In Historic Showdown, Stars Collide in Travers

Forte (outside) & Tapit Trice work for the Travers | Sarah Andrew

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – With the three winners of the Triple Crown races gathered for just the fourth time in the GI Travers S. Saturday, will history repeat itself? Will a horse that did not run in the GI Kentucky Derby, GI Preakness S. or the GI Belmont S. deliver an upset in the 154th Travers?

That is how it played out in 1918 with Sun Briar, again in 1982 with Runaway Groom and six years ago when West Coast won the 2017 running of Saratoga's oldest stakes race.

If the historical form stretching over 100 years holds, Scotland (Good Magic) will prevail. The LNJ Foxwoods homebred is the only one of the seven horses entered Tuesday that did not start in any of the Triple Crown races.

Kentucky Derby winner Mage (Good Magic) is in the Travers field, as is Preakness winner National Treasure (Quality Road) and Belmont hero Arcangelo (Arrogate). So, too, is Forte (Violence), the 2-year-old champion, who was the favorite in the Derby, but was a vet scratch the morning of the race. He finished second in the Belmont and prepped for the 1 1/4 miles Travers with a nose victory in the GII Jim Dandy S. on July 29.

Also taking aim at the $1.25-million Travers purse are Disarm (Gun Runner) and Tapit Trice (Tapit).

From the rail out, the complete field for the Travers S. with morning-line odds:

1-Forte (Violence) (7-5)

2-Arcengelo (Arrogate) (5-2)

3-Tapit Trice (Tapit) (12-1)

4-Mage (Good Magic) (4-1)

5-National Treasure (Quality Road) (8-1)

6-Disarm (Gun Runner) 6-1

7-Scotland (Good Magic) 12-1

All starters will carry 126 pounds.

Jockey Javier Castellano rode Mage in the Derby and Arcangelo in the Belmont. Luis Saez will take over on Mage and Jose Ortiz will be up on Tapit Trice.

Jena Antonucci became the first woman to train the winner of a Triple Crown race when Arcangelo beat Forte by 1 1/2 lengths in the Belmont. If Arcangelo extends his winning streak to four in his first race since the June 10 Belmont, Antonucci would join trailblazer Mary Hirsch, who saddled 1938 winner Thanksgiving, in the Travers record book. Arcangelo will be Antonucci's first Travers runner.

“Having the opportunity to be able to participate in these races is obviously a blessing in itself,” she said. “It's a really cool field. As a race fan myself, to see what is coming together is pretty neat. Obviously, Forte being in the mix, as well, I don't think he can be ignored in the mentions. It makes for a great day of racing, and a great talking topic for fans and others alike. Those are things that our sport continues to need to see happen.”

In May 2022 at Belmont, Forte lived up to the buzz with a 7 3/4-length maiden victory at 1-5. He was fourth as the favorite in the GIII Sanford S., but romped in the slop to win the GI Hopeful S. Earlier this year, Forte was disqualified from the Hopeful win for a post-race drug positive, a decision that is being appealed.

Forte wrapped up the divisional title with wins in the GI Breeders' Futurity and the GI Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He opened his 3-year-old season with a victory in the GII Fountain of Youth S. and then rallied in the stretch of the GI Florida Derby to beat Mage. On the morning of the Derby, he was scratched when a veterinarian had concerns about a bruised right front foot. Arcangelo topped him in the Belmont, his first start in 2 1/2 months.

Trainer Todd Pletcher elected to keep Forte at Saratoga and prep in the Jim Dandy. That narrow victory over Saudi Crown (Always Dreaming) was in question immediately after the race as stewards decided whether Forte should be DQ'd for bumping Angel of Empire (Classic Empire) while looking for running room entering the stretch. The order of finish was not changed.

With its stature, the Travers is a prize every year, but it is especially important this year for Forte and his connections.

“It's a game of ups and downs,” said Mike Repole, who co-owns the colt with St. Elias Stable. “You had the Derby scratch and second in the Belmont. He won the Florida Derby. He won the Jim Dandy. He'll be the favorite in the Travers. And he's the 2-year-old champ. It would be real, real special, especially for him because now he's in the race. The Derby winner is in it. The Preakness winner is going to be in it. So is the Belmont winner. And the 2-year-old champion. Four champs. Real exciting.”

Pletcher said a Travers score would be satisfying in what has been a trying season.

