New York highlighted the best of both breeds last weekend

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Ted Black

August 29th, 2017

Last Saturday afternoon many of the nation's thoroughbred enthusiasts were keenly focused on the action at Saratoga Race Course as the upstate New York oval hosted the Travers and numerous other lucrative, Grade I events and later that evening Yonkers Raceway presented eliminations for the Messenger Stakes and the Yonkers Trot.

Among the stakes races leading up to the Travers was the Grade I, $700,000 Personal Ensign which featured the talented and well-traveled Songbird, who was made the 1-5 favorite despite arriving off a suspect performance in the Grade I Delaware Handicap and equally less inspiring in the Grade I Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park in her seasonal debut. Those efforts proved to be revealing as Songbird was upended by Forever Unbridled, third in this event a year ago, when she scored in 1:49.16 for the one-mile and one-eighth affair.

A five-year-old Unbridled's Song mare trained by Dallas Stewart, Forever Unbridled recorded her second straight graded stakes victory to begin the campaign and now owns a 7-3-4 slate and $2.15 million bankroll from 16 career outings. She has won four of seven tries at the distance and did so by handing Songbird just her second setback in 15 career outings and her first defeat in tries over the Saratoga strip.

Sprinters were on display in the trio of Grade I events at seven furlongs that immediately followed, with By The Moon forging a 5-1 upset in the $500,000 Ballerina for fillies and mares in 1:22.78, Practical Joke cutting back in distance to prevail in the H. Allen Jerkens for three-year-old colts and geldings in 1:21.96 and Drefong rebounded from a bizarre mishap in the Bing Crosby at Del Mar to capture the Forego for older runners handily in 1:21.16. Other than his hiccup in the Bing Crosby, Drefong looks poised to successfully defend his Breeders Cup Sprint victory and Eclipse Award as champion sprinter for trainer Bob Baffert.

Not surprisingly, Baffert and jockey Mike Smith were back in the winner's circle an hour later when West Coast returned east to capture the Grade I, $1.25 million Travers Stakes in a solid clocking of 2:01.19 for the one-mile and one-quarter. Granted, it was not close to the track record performance delivered by Arrogate last year in the Mid-summer classic, but it enabled the lightly raced son of Flatter to join the ranks of elite three-year-olds in a suspect crop by notching his fifth win in seven career tries.

That same evening at Yonkers Raceway, Downbytheseaside (Brian Sears) delivered an emphatic nine-length score in 1:51 in the $40,000 Messenger Stakes elimination and looms the odds-on choice despite post seven in this weekend's $500,000 Messenger final. Both Yes Mickey and Guardian Angel As scored in their respective $40,000 Yonkers Trot elims, but Devious Man (Andy Miller) drew the rail for the $500,000 final this weekend and looms the favorite after a narrow setback as the even-money choice in the elim last weekend. The Maryland-bred son of Credit Winner already owns victories in both the $500,000 Earl Beal, Jr. Memorial final and $250,000 Empire Breeders Classic final at Vernon Downs and was promoted to second as the tepid choice in the Grade I, $1 million Hambletonian final.