Stars Come Out To Play on Travers Day

'TDN Rising Star' Forte | Sarah Andrew


It's a bit of Christmas in August Saturday at venerable Saratoga Race Course, which plays host to no fewer than five Grade I events for horses of all ages–on dirt and on turf–topped by the main event on the summer calendar, the $1.25-million GI Travers S. While the fields are short on numbers, they are long on quality, as three of the races have attracted reigning Eclipse Award winners, none of whom are anything close to a cinch in their respective heats.

Champion and 'TDN Rising Star' Forte (Violence) has had a tumultuous first two-thirds of the season but has his chance to put it all behind him on Saturday. Having defeated future GI Kentucky Derby hero Mage (Good Magic) in the GI Curlin Florida Derby Apr. 1, the $110,000 Keeneland September bargain was famously withdrawn on the eve of the Run for the Roses–for which he was likely to start favorite–and was first off a 71-day absence in the GI Belmont S. June 10. A highly creditable second to the race-fit Arcangelo (Arrogate), the dark bay exits a rough-and-tumble nose victory after surviving a lengthy inquiry in the GII Jim Dandy S. July 29. But here he is, a golden opportunity to cement his spot at the head of this year's sophomore class straight ahead.

“You're never going to make up for not getting to run in the Kentucky Derby,” Todd Pletcher told TDN's Mike Kane at Tuesday's draw. “But it would be, I suppose, some sort of consolation prize if we were able to win the Travers against the three Classic winners.”

Pletcher has been twice successful in the Travers, most recently with Belmont runner-up Stay Thirsty (Bernardini) in 2011.

The third of the Classic winners to whom Pletcher refers is National Treasure (Quality Road), who outlasted Blazing Sevens (Good Magic) and Mage to win the GI Preakness S. The $500,000 Fasig-Tipton Saratoga grad set a moderate pace when last seen in the Belmont, but gave way readily in the stretch to finish sixth. He looms part of the early pace equation with the outposted Curlin S. hero Scotland (Good Magic) and leaves from gate five with John Velazquez calling the shots. Blinkers come off for the Travers.

“I just got a text from Bob [Baffert] and he loves the post. I don't disagree with Bob too many times,” said Starlight Racing's Jack Wolf. “If he wants to take the blinkers off or put triple blinkers on, that's fine with me.”

Mage, who looks to become the first Derby winner to double up in the Travers since Street Sense in 2007, passed the Belmont and reportedly was underdone when nearly overcoming a wide trip to drop a narrow decision to Geaux Rocket Ride (Candy Ride {Arg}) in the GI Haskell S. five weeks ago. Flavien Prat has been named to replace the injured Luis Saez.

Baffert was deep into his Hall of Fame career when sending out Arrogate to that stunning victory in the 2016 Travers, and the late stallion has a chance to join the fellow Travers winners Easy Goer, Birdstone and Bernardini as sires to account for a Travers winner of their own. Arcangelo's rise has been meteoric, as he progressed from a third-out graduation to victory in the GIII Peter Pan S. and an historic Belmont S. score for trainer Jena Antonucci. He makes his first start in 77 days Saturday, but that is of little concern to his connections.

“He's grown up so much and has gotten stronger and more professional over this little bit of a breather we gave him,” Antonucci said. “We're so thrilled to be here and blessed to do this. To have the opportunity to be here at this stage is amazing.”

Winchell Thoroughbreds looks to become the first owner since Ogden Phipps in 1989 and 1990 to score consecutive Travers wins. Disarm (Gun Runner), whose boom sire was a distant third to Arrogate seven years ago, was a troubled fourth in the Derby and won the GIII Matt Winn S. at Ellis June 11, but was a bit one-paced when fourth in the Jim Dandy. To that end, trainer Steve Asmussen tweaks the colt's equipment this weekend.

“We need to find more,” he said of the decision to add blinkers. “We aren't satisfied with the results of his last race and I think he's capable of more. This is our first step in trying to pull it out of him.”

'TDN Rising Star' and GI Toyota Blue Grass S. hero Tapit Trice (Tapit) tries to give his all-conquering stallion a second Travers winner in three years. Seventh in the Derby and third in the Belmont, he'll need to improve many lengths off his latest fifth in the Haskell.

Plenty Of Talent On the Travers Undercard

The elite-level action kicks off with the GI Forego S., a five-horse affair that shapes more like a match race. Juddmonte's Eclipse-champion sprinter Elite Power (Curlin) has very much lived up to his name and carries an eight-race winning streak into the seven-furlong test. To make it nine on the trot, he'll have to once again run down Gunite (Gun Runner), who appeared every ounce a winner in a sloppy renewal of the GI A. G. Vanderbilt H. July 29, only to be run down in the last couple of jumps. The latter was in receipt of just two pounds last month in the handicap, but is critically four pounds better off this time around (124-118).

Elite Power and Gunite threw down in the Vanderbilt | Sarah Andrew

Whereas the two older sprinters should boss the Forego, the GI H. Allen Jerkens S. looms a much more competitive affair, where a case could be made for at least five of the six entrants.