“You're never going to make up for not getting to run in the Kentucky Derby,” he said, “but it would be, I suppose, some sort of consolation prize if we were able to win the Travers against the three classic winners.”

In 1918, the French-bred Sun Briar became the first horse to defeat the Triple Crown winners in the Travers. Sun Briar, a huge success as a 2-year-old, was withdrawn from the Derby entries when his trainer Henry McDaniel thought he was training sluggishly. In his place, owner Willis Sharpe Kilmer ran the gelding, Exterminator, who had been purchased as Sun Briar's work mate. Exterminator won by a length at 29-1.

Four days after the Derby, War Cloud, who was fourth as the favorite, won a division of the Preakness. Johren had skipped the Derby and finished fourth behind War Cloud in the Preakness then won the Belmont, two lengths ahead of War Cloud. Sun Briar was back in form in the summer and ready for the Travers. He battled Harry Payne Whitney's Johren through the stretch and won by a head to establish the Travers theme.

By the time the 1982 Travers was run on Aug. 21, the Triple Crown series had become a high-profile sporting event. Gato Del Sol won the Derby, but went back to California and did not try the Preakness, which was won by a new shooter, Aloma's Ruler. Trainer Eddie Gregson brought Gato Del Sol to the Belmont, where he was second, beaten 14 lengths by Conquistador Cielo, the Met Mile winner the previous Monday. Aloma's Ruler was ninth.

The Saratoga infield was open to spectators for the Travers and the crowd of 41,839–second-largest in track history–saw the Canadian-bred Runaway Groom come from far back to beat Aloma's Ruler by three-quarters of a length. Conquistador Cielo was rank and could not be controlled by jockey Eddie Maple and raced head to head with Aloma's Ruler from the start. Runaway Groom, the winner of two-thirds of Canada's Triple Crown that summer, pounced on the pair in the stretch. He paid $27.80.

The third edition of the Triple Crown showdown in the Travers featured Derby winner Always Dreaming (Bodemeister), Preakness victor Cloud Computing (Maclean's Music) and the Belmont standout Tapwrit (Tapit). Trainer Bob Baffert sent late-developing West Coast (Flatter) in from Del Mar and Mike Smith rode him to a gate-to-wire victory at 6-1. Tapwrit moved toward contention on the second turn, tired and ended up fourth. Cloud Computing finished eighth and Always Dreaming was ninth. West Coast captured the 3-year-old male championship.

Mage went on to Baltimore after the Derby and finished third in the Preakness. Trainer Gustalvo Delgado gave him a break and started preparing him for a summer campaign with the Travers as the target. He returned to competition on July 22 with a second in the GI Haskell S. at Monmouth Park. He shipped to Saratoga two days later and has worked three times over the main track. Assistant trainer Gustalvo Delgado Jr. said the colt was thriving and that the connections feel he will be at his best after having a month to settle in.

“He's liking it a lot,” Delgado Jr. said. “He loves Saratoga.”

Scotland advanced to the Travers from a front-running 3 1/2-length win in the Curlin S. on July 21. He is handled by Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who has won most of the Saratoga stakes at least once, but he has yet to capture the Travers in 11 tries.

Baffert is seeking his fourth Travers win with National Treasure, who has not raced since he was sixth after setting the pace in the Belmont. He will race without blinkers.

After running fourth in the Kentucky Derby in a troubled trip, Disarm won the GIII Matt Winn S. and was fourth in the Jim Dandy. Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen is putting blinkers on Disarm for the first time in a race.

Pletcher ran Forte in blinkers in the Jim Dandy and has made that equipment change for his other Travers horse, Tapit Trice. He galloped the horse with blinkers last week and had them on again for a breeze Saturday morning. Pletcher is hoping the blinkers will get Tapit Trice into a competitive position in the race. He felt that Forte lost focus at times in the Florida Derby and the Belmont, but has liked what he saw in the Jim Dandy and in training. He knows that Forte is game.

“You could see it in, well, almost all of his wins, but particularly in the Florida Derby,” Pletcher said. “He seemed to salvage victory from what looked like a sure defeat coming by me at the eighth pole, to accelerate like you did and make up that much ground on the eventual Derby winner. I was proud of him in the Belmont. He was taking all the worst of it got a bit of a wide trip around the turn, coming off a 10-week layoff and still gaining on the winner at the end. In the Jim Dandy had a lot to do with a sixteenth of a mile to go. He's got that personality that he wants to wants to get there first.”

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