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A total of 11 sophomores will line up on Saturday to contest the 149th running of the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers Stakes. Life in the 3-year-old division carries on without the presence of Triple Crown winner Justify, which makes this race a gamblers delight in what looks to be one of the year’s more balanced races so far. The Travers headlines an amazing day at Saratoga with six other graded stakes races on the card, including five Grade 1s – the Sword Dancer, the Ballerina, the Allen H. Jerkens, the Forego, and the Personal Ensign – as well as the Grade 2 Ballston Spa. Fox Sports 2 kicks off the Saratoga television coverage from 1:00 – 4:00 PM ET before NBC broadcasts live from 4:00 – 6:00 PM ET. First post for the amazing day of racing will be at 11:35 AM ET.
Headlining this year’s race will be the Chad Brown-trained Good Magic. With Justify retired, Good Magic has become the top 3-year-old in training and is coming in off of a big-time score in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational. He will try to become the first horse since Point Given in 2001 to pull off the Haskell/Travers double. Good Magic has been installed as the morning line favorite at 2-1, while Brown’s other entry, Gronkowski, is the second choice at 4-1. Gronkowski comes into this race off of an impressive United States debut in the Belmont Stakes, where he was second to Justify.
“I’m real happy with both posts, it’s exactly what I wanted,” Brown said. “I wanted Gronkowski inside and Good Magic outside, so we got lucky. I’ll have to look at the pace once we handicap the race, but that’s what we wanted, the outside post, just leave out of there and use (Good Magic’s) speed early, to get a good, forward position. Gronkowski will probably drop behind again and hopefully break a little better than he did in the Belmont. They’ve been training terrific, thankfully. Both horses have trained over this track particular well. They are coming off strong works heading into the Travers.”
The Mark Casse-trained Wonder Gadot is also making headlines in this race. She is set to become the first filly since Davona Dale in 1979 to start in the Travers, and her connections are hopeful that their 3-year-old star can become the first filly to win the race since Lady Rotha in 1915. Quick math tells you that it’s been over 100 years since that occurred, but Casse believes that he has a special filly on his hands. After back-to-back wins against the boys in the Canadian Triple Crown series, she’ll see if she can now recreate that success against open company.
“(Owner) Gary Barber is never afraid to step out of the box,” Casse said. “We believe the mile and 1/4 really suits her. She gets five pounds (of relief compared to the males). We got an extra week off the Prince of Wales, and, voilà. We’re all right with trying to make history.”
The full field from the rail out: Trigger Warning, Wonder Gadot, Gronkowski, Bravazo, Vino Rosso, Meistermind, King Zachary, Mendelssohn, Good Magic, Tenfold, and Catholic Boy.
#9 Good Magic – He is clearly the second-best horse in the crop after his dominating Haskell win. During the Triple Crown season, he was a determined second in the Kentucky Derby before standing toe-to-toe with Justify in the Preakness Stakes. Those races, as well as his huge Breeders’ Cup Juvenile win last year, show that he is a world-class animal. This will not be an easy task, but he might have the class to pull it off, and Brown is on fire at Saratoga.
#4 Bravazo – This is one tough race horse! Bravazo developed quickly in the winter/spring, which led to victory in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds. That race earned him a spot in the Kentucky Derby, where he finished a decent sixth. The Preakness seemed to be his real coming out party, though, as he came flying late to almost nail Justify at the wire. He then went on to the Belmont Stakes, where he finished sixth, before running second last time out in the Haskell. Lukas believes that this horse is only getting better and is ready to fire with another solid effort again here.
#3 Gronkowski – Was his last race a fluke, or is Gronkowski for real? That is the question that all handicappers are pondering. His Belmont Stakes effort will make him tough to beat in this spot, but can he repeat? We have seen many horses hit the board in the Belmont but have not done much running after. This race will give us a good indication of his true talents.
#5 Vino Rosso – