Powell looks for Creator to rebound in Travers
by DICK POWELL
This Saturday at Saratoga Race Course, one of the best racecards ever assembled at the historic venue will be run. From top to bottom, the races are deep and talented and they provide both quality and quantity for the horseplayer to find something on the menu to bet on.
Last year, we had the privilege of seeing Triple Crown winner AMERICAN PHAROAH (Pioneerof the Nile) compete in the Travers Stakes (G1). Nine rivals showed up but with American Pharoah going off at 2 to 5, it wasn’t the greatest betting race even with KEEN ICE (Curlin) pulling off the upset at 16 to 1.
This year, without a heavy favorite, a full starting gate of 14 sophomore colts and ridgelings will contest the 147th running of the “Midsummer Derby.” The purse is $1,250,000 unless GOVERNOR MALIBU (Malibu Moon) finishes in the top five and his New York-bred bonus is counted towards the purse.
I have to give credit to all the connections since many had their chances compromised at the post-position draw with the big field. Bob Baffert ships two in from California and they drew post one and two. Not the worst places to break from but both will have to use energy going into the clubhouse turn to keep from being bogged down on the inside. Steve Asmussen drew post 12 with Belmont Stakes (G1) winner CREATOR (Tapit), no big deal with his running style, and post 14 with stalker GUN RUNNER (Candy Ride), a big deal.
This year’s Travers Stakes has to be examined like the Kentucky Derby (G1) in the sense that you have to evaluate the strength of the prep races for it. The three big ones are the Curlin Stakes, the Jim Dandy (G2) and the Haskell (G1).
The Haskell was dominated by EXAGGERATOR (Curlin) over a sloppy track that he loves. His record on wet and dry tracks is like night and day and the only rain expected to hit the Saratoga Springs area will come on Thursday night. AMERICAN FREEDOM (Pulpit) ran a huge race in the Haskell, taking the fight to NYQUIST (Uncle Mo) right from the start and hanging on for second. Baffert removes blinkers but he and barnmate ARROGATE (Unbridled’s Song) will have to be used a bit from their inside posts. Gun Runner chased the pace in the Haskell while wide and never threatened.
The Jim Dandy sees four of its six runners returns for the Travers. LAOBAN (Uncle Mo) was allowed to set a slow, uncontested pace and went gate to wire to win. He took advantage of a paceless bunch and now meets a field that includes a lot of speed. Can’t see him doing it again but you should know by the time they hit the backstretch.
Governor Malibu was a game second in the Jim Dandy when Joel Rosario went to the inside and was stuck down there to the wire. He was very game and could improve with a cleaner trip. DESTIN (Giant’s Causeway) was confidently ridden as it looked like Javier Castellano was expecting Laoban to come back to him. Castellano has been the master of the Travers and would not be a surprise if he works out a perfect stalking trip.
Creator was in his usual position early but had no kick when it was needed. He has worked three times since the Jim Dandy and his half-mile breeze over the Oklahoma training track was very strong. With leading rider Irad Ortiz Jr. back aboard, it would not be a surprise if he was back on his game in the Travers.
The Curlin Stakes was run the day before the Jim Dandy and it might be the key race. Four of its runners show up on Saturday and even though the race is not graded, we saw the 2014 winner V. E. DAY (English Channel) upset barnmate WICKED STRONG (Hard Spun) under a brilliant ride by Castellano.
CONNECT (Curlin) won the Curlin when Johnny Velazquez put him on the lead and kept him off the rail. It was his first try at two turns, is bred to go longer and he was not headstrong even though he went to the lead. Chad Brown is having a huge meet but nothing would be sweeter than for him to win the Travers at a track nine miles from where he grew up.
Second in the Curlin was GIFT BOX (Twirling Candy) in only his second start of the year. Castellano went to the inside and never really looked comfortable and now Junior Alvarado picks up the mount with Castellano sticking with Destin. In only his third start of the year, he should have room for improvement and might benefit from catching some tired horses that went through the Triple Crown grind.
When Dallas Stewart sends anything out in a stakes race at Saratoga, you have to pay attention regardless of the odds. FOREVER D’ORO (Medaglia d’Oro) was a game third in the Curlin and even though he only has a nose victory to his credit, you never know with Stewart. MAJESTO (Tiznow) never threatened in the Curlin and there is no reason to think he will in the Travers.
While I really think the Curlin was the best of the three prep races, I am looking for Creator to wake up off a puzzling race in the Jim Dandy and pull off the upset. He ran like a short horse in the Jim Dandy but I like how Asmussen had him back on the track nine days later to start prepping for this. Irad Ortiz Jr. is riding lights out and he should find a way to pick his spots through the field and be running at the end.
CALIFORNIA CHROME (Lucky Pulpit)’s win in the Pacific Classic (G1) last weekend merits special attention. Not worrying about a 10-furlong distance that he thrives over, Victor Espinoza gunned him to the front and won with absolute disdain towards his rivals. It is hard to believe that he is running better than ever at the age of five and despite a wasted four-year-old season, he is doing things that few have ever done.
Can we finally put to rest the “Dubai bounce” theory? Calfornia Chrome is just one of many that went to Dubai, came back properly rested and resumed their careers in America with no negative consequences. Just look at FROSTED (Tapit)’s win in the Met Mile (G1).
BEHOLDER (Henny Hughes) was great since she had to do all the chasing and still held on for second. DORTMUND (Big Brown) was outrun coming down the stretch the first time and he raced kind of one-paced. They couldn't overcome Espinoza's early decision to open a clear advantage.