11.11pm Travers Stakes (Grade 1)

THE best race of the weekend undoubtedly comes in the Midsummer Derby, the Travers Stakes, at Saratoga tonight.

With so much more options to go ducking and avoiding on the European scene, it’s a rare event to have the winners of the three biggest three-year-old races, the Triple Crown races, set up in opposition to decide who is the best.

The surprising thing is that in the few years where the three different Triple Crown race winners matched off in the Travers, none of them won. The most recent being in 1982 when Runaway Groom beat the Kentucky Derby winner (Gato Del Sol), the Preakness Stakes winner (Aloma’s Ruler), and the Belmont Stakes winner (Conquistador Cielo).

And surprisingly, none of the three classic winners head the betting, that slot goes to the champion juvenile and Florida Derby winner Forte. The Violence colt has had a very mixed season, arriving in Churchill Downs as favourite but missing the Kentucky Derby through a last minute injury scare that also kept him out of the Preakness. He returned with a closing second, a length and a half behind Arcangelo in the Belmont Stakes before resuming winning ways in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy but only by the bare minimum margin. He wore first time blinkers there and had a bit of a troubled passage in the straight and the going was sloppy.

“We’ve gotten him back in rhythm after going off track for a bit before the Belmont,” trainer Todd Pletcher told reporters this week. “He’s an outstanding colt to do what he did in the Belmont and then come back in the Jim Dandy under less than ideal circumstances. We’re happy with where we are.”

Part-owner Mike Repole was also confident: “This is his Derby. I’m really excited about what he’s going to do here.”

Drawn one in the field of seven, he should get a good early pitch and the extra furlong could be to his advantage.

Best form

Mage probably boasts the single best bit of form in winning the Derby but the fast early pace there inevitably makes it a different type of race from the Grade 1s later in the season. He was since disappointing when third in the Preakness. Bob Baffert’s National Treasure won that, taking advantage of the slower pace.

Mage then went to the Haskell and was no match for Geaux Rocket Ride though his trainer expects him to be sharper for this, his main summer target.

Mage’s Derby jockey Javier Castellano has gone with his Belmont Stakes winner Arcangelo and a late injury to next choice jockey Luis Saez has seen Flavien Prat step into the saddle.

There appeared no fluke about Arcangelo’s win in the Belmont, though Forte was coming of a long layoff from the Florida Derby. Trainer Jena Antonucci has opted to go to Saratoga off a break since that June win. This is only his sixth start and he could have more improvement.

National Treasure has also been absent since he found the Belmont too far on June 11th but the son of Quality Road was reported working well in West Coast works.

Todd Pletcher will also send out Tapit Trice, who was fifth in the Haskell, beaten by almost nine lengths, after finishing third in the Belmont, a nose behind Forte, and seventh in the Kentucky Derby. The late-running Tapit colt will wear blinkers for the first time in hopes of showing more early speed as he has looked a bit slow.

Disarm comes into the Travers off a fourth in the Jim Dandy that followed a win in the Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes. The son of Gun Runner trained by Steve Asmussen was fourth in the Kentucky Derby off a troubled run.

Bill Mott’s’ Scotland is the only one without a graded stakes win to his credit though the Good Magic gelding does have a victory over the track.

Whoever wins, there appears no excuses as all trainers have their charges where they want them.


Next Best: Arcangelo

Rest of the Card

The Grade 1 action begins with the seven-furlong Forego Stakes (8.07pm) which sees Bill Mott’s champion sprinter Elite Power bid to continue his winning run. He had a long layoff from winning in Saudi Arabia to win the Grade 2 True Point at Belmont but only got up in the last stride last time at this track to win the six-furlong Grade 1 Alfred G Vanderbilt Handicap.

Steve Asmussen’s Gunite is a worthy rival as he proved in that head second in the Vanderbilt but should come up short again.

The Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial Stakes (9.19pm) is for three-year-olds over seven furlongs again and looks an evenly matched contest between the Baffett duo Fort Bragg and Arabian Lion and New York Thunder. Arabian Lion takes favouritism on his Grade 1 win in the Woody Stephens Stakes at Belmont but this is tougher. Brad Cox’s Verifying comes off a win in the Grade 3 Indiana Derby and could be the value.

The Jorge Delgado-trained New York Thunder is unbeaten in his four runs and impressed in the Grade 2 Amsterdam Stakes here last time and could be the big improver

The seven-furlong Ballerina Stakes (9.55pm) sees a match between Echo Zulu and the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint winner Goodnight Olive.

Steve Asmsssen’s Echno Zulu shades favouritism and looked good on winning a Grade 3 and 2 on her last runs, coming back to her dominant two-year-old form after a lower key 2022. Goodnight Olive had a troubled passage in losing her winning run last time and can make amends.

Aidan O’Brien sends over Bolshoi Ballet (John Velazquez) to take on a field of seven for the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Stakes (10.31pm) which contains his one-time stable companion Stone Age now trained by Chad Brown, though in the ownership of Peter Brant, Magnier/Tabor/Smith and Westerberg.

Stone Age has been absent since down the field in the Emir Trophy in Doha in February but his second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf to Rebel’s Romance with a decent quality field behind him would put him in the mix well here for his new stable.

Channel Maker goes for another Grade 1 in his ninth year. He won the Grade 2 Bowling Green Stakes from Verstappen last time with Soldier Rising some way back. If Chad Brown has Stone Age close to his best, he could make a bold bid under Flavien Prat.