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SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – A number of prominent graded stakes contenders for this Saturday’s Runhappy Travers Day (G1) breezed last Saturday morning at Saratoga Race Course, including Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Essential Quality, the likely favorite for the $1.25 million Runhappy Travers.
The 152nd edition of the Travers is the centerpiece of a blockbuster day of racing featuring 7 stakes (including 6 Grade 1 events) offering $4.6 million in total purse money. Also on the line, automatic berths in the Breeders’ Cup to the winner of the $750,000 Resorts World Casino Sword Dancer (G1) for the Turf, the $600,000 Personal Ensign presented by Lia Infiniti (G1) for the Distaff, and the $500,000 Ketel One Ballerina (G1) for the Filly & Mare Sprint.
In addition, the Travers Day card will also include the $600,000 Forego (G1), a 7-furlong sprint for 4-year-olds and upward, and the $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1) for 3-year-olds going 7 furlongs. Rounding out the signature day is the $400,000 Ballston Spa (G2) on turf for older fillies and mares.
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Godolphin homebred Essential Quality, the reigning 2-year-old Champion and last-out Jim Dandy (G2) winner, breezed at 8:45 AM after the break, going 5 furlongs in 1:01.58 on the main track in company with Juddmonte homebred Bonny South, who is targeting the Personal Ensign.
Essential Quality, with Luis Saez up, worked outside of Bonny South and was caught by NYRA clockers working 5/8 from the 1/2-mile pole through splits of 11.40, 23.22, 47.81, and out in 1:15 flat.
“He seems to be a little more forward leading up to this race than he was in the Jim Dandy,” said trainer Brad Cox. “We’ve tried to sharpen him up the last few weeks and I feel like we have mentally. He’s ready to go. Luis was super excited with how he worked. His last two works were better than his first two leading up to the Jim Dandy, so I feel like we have a horse who is every bit as good as we were leading into the Jim Dandy; maybe even better.”
Cox said the work was a good follow-up to the bullet 5/8 in 59.40 last weekend that was also over the main track.
“Last week, we were looking to do a little more; we weren’t going quite as quick this week,” Cox said. “Overall, he was doing everything the right way.”
FTGGG Racing’s Masqueparade, winner of the Ohio Derby (G3) in June at Thistledown, worked 4 furlongs in 48.11 seconds in company with Sum Kinda Pretty on the main track after the break.
“I got him in 47 and 4 and out in a minute and change. He was traveling like a winner, hopefully. Visually, with what I saw, I’m happy,” trainer Al Stall Jr. said.
Stall said the Upstart bay, who was a prominent third last out in the Jim Dandy, should improve second time out over the Spa main track.
“With the shipping, I only worked him twice from the Ohio Derby to the Jim Dandy,” he said. “When we got up here, we noticed the track was a little deeper than it was in the past, or at least it seemed that way. I think he got a little bit out of that race and it should help him for this race.”
Essential Quality’s Class Prevails Over Keepmeinmind To Win Jim Dandy
Cypress Creek Equine, Arnold Bennewith, and Spendthrift Farm’s Keepmeinmind, runner-up in the Jim Dandy last out, worked a solo 1/2-mile in 47.55 under exercise rider Dennis Means on the main track after the break.
“He went very good,” said trainer Robertino Diodoro. “He was doing it nice and easy all on his own and with a strong gallop out once again. Touch wood, everything is on schedule. This was easy as could be and I thought Dennis did a good job because he’s not an easy horse to slow down.”
A number of the morning works, including those for Essential Quality and Masqueparade, were moved back due to a wet track from overnight rain.
“I thought the maintenance crew did a great job. The track, after the break here, looked good,” Diodoro said.
Keepmeinmind, who graduated in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill in November, competed in 2/3 of the Triple Crown, finishing seventh in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and fourth in the Preakness (G1).
Diodoro said the Laoban bay will need to bring his best to topple Essential Quality.
“He needs to have his game face on for game day and be ready to run the race of his life,” Diodoro said.
Trainer Kenny McPeek sent Three Chimneys Farm and Fern Circle Stables’ King Fury to the Oklahoma dirt training track at 9:30 AM, where under Jose Ortiz he covered 5 furlongs in 1:01.13 solo in preparation for the Travers.
“It was a solid breeze. We caught him in a minute,” McPeek said. “It was a nice, solid maintenance breeze. The horse can run all day. He’s coming into the race great. I think a mile and 1/4 will be right up his alley.”
The Curlin chestnut captured the Lexington (G3) in April in his seasonal debut and followed with a rallying second in the Ohio Derby, finishing a 1/2-length back to Masqueparade.
Last out, King Fury finished tenth in the Saratoga Derby Invitational (G1) after a wide trip in his turf debut.
“He’s a horse that won’t have any trouble with the distance. He fits fine,” McPeek said. “The horses that ran in the Jim Dandy, he’d actually beaten the horse that ran second (Keepmeinmind) in the Ohio Derby and he had a troubled trip when he did that. If he jumps to another level, I think we’re good. The turf race was probably a bad idea in hindsight.”
Dynamic One Goes Last-To-First To Win Curlin
Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher worked a number of his stakes contenders on the Oklahoma dirt training track Saturday, including Repole Stable, Phipps Stable, and St. Elias Stables’ Dynamic One, the last-out winner of the 9-furlong Curlin on July 30 at the Spa.
With Irad Ortiz Jr. up, Dynamic One worked in company with graded stakes-winning filly Spice Is Nice through a 1/2-mile in 50.67.
“I caught them in 50 and 1. I thought it was a good, steady work with a solid gallop out over a track that’s not very fast,” Pletcher said. “He’s had two solid works back now and two good gallop outs.”
Trainer Chad Brown, in pursuit of his first Runhappy Travers triumph, worked Peter Brant and Robert V. LaPenta’s stakes-placed Miles D 5 furlongs over the Oklahoma training track in 1:01.16 in company with maiden-winner Southern District.
“He looked fine,” Brown said. “His last piece of work was on the training track because the main track was still wet and such, but he went well.”
Miles D, a son of Curlin, was a last-out second to fellow Runhappy Travers aspirant Dynamic One in his sire’s namesake sake on July 30 at Saratoga. He broke his maiden off an 8-month hiatus going a one-turn mile on June 12 at Belmont Park.
Winchell Thoroughbred’s Midnight Bourbon, trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, worked a 1/2-mile in 49.60 Sunday on the Oklahoma training track in preparation for the Travers.
Asmussen said the graded stakes-winning sophomore son of Tiznow has worked well after a troubled trip last out in the Haskell Invitational (G1), where he was a close third in mid-stretch before clipping heels and falling, unseating rider Paco Lopez.
“He’s a very impressive horse,” Asmussen said. “I think we’re obviously very fortunate that he came out of the mishap in the Haskell in good shape and he’s training well, per usual.”
Midnight Bourbon, a winner of the Lecomte (G3) at Fair Grounds Race Course in his 2021 debut, was second in the Preakness (G1) at Pimlico to Rombauer prior to the Haskell.
Asmussen and Winchell finished third twice in the Travers with Pyro (2008) and Gun Runner (2016).
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