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Travers Preview: Will Essential Quality Avoid Joining The Graveyard Of Champions?
Essential Quality winning the Belmont (Credit: NYRA)

Travers Preview: Will Essential Quality Avoid Joining The Graveyard Of Champions?

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY – The main event of the Saratoga meeting is upon us, with the $1.25 million Travers Stakes (G1) set for this Saturday at The Spa.

A solid field of seven rivals will line up to for this year’s “Mid-Summer Derby” on a day loaded with stakes action, including 6 Grade 1 events in total. This is one of the best betting days on the calendar.

Saturday’s stakes-laden undercard at Saratoga includes the $750,000 Resorts World Casino Sword Dancer (G1); the $600,000 Personal Ensign (G1) presented by Lia Infiniti; the $500,000 Ketel One Ballerina (G1); the $600,000 Forego (G1); the $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1); and the $400,000 Ballston Spa (G2).

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The top-ranked 3-year-old in training, Essential Quality, headlines this year’s field for Brad Cox as he tries to avoid joining the long list of stars who lost big races at Saratoga, giving the track its nickname, “The graveyard of champions.” This big gray colt is coming into the race off of back-to-back wins, impressively taking the Belmont Stakes (G1) before a determined effort last time out over this track in the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2). Luis Saez will have the mount once again, breaking from post 2.

“I feel like he’s as good as he’s ever been,” Cox said. “If we run our race, we’ll be tough. There’s six other good colts in there and we still have to play our game. If we do, I think we’ll be a big factor.”

Robertino Diodoro’s Keepmeinmind is one of the main candidates to upset the big favorite. Last time out, Joel Rosario piloted him for the first time and he nearly pulled off an upset in the Jim Dandy, losing to Essential Quality by a narrow margin. Rosario fits this horse well and is back aboard again, breaking from post 3.

“He’s getting better and better,” Diodoro said. “The horse is overdue and he deserves a win. We definitely think the extra distance will help him big-time and it’s a huge plus having Rosario on the horse for the second time.”

A horse looking for a better trip this time is the Steve Asmussen-trained Midnight Bourbon, who clipped heels and fell in the stretch of the Haskell Stakes (G1). Thankfully, horse and rider were fine coming out of the race, and Midnight Bourbon has seemingly signaled that he’s ready to run again. He’s been consistent his entire career, including a runner-up effort in the Preakness Stakes (G1), and breaks from the rail with Ricardo Santana Jr. back in the saddle.

“He’s a big horse and time should benefit him a bunch as he gets bigger and stronger and more mature,” said David Fiske, bloodstock advisor to owner Winchell Thoroughbreds. “He’ll have to break well, but I should expect to see him on or near the lead.”

The full field for the 152nd running of the Travers:


PostHorseJockeyTrainerMorning LineLast Start
1Midnight BourbonRicardo Santana Jr.Steve Asmussen9/2DNF, 2021 Haskell Stakes (G1)
2Essential QualityLuis SaezBrad Cox4/51st, Jim Dandy Stakes (G2)
3KeepmeinmindJoel RosarioRobertino Diodoro6/12nd, Jim Dandy Stakes (G2)
4Dynamic OneIrad Ortiz Jr.Todd Pletcher6/11st, Curlin Stakes
5Miles DFlavien PratChad Brown12/12nd, Curlin Stakes
6MasqueparadeMiguel MenaAl Stall Jr.8/13rd, Jim Dandy Stakes (G2)
7King FuryJose OrtizKenny McPeek15/110th, 2021 Saratoga Derby (G1)

Top Choice

#2 Essential Quality – Simply put, he’s just way better than anyone in this race. Even with a horrendous trip last time out, he was still able to win the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2). This field is pretty similar and he’s already defeated the new faces. If he shows up with a top effort like he did in the Belmont Stakes (G1), then we could see a real show. This is the graveyard of champions, but I do not believe this legendary track will claim another victim on Saturday.

“He’s sharp, mentally. He’s sharper this race than going into the Jim Dandy,” Cox said. “My plan all along was to have him peak in this spot. Our goal since the Kentucky Derby was to have him at his best Travers Day, and from a mental and physical standpoint, I feel he’s right where we want him.”

Horses to Use in Mulit-Race Wagers

#4 Dynamic One – He’s the logical contender to try and upset the big favorite, even though his resume is pretty light. After a poor trip/effort in the Kentucky Derby (G1), he ran very well last time out when taking home the Curlin Stakes over this course by multiple lengths. This task is tougher, and while he seems to be the up-and-comer in the race, beating the big gray horse won’t be easy.

“We were happy with the way he was training going into the Curlin,” said trainer Todd Pletcher. “That appears to be his most professional race so far, so hopefully he’s going into his best.”

Exotic Plays

#1 Midnight Bourbon – It’s a miracle this horse didn’t get seriously injured after clipping heels and falling in the Haskell Stakes (G1), so it’s great to see him entered here. While it would be a great story if he won this race, he;s proven time and time again that he’s not quite good enough to win at this level. Still, he always runs as hard as he can and usually hits the board in these spots.

#3 Keepmeinmind – He continues to show up in big races and continues to come running late, hitting the board at a solid price. There was improvement from him last time out under Joel Rosario in the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2); however, he had everything go his way and still couldn’t beat Essential Quality. It’s hard to think he can beat him here, but he’ll be in the mix to finish second or third.

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Party Crashers

#5 Miles D – The Chad Brown trainee will be making his third start off the layoff in his second try going two turns; the two factors combined could lead to improvement here. He was decent last time out in the Curlin Stakes, finishing second in his first stakes try. Now he adds Flavien Prat, and the added distance shouldn’t bother him. He should run a solid race and is the horse you want to use at a big price.

“He’s obviously a bit of a longshot in the race, so he’s going to have to step up,” said Brown, annually a fixture atop the Saratoga trainer standings but who’s yet to win the Travers. “I’m thankful to have a horse in the race and hopefully he runs the race of his life and will be right there.”

Throw Outs

#6 Masqueparade – This horse was great against lessor company in his starts leading up to the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2); however, he didn’t run all that well in that spot. This is a bit tougher, so even though he might improve in his second start over this surface, it probably won’t be enough to make an impact.

“I love the draw. It’s completely different than the Jim Dandy draw,” said trainer Al Stall Jr. “We’re very happy with that. Being on the outside, we can chase some speed. If there’s no speed, we can lay very close. He can be more comfortable. In the Jim Dandy, he was trapped inside between speed horses, so we couldn’t get anything done because they were shuffling us back and we were last on the backside. Now he can float away from there and see how things go. He’s got good natural speed, so I really like where we are. I think he deserves a chance.”

#7 King Fury – It’s just tough to see this horse doing much unless the track comes up sloppy. He’s had a rough go of it since his Lexington Stakes (G3) win, a lot of it not being his fault, but it just makes him up against it in a big way here.

“I think he should have won (the Ohio Derby last time out),” trainer Kenny McPeek said. “He got shuffled back at one point during the race, and I think if that hadn’t happened, he wins handily. He’s a very good horse and he’s going to relish a mile and a 1/4.”

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