Saratoga Diary: Travers Day

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TwinSpires Staff

August 26th, 2018

by Dick Powell

What a spectacular day to be at Saratoga. Beautiful weather and fantastic weather.

Race 1 was a maiden special weight event for juveniles going six furlongs on the main track. Dallas Stewart wins 6 percent with his debut runners but his Louisiana-bred colt, CLASSY JOHN, worked :58 and change at the training center in Louisville. If you went by the workout, you got over 12-1. If you went by the statistics, you tore up a lot of tickets. Puttheglassdown rallied for second over a wide-trip Starting Point.

Race 2 was a New York-bred first-level allowance race going 1 1/16 miles on the Mellon turf course. There was a spirited and contested pace up front which set it up for Manny Franco, who produced even-money favorite WAY EARLY out in the middle of the course and to win going away by a length.

Race 3 was dramatically affected when Silver Dust was scratched at the gate. He looked like he would play a big part in the pace scenario of the six-furlong contest. HONORABLE TREASURE raced in between horses down the backside but the first quarter mile in :22.66 was actually a tad slow. The race became a duel with Fixedincomelarry, but he weakened late and Honorable Treasure went on to a four-length victory. It was Brian Hernandez Jr.’s second win in the first three races.

Race 4 was a maiden special weight event for juveniles going 1 1/16 miles on the inner turf course. Ricardo Santana Jr. tried to steal it aboard Skychief, who led through a solid pace. Jeremiah Englehart’s FORTY UNDER stalked the pace and took over late. Todd Pletcher’s Social Paranoia was far back early and even overstriding but he snared second in the deep stretch.

Race 5 was a second-level allowance event for older horses going 1 3/16 miles on the Mellon turf course. Junior Alvarado’s strong meet continued as he had RED KNIGHT in striking position and, when the inside opened up, he shot through to win a three-horse photo over Classic Covey and Scholar Athlete.

The stakes action began in race 6 with the H. Allen Jerkens Stakes (G1) for three-year-olds going seven furlongs on the main track. Trainer Dale Romans had PROMISES FULFILLED razor sharp and this race was over as soon as Luis Saez put him on the lead from post one. With a first quarter-mile run in :22.66, he poured it on with a :21.68 second quarter-mile and maintained his advantage to win by just over a length. Romans was able to complete the $82 exacta when Seven Trumpets got up for second. The final time was 1:21.44.

Race 7 was the Personal Ensign Stakes (G1) for fillies and mares going nine furlongs on the main track. It was a rematch of last year’s Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) when ABEL TASMAN and Elate fought it out tooth and nail to the wire. Last year, Abel Tasman was able to win while surviving a steward’s inquiry. This year, Mike Smith showed why he gets the big-money mounts.

He broke the long-striding daughter of Quality Road well and chased the speedy Farrell. When Eric Cancel took She Takes Heart to the outside, it kept the rail open for Smith. Johnny Velazquez pulled up alongside Abel Tasman down the backstretch and it looked like he might keep her boxed in aboard Wow Cat. But Smith moved Abel Tasman away and brushed aside Farrell while going after the leader through a first half-mile in :46.62. Now, Abel Tasman was in the clear, and with her monstrous stride, she went into cruise control.

Jose Ortiz broke Elate toward the rear at the start but caught up to the leaders while racing down on the inside. At one point, it looked like she might get caught in behind the weakening She Takes Heart but Ortiz avoided trouble and Elate wound up to the outside of Abel Tasman. Ortiz tried to ride as chilly as possible but, nearing the quarter-pole, he got into her and she quickly closed in.

The rematch was on and at one point it looked like Elate had her staunch rival. But Elate drifted out a bit in the stretch and Ortiz had to use left rein to keep her in. She came in a couple of paths and bumped with Abel Tasman, who was coming off the rail. It cost Engage some of her momentum and Abel Tasman prevailed by a neck.

There was no stewards’ inquiry but Ortiz, to his credit, claimed foul. There was clearly contact and Engage took the worst of it but the result stood. I can’t disagree with it but where was the inquiry? The final time was 1:47.19 in what was the race of the meet. Sensational!

Race 8 was the Ballerina Stakes (G1) for fillies and mares going seven furlongs. Bob Baffert and Mike Smith struck again with favored MARLEY’S FREEDOM, who came from off a mild pace to win going away by over three lengths in 1:21.39. Still There was second for David Cohen, who continues to ride well beneath the radar.

Race 9 was the Forego Stakes (G1) for older horses going seven furlongs. Sound familiar? WHITMORE, who is usually a mile behind early was actually closer to the pace than normal. When the inside opened up, Rafael Santana Jr. gave Whimore the cue to pounce and the gelding broke the race wide open at nearly 9-1. Odds-on favorite City of Light won the photo for second by a nose over Limousine Liberal. The final time was 1:21.46.

Race 10 was the Sword Dancer Stakes (G1) for older horses going 1 1/2 miles on the inner turf course. In the Bowling Green Stakes (G2) here last month, GLORIOUS EMPIRE he grimly held on for a dead-heat win with Channel Maker. Today, tying wasn’t necessary. Julien Leparoux put Glorious Empire on the lead and he rationed out his speed perfectly, covering his first six furlongs in 1:13.88 and his last six in 1:10.53…shade of Flintshire! He had a clear lead in the stretch and held on by 1 3/4 lengths over Channel Maker. The first two finishers of the Bowling Green came back for an enormous $255.50 exacta.

Race 11 was the Travers Stakes (G1) and the start was the key. Ryan Moore broke Mendelssohn like a shot from post 8 and Javier Castellano chased him from post 10 aboard CATHOLIC BOY. Favored Good Magic broke slowly and when Jose Ortiz tried to move up to the pacemakers, he wound up at least four wide on the clubhouse turn. Bravazo broke better than expected and he was in behind the leaders while in between horses.

Neither of the dueling leaders were backing up, though, and they maintained a wide gap over the rest of the field. Wonder Gadot was game as could be but eating a lot of dirt in behind horses while racing down on the inside. Overbet Gronkowski was steadied multiple times.

The speed bias that prevails at Saratoga going 1 1/8 miles was present again as the two leaders opened a big gap over the rest of the field turning for home. Bravazo was the only one to make up any meaningful ground but he could do no better than third.

Catholic Boy, winner of the 1 1/4-mile Belmont Derby Invitational (G1) on turf came back to win the 1 1/4-mile Travers Stakes on dirt and showed an amazing versatility. Mendelssohn, who was a victim of a virus that hit Aidan O’Brien’s stable earlier this year, looked more like the superstar he was in Dubai and was a different horse than what we saw in the Dwyer Stakes (G3) last out. He will only get better from here.

I could write a post mortem on many in here but take nothing away from the top two. They were tons the best and showed why speed in American classic dirt races is so important.


Tomorrow is another day and I am glad there were only 13 races today if you know what I mean. In tomorrow’s second race, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for juvenile fillies on the Mellon turf course, I like IRISH INTUITION (#7) for Ken McPeek and Dylan Davis. She has had two starts already and should be fit at a decent price.