David Aragona has tabbed 'TDN Rising Star' Arabian Lion (Justify) as the 2-1 favorite on the morning line off his victory in the GI Woody Stephens S. downstate June 10, but so open is the Jerkens that Drew's Gold (Violence,) who endured his first career defeat that day, is the 12-1 outsider. New York Thunder (Nyquist) turned in a Shancelot-esque effort in winning the GII Amsterdam S. by 7 1/2 lengths July 28 to remain unbeaten in four starts, while Fort Bragg (Tapit) drops back in trip off a nose success over subsequent Jim Dandy runner-up Saudi Crown (Always Dreaming) in the GIII Dwyer S. July 1. Even Verifying (Justify) cannot be ruled out, as tries a sprint trip for the first time since debuting victoriously here over six furlongs 366 days ago. The half-brother to Midnight Bisou (Midnight Lute) gutted it out in the GIII Indiana Derby July 8.

A pair of former champions lock horns in the GI Ballerina S., a 'Win and You're In' qualifier for the GI Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint in early November.

Goodnight Olive (Ghostapper) was making her graded stakes debut in last year's Ballerina and went on to best Caramel Swirl (Street Sense) by 2 3/4-lengths en route to a victory by a similar margin over champion 'Rising Star' Echo Zulu (Gun Runner) in the Filly & Mare Sprint. Easy winner of the GI Madison S. on seasonal debut in April, the dark bay was an unlucky third behind Matareya (Pioneerof the Nile) in the GI Derby City Distaff May 6 and just managed to stave off Wicked Halo (Gun Runner) in the GII Bed O'Roses S. June 17. The latter would go on to frank the form in the July 23 Twin Bridges S. at Ellis.

Echo Zulu is perfect in her two runs this season at four, a 5 3/4-length tally in the May 29 GIII Winning Colors S. followed by a 7 1/4-thumping of Dr B (Liam's Map) in the GII Honorable Miss H. here July 26.

The GI Resorts World Casino Sword Dancer S. offers a fees-paid berth into the GI Breeders' Cup Turf and, really, what's not to admire about the evergreen Channel Maker (English Channel)? A winner of nearly $3.9 million in a career spanning 54 starts to date, horse racing's version of Cal Ripken, Jr. makes a mind-boggling sixth consecutive appearance in the Sword Dancer, including a front-running 5 3/4-length score in a soft-turf renewal in 2020. The chestnut doesn't appear to be slowing down either, as he exits a two-length defeat of Verstappen (War Front) in the GII Bowling Green S. July 30, a race marred when favored Rebel's Romance (Ire) (Dubawi {Ire}) clipped heels and fell.

Peter Brant, Mrs. John Magnier, Derrick Smith and Westerberg's Stone Age (GB) (Galileo {Ire}) was a one-paced third in last year's GI Saratoga Derby and now calls New York home for trainer Chad Brown. Runner-up to Rebel's Romance in last year's GI Breeders' Cup Turf, the dark bay was beaten a long way from home when last seen in the Listed HH The Amir Trophy in Qatar this past February.

Soldier Rising (GB) (Frankel {GB}) was beaten a length into third by then-stablemate Gufo (Declaration of War) in this event last year and was runner-up in the GI Man O'War S. and GI Manhattan S. this spring. He arguably took the worst of it in the Bowling Green and can rebound at a hint of a price here.

Breeders' Cup Berth Up For Grabs In Pat O'Brien

The seven-furlong GII Pat O'Brien S. offers its winner a spot in the field for the GI BigAss Fans Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile up the road at Santa Anita and has drawn a field of 11 that lacks a true standout.

Though still eligible for a second-level allowance, Anarchist (Distorted Humor) was runner-up in the GIII San Simeon S. down the hill in Arcadia Mar. 5 and filled the same spot in the GIII Kona Gold S. on the dirt Apr. 22 before shipping into Woodbine to salute in the May 14 GIII Jacques Cartier S. Second to Elite Power in the GII True North S. June 10, he missed by a head to the outstanding Cal-bred The Chosen Vron (Vronsky) in the GI Bing Crosby S. July 29.

Brickyard Ride (Clubhouse Ride) was a short-priced third in the San Simeon before validating 4-5 favoritism in the Kona Gold with a half-length defeat of Anarchist. The 6-year-old entire was a well-beaten third to The Chosen Vron in the state-bred Thor's Echo S. May 28 and cuts back to a sprint after rounding out the trifecta when trying to wire the field in the GII San Diego H. July 29.

A miniature version of Channel Maker, C Z Rocket (City Zip) tries the O'Brien for a fourth straight time at age nine. Victorious in 2020 when also second in the GI Breeders' Cup Sprint, he rounded out the exacta again in 2021, but was a slow-starting eighth last year. The bay ran on some to be fifth in the Crosby and gets blinkers back on Saturday.

The Estate of the late Jerry Moss is represented by the lightly raced homebred Sir Atticus (Gormley), winner of a 6 1/2-furlong allowance July 21 for which he earned a competitive 94 Beyer Speed Figure.

Not a subscriber? Click here to sign up for the daily PDF or alerts.

Copy Article Link

Liked this article? Read more like this.

  1. Program Trading Gives Brown, Klaravich Another Hollywood Derby
  2. Hoist The Gold Tops Mineshaft 1-2 In the Cigar Mile
  3. Good Magic's Dornoch Proves Gamest In Remsen Thriller
  4. Gun Runner Filly Does the 'Talk'-ing In the Demoiselle
  5. In 'Closing', Cal-Bred Mare Can Climb Grade I Hill in Matriarch

Never miss another story from the TDN

Click Here to sign up for a free subscription.