Runhappy Travers Tops Super Saturday at the Spa

EpicenterSarah Andrew

The GI Runhappy Travers S. is one of the summer's most highly anticipated events and for the past several years it has been the centerpiece of a Super Saturday card at Saratoga that serves as a Breeders' Cup preview. The Travers is one of five star-studded Grade Is on the 14-race card, which also includes the GII Ballston Spa S. for turf fillies.

Intriguing storylines abound in this year's eight-horse renewal of the summer centerpiece for sophomore colts, which is topped by GII Jim Dandy S. winner Epicenter (Not This Time). The GI Kentucky Derby and GI Preakness S. runner-up looks to provide Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen with his first Travers and add another bullet point to his hot young sire's resume.

“I love the race that he ran over this racetrack. I like him at a mile and a quarter,” Asmussen said. “Nothing but respect for some extremely good 3-year-olds, but I think we have the right one.”

Chad Brown's best previous Travers finish was third with Miles D (Curlin) in last year's renewal. He saddles three this year in Preakness winner Early Voting (Gun Runner); GI Toyota Blue Grass S. winner and Jim Dandy runner-up Zandon (Upstart); and impressive Curlin S. winner and 'TDN Rising Star' Artorius (Arrogate).

“The only reason I'm in this profession is from coming to Saratoga with my family as a kid,” Brown said. “It doesn't get any bigger than that, to win the jewel of their meet and the history surrounding the race. Coming to the Travers with my parents when I was knee-high is the only reason I'm here in the first place.”

Artorius is the lightest-raced horse in the field, but his late sire had just two more starts under his belt, and none in stakes company, when he powered home to a record-setting 13 1/2-length victory in this event in 2016. The last Travers winner to sire a Travers winner was 2004 victor Birdstone, who is responsible for 2009 scorer Summer Bird.

“The horse brought himself here since we got him to his debut at Keeneland,” Brown said. “Moving forward, he's always worked right on schedule, and he's done everything that we've asked him to do. He's been stretching out nicely and his first two-turn race was impressive, his best race. I have a lot of optimism that horse will be able to carry another eighth of a mile.”

Brad Cox captured last year's Travers with champion Essential Quality (Tapit) and looks to take the elusive GI Haskell Inviational S./Travers double this year with Cyberknife (Gun Runner). His phenomenal young sire could only manage third behind Arrogate in the 2016 Travers, but proved 10 furlongs was well within his wheel house when taking the GI Breeders' Cup Classic.

The feel-good story of the year could add another chapter Saturday as Kentucky Derby upsetter Rich Strike (Keen Ice) looks to rebound from a sixth-place finish in the GI Belmont S. Saturday at the Spa.

Jackie and Jack Headline Grade I Sprints

The first Grade I of the day should set the mood quite nicely as champion Jackie's Warrior (Maclean's Music) looks to take his Saratoga record to six-for-six in the GI Forego S. The fleet-footed bay is four-for-four this year, including a sizzling last-out score in this venue's GI Alfred G. Vanderbilt H. July 30.

“He's immortal,” Asmussen said. “He's the only racehorse ever to win a Grade I three years in a row at Saratoga. The only horse, ever, at Saratoga.”

None of the other six competitors even come close to being able to run with the Eclipse winner on paper, but GIII Westchester S. romper Cody's Wish (Curlin) appears best of the rest.

Just 117 minutes later sophomore sprinters get their turn, but once again it looks like a one-horse affair with the presence of 'TDN Rising Star' Jack Christopher (Munnings). The speedy chestnut suffered his first loss when attempting two turns for the first time last out in the Haskell. Undefeated around one turn, including a 10-length demolition of the GI Woody Stephens S., the chestnut will be just about impossible to catch at his best.

“I thought the horse ran great in the Haskell. He ran a fast three-quarters in 1:09 and change and he fought on nicely,” Brown said. “He just didn't have quite enough late, but I thought it was a really good race. The horse has never disappointed me in a race. I'm happy to cut him back on a track that I know he likes. I hope he gets a good, clean break.”

He is joined by GII Amsterdam S. one-two Gunite (Gun Runner), winner of the GI Hopeful S. last term, and the chalk's stablemate Accretive (Practical Joke).

Short, But Sweet Personal Ensign

Clairiere | Sarah Andrew

Four of the five runners from Belmont's June 11 GI Ogden Phipps S., including regular rivals Malathaat (Curlin) and Clairiere (Curlin) face off yet again in a five-horse renewal of the GI Personal Ensign S.

Clairiere has come out on top in her last two meetings with champion and GI Kentucky Oaks winner Malathaat, edging her by a head in the Phipps and besting her in this venue's GII Shuvee S. July 24. Her dam Cavorting closed out her career with a decisive score in the 2016 Personal Ensign.

“She's racing royalty and she's in great form,” Asmussen said. “She's capable. It's within her and she continues to get better. I expect another huge race against great mares in the Personal Ensign. Letruska and Malathaat are as good as race mares can be.”

Champion Letruska (Super Saver) looks to defend her title in this event. While she was well beaten by her younger foes when folding her tent in the Shuvee, the bay did triumph over Clairiere earlier this season in the Apr. 23 GI Apple Blossom H. at Oaklawn.

GIII Molly Pitcher S. winner and Phipps third Search Results (Flatter) and Shuvee third Crazy Beautiful (Liam's Map) round out the quintet.

BC Qualifiers Coast-to-Coast

Rounding out Saturday's Grade I action at Saratoga is the Sword Dancer S., a “Win and You're In” for the GI Breeders' Cup Turf S. at Keeneland in November. When Aidan O'Brien ships one in, it's a horse worth paying attention to and he saddles Group 1 winner Broome (Ire) (Australia {GB}) here. Winning the G2 Hardwicke S. at Royal Ascot June 18, he wheeled back just five days late to be fourth in the G1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth S.

Gufo (Declaration of War) adds blinkers for this title defense and Chad Brown saddles three–Adhamo (Ire) (Intello {Ger}), Rockemperor (Ire) (Holy Roman Emperor {Ire}) and Tribhuvan (Fr) (Toronado {Ire})–in search of his fourth win in this event.

The West Coast also plays host to a Breeders' Cup qualifier in the GII Pat O'Brien S., which grants the winner a spot in the GI Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile starting gate. Bill Mott makes the journey to Del Mar with an imposing contender in GI Carter H. winner Speaker's Corner (Street Sense), who hit the board behind the country's top two racehorses, Flightline (Tapit) and Life Is Good (Into Mischief), in his last two outings.

His biggest competition here comes from GI Bing Crosby S. and GII Triple Bend S. winner American Theorem (American Pharoah).

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