ladies Classic.
One more race that bears watching is Sunday’s $1 million Pacific Classic at Del-Mar where leading Horse of the Year candidate Game On Dude will look for a repeat win in the 1 ¼ mile classic.
Game On Dude, who won the Hollywood Gold Cup in his last start, drew post 9 and was installed as the 5/2 morning line favorite in the field of 10. He will be opposed by Richard’s Kid, a two-time winner of the Pacific Classic, who drew post 3 and is the 7-2 second choice
The entire field, from the rail out, including riders and morning-line odds, is (the aptly named for this situation) Rail Trip, Jose Valdivia Jr., 10-1; Amani, Garrett Gomez, 5-1; Richard’s Kid, Victor Espinoza, 7-2; Where’s Sterling, Paco Lopez, 15-1; Dullahan, Joel Rosario, 6-1; Akkadian, Martin Garcia, 20-1; Jaycito, Rafael Bejarano, 12-1; Suggestive Boy, Joe Talamo, 5-1; Game On Dude, Chantal Sutherland, 5-2; and Riveting Reason, David Flores, 30-1.
Saratoga – August 25, 2012
Race 12 – 5:46 PM
Travers Stakes (Grade I)
For Three Year Olds
|1||1||Speightscity||3/R||L||I Ortiz, Jr.||126||G C Contessa||
|2||2||Five Sixteen||3/G||L||R Napravnik||126||D A Schettino||
|3||3||Golden Ticket||3/C||L||D Cohen||126||K G McPeek||
|4||4||Stealcase||3/C||L||S Bridgmohan||126||M E Casse||
|5||5||Street Life||3/C||L||J Lezcano||126||C C Brown||
|6||6||Alpha||3/C||L||R A Dominguez||126||K P McLaughlin||
|7||7||Atigun||3/C||L||M E Smith||126||K G McPeek||
|8||8||Neck ‘n Neck||3/C||L||L R Goncalves||126||I R Wilkes||
|9||9||Liaison||3/C||L||R Bejarano||126||B Baffert||
|10||10||Nonios||3/C||L||J R Velazquez||126||J Hollendorfer||
|11||11||Fast Falcon (KY||3/C||L||J Alvarado||126||N P Zito||
Analysis: (in Post Position Order with Selections Below)
PP#1- Speightscity- ran a surprising (44-1 odds) second to Alpha in the Grade: 3 Withers Stakes in his last start (February 4) but prior to that he doesn’t show me any reason why or how he can win this race.
PP#2- Fivesixteen- is another who surprised in his last race (almost 18-1) as he finished second to Street Life in the Curlin Stakes about a month ago over this very surface.
This son of the world beater Invasor ran (from a speed figure standpoint) far and away his best race yet. In fact, his speed figures have climbed steadily since his second career race back in September of 2011. Closes and that 15-1 morning line odds does look enticing, but I just cant get past that 1 for 8 lifetime record…..pass
PP#3- Golden Ticket- this horse couldn’t beat $75,000 optional claimers in his last or Grade 2 and 3 horses in his two races prior, so how is he supposed to win the Grade: 1 Travers? I don’t think he can and judging by his morning line odds (20-1) neither does track oddsman Eric Donovan. . If you are looking for reason to bet him, he does possess a pretty good late run and is training superbly for this race.
PP#4- Stealcase-wasn’t completely embarrassed while finishing third to Paytner in the Haskell Invitational in his last. The problem is he was beaten 4 ½ lengths behind Nonios in that race and was beaten over seven lengths to Neck ‘n Neck prior to that….next.
PP#5- Street Life- came from behind (and six wide at the top of the stretch) to win the Curlin over a sloppy track in his last and scored a very good speed figures in the process (99).
His two prior races were good too ( closed from seventh to fourth in the Belmont Stakes behind Union Rags and came from tenth to finish third in the Peter Pan Stakes behind Mark Valeski). With a little luck and if stops going 5, 6, and 7 wide on the turn for home, this (like his daddy Street Sense) stretch runner might be able to hit the board in this race.
PP#6- Alpha- this Bernardini colt might be the best three year old in training by default. Think about it, with the loss of the top 4 or 5 horses in the three year old male division over the past few weeks, this guy just moved much closer to the top of the division.
His works are good (a couple of :48+ half miles) and showed a new wrinkle in his game when he went wire to wire in the Jim Dandy almost month ago. Granted, he was just galloping along (the first half mile in :49 and six furlongs in a pedestrian1:14) over a sloppy track but still….
Lastly, that 2 for 2 (both easy wins) record over this track can not be ignored….
PP#7-Atigun- was a quietly good third behind Union Rags in the Belmont Stakes back in June but disappointed his next start (The Jim Dandy Stakes) where he finished a non threatening sixth.
Don’t give me that “he didn’t like the slop” excuse in that race because he won over a muddy track back in May. Overall, he’s far too inconsistent for me…..pass.
PP#8- Neck ‘n Neck- came into the Jim Dandy Stakes in career best form. In fact this son of Flower Alley had two blow out wins (he won an allowance race by over 6 lengths and the Grade: 3 Matt Winn Stakes by over 7 lengths, both at Churchill Downs) and registered triple digit speed figures in both races as well.
Yet, even coming into the Jim Dandy in razor sharp form, he still could not get to Alpha. (Alpha won by two lengths). He would have to improve again to make up those two lengths and I just don’t seeing improving enough to be able to win…..hit the board?….maybe….but not to win this race.
PP#9- Liaison- seems to be rounding back into late 2011 form as he’s hit the board in now three straight graded stakes races (two on the west coast and one here at Saratoga).
In that Saratoga race (the aforementioned Jim Dandy Stakes), he was very wide on both turns yet still finished within an earshot of the winner (Alpha) and the second place finisher (Neck ‘n Neck).
Albeit he shows 7 of 11 on the board finishes in his career, it’s that 0 for 2012 (which consist of 7 starts) record that is something I just can’t get past.
PP#10-Nonios- you have to respect this horse…period….end of sentence. He’s never finished off the board in his 6 starts thus far (6-3-2-1) in his career. He was especially impressive (albeit he lost two) in his last three races.
That second place finish to Paynter in the Haskell really jumps out at me. He travels 3,000 miles to run (for the first time) on the traditional dirt surface in one of the more elite races for three year olds and comes second? In just his sixth lifetime start? That, readers, is impressive to me. No surprise at all if he’s standing in the winners circle come Saturday evening…..needless to say, big threat here and lots to like if you want to bet him.
PP#11-Fast Falcon- may not have cared for the slop while finishing a disappointing seventh in the Jim Dandy, because his three races prior to that were all good. (Including a very close second to Teeth of the Dog in the Grade:2 Dwyer Stakes). He’s 20-1 on the morning line but if he runs back to his race two races ago, he has longshot capability.
3) Neck ‘n Neck
Record: 14-42 = 33%
Little Bets N’ Pieces
**** Horse of the World Frankel was at it again this past Wednesday as he blew away his (nine other) opponents down the stretch to win the Juddmonte International by seven lengths at York Racecourse.
The gorgeous 4-year-old son of Galileo proved that distance was not a problem as he glided home to win the 10 furlong race (he’d never been farther than eight furlongs in his career) while under just a hand ride from jockey Tom Queally. It was the eighth group/grade I victory for Frankel.
The bay superstar was taken back off the pace early and (with three furlongs to go) joined the early leaders. But like normal, in a flash Frankel exploded and the race was over in mid-stretch
The final time for the 10 furlong contest was 2:06.2 over “good” going.
Frankel, Cecil, and Queally were given a standing ovation as they returned to the winner’s circle, with Cecil saying, “It was great wasn’t it? It is great for Yorkshire, they are great supporters of racing and they deserved to see him.”
**** You can now add 2011 two year old champion Hansen and the wickedly fast Bodemeister to the list of casualties in the three year old male division.
Hansen had been ruled out of Travers Stakes last week with an injured tendon and likely will not race again, according to his co-owner, Dr. Kendall Hansen.
“This is the day I have always dreaded,” Hansen said. “Hansen has a tendon injury and will likely not race again… I am in shock, and with tears and heartbroken.”
Trainer Michael Maker added “He had some inflammation in his left front leg this morning and is not running.”
Arkansas Derby winner and Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes runner-up Bodemeister was diagnosed with an injury to his left shoulder, and upon further discussions among several vets, trainer Bob Baffert and his owners, the decision was made for him to be retired.
Bodemeister had begun rehab and a full recovery was expected in the coming months, but since he was scheduled for retirement at the end of this season anyway, they decide was made to stop on him now.
“Bodemeister has a peripheral nerve injury which caused atrophy of the infraspinatus muscle in his left shoulder,” said Dr. Larry Bramlage, “Obviously, this made us look at something unusual, rather than a normal lameness. His legs are perfect, but he was clinical when jogging to the left. After ruling out neck issues with X-rays and a myelogram, we feel confident in the diagnosis. It will take approximately 60 days to heal.”
According to Baffert, the injury most likely happened a couple of weeks ago atDel Mar when Bodemeister tripped during routine training and, in the process, threw his exercise rider to the ground.
“He was just never quite right after that and we couldn’t figure out what was going on with him,” Baffert said. “It’s extremely unfortunate. We wanted to win the Breeders Cup with him.”
As I’ve stated in my recent “The Three Year Old Male Division looks like a M*A*S*H Unit”, in all my 33 years of being involved in the sport, I’ve never seen so many of the top horses in one division go down with injury.
**** Neil Werrett, co-owner of 2011 Australian Horse of the Year and the unbeaten Black Caviar, told an Australian radio station that he had spoken with trainer Peter Moody over the past week and that both felt that there was a “50-50″ chance that the undefeated champion would race again in the coming months.
Werrett and Moody plan to rest Black Caviar for about two more weeks in her paddock and then ease her back into light training and see how she stands up to it. If Black Caviar does return, Werrett confirmed that it would only be for a few additional starts before she retires.
“If there is any chance that she is not 100% by then we will put her to stud,” Werrett said. “If all is good, we have all agreed we will give her a preparation in the autumn.”
Black Caviar has not raced since gutting out a win in the Diamond Jubilee Stakes on June 23 at Royal Ascot to remain unbeaten in 22 career starts. In that race, however, she suffered a minor muscle injury in her back.
“She looked really well and healthy, she looked bright” Werrett said. “She had her [racing] shoes off for the first time in six to eight months. I gave her some carrots and she looked well and healthy.”
“It is a matter of fate. She [Black Caviar] loves racing. I think it is up to Peter and the horse.”