Travers next major stop for 3-year-old puzzle

Profile Picture: James Scully

August 1st, 2017

With an up-for-grabs divisional race, the $1.25 million Travers (G1) at Saratoga on August 26 will be as important as ever. And following the results of last weekend’s Jim Dandy (G2) at Saratoga and Haskell Invitational (G1) at Monmouth Park, let’s hope the Midsummer Derby helps sort things out.

Good Samaritan entered Saturday Jim Dandy having raced exclusively on turf and proceeded to thump the winners of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, rolling from off the pace to a 4 ¾-length decision. Almost Dreaming and Cloud Computing couldn’t even manage second, with Dwyer (G3) fourth-placer Giuseppe the Great getting up late for runner-up honors in his two-turn debut.

Related: Good Samaritan upsets Always Dreaming, Cloud Computing in Jim Dandy

The Haskell result wasn’t as shocking – the field didn’t include any seemingly no-hopers as all seven runners were dirt stakes winners with two-turn experience – but the second-longest shot on the board, 9-1 Girvin, prevailed over 7-1 McCraken as the top three choices in the betting finished outside the exacta.

Related: Girvin noses out McCraken for Haskell triumph

Winner of the Louisiana Derby (G2) and Risen Star (G2) earlier this year, Girvin greatly enhanced his profile registering a Grade 1 win. We can toss his 13th in the Kentucky Derby – his preparations were compromised by a foot issue – but the Tale of Ekati colt still had plenty to prove after a nose second in the June 24 Ohio Derby (G3).

A Travers victory could arguably vault him to the top of the 3-year-old male leaderboard and I’m hoping trainer Joe Sharp points his charge toward the prestigious 1 ¼-mile test. He does have the option to wait for the 1 1/8-mile Pennsylvania Derby (G1) on September 23, which would leave the door open for the Travers winner to surge into the limelight.

By virtue of Kentucky Derby and Florida Derby wins, Always Dreaming retained a slight edge atop the 3-year-old division after last weekend’s upsets but his advantage couldn’t be any more tenuous. And given the topsy-turvy state of the division, championship honors will be decided in upcoming races. Always Dreaming’s form has taken a significant downturn in the last two starts and it’s difficult to envision him suddenly turning things around this season.

The eventual champion could come from the following group. All were out of action last weekend, waiting for their next appearance in the Travers:

Tapwrit: Belmont Stakes winner gearing up for his return
Irap: He’s improved significantly since March, winning the Blue Grass (G2), Ohio Derby and Indiana Derby (G3) in last four starts
West Coast: Rates as an exciting up-and-coming prospect for Bob Baffert, reeling off three straight wins in advance of Travers class check
Classic Empire: Head second in the Preakness (G1) last out, juvenile champion is still in the Travers mix as he tries to make it back from a foot ailment

One could say the Jim Dandy and Haskell taught us to expect the unexpected, but I remain optimistic for some semblance of order.

Radically different outcomes

A pair of stars were in action at Del Mar last weekend and Stellar Wind displayed her tremendous determination defending her title in Sunday’s Clement L. Hirsch (G1), edging a game Vale Dori by a neck. The champion 3-year-old filly of 2015, Stellar Wind has rarely made it look easy. She engaged in a trio of dogfights last year against Beholder, narrowly defeating her main rival twice, and was put to a drive to capture her first two outings this season, the Apple Blossom (G1) and Beholder Mile (G1).

We know she likes Del Mar, improving to 3-for-3 at the seaside oval, and Stellar Wind is taking serious aim on the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) this fall.

Things did not go as planned for champion sprinter Drefong, who dumped jockey Mike Smith shortly after the start of Saturday’s Bing Crosby (G1) when veering inward at the gap. A winner of five straight, the 4-year-old was making his first start since winning the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) last fall.

Drefong kept running after losing the Hall of Fame jockey, interfering with runner-up Roy H and third-placer Moe Candy as he carried them extremely wide into the stretch, and the gray colt thankfully emerged unscathed according to Baffert. The Hall of Fame conditioner is eager to put the experience behind his charge, mentioning the Forego (G1) at Saratoga as an option on the Travers undercard. Drefong posted an impressive performance on the same program last year, registering his first stakes victory in the King’s Bishop (G1) (now the Allen Jerkens Memorial).

Up ahead

Gun Runner, the top older male east of the Mississippi, will be the center of attention in Saturday’s $1.2 million Whitney (G1) at Saratoga. A convincing winner of the Stephen Foster (G1) and Razorback (G3) this year, Gun Runner also posted an excellent second to Arrogate in the Dubai World Cup (G1) in late March.

His rivals include Keen ice, who famously defeated American Pharoah in the 2015 Travers (G1) at Saratoga and snapped a 10-race losing skein posting a three-length decision in the Suburban (G2) on July 8; and last-out Brooklyn (G2) winner War Story.

There’s no way Gun Runner should lose in this spot but it is Saratoga. A wet track appears likely, according to forecasts, and Gun Runner has run poorly a couple of times previously in the slop, recording a well-beaten fifth in the 2016 Haskell and a non-threatening fourth in the 2015 Kentucky Jockey Club (G2). And with trainer Steve Asmussen off to a slow start at Saratoga (0-for-16), it will be interesting too whether the barn can get off the schneid before Saturday’s race.

Saturday’s West Virginia Derby (G3) could yield Travers starters as an interesting field of 11 will line up for the $750,000 prize at Mountaineer. Kentucky Derby runner-up Lookin at Lee, the 3-1 morning line favorite, will try to turn things around following unplaced efforts in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Patch comes next at 7-2 following a rallying third in the Belmont Stakes and his runner-up effort in the Louisiana Derby three starts back is starting to look better given the exploits of Girvin.

Two-year-old fillies will be in the spotlight at Del Mar Saturday in the $200,000 Sorrento (G3) at 6-furlongs and looking forward to the match-up between Surrender Now, an eight-length winner of the Landaluce Stakes from the first crop of Morning Line; and Diamondsandpearls, a $1.7 million daughter of Congrats who won at first asking by a 6 ¼-length margin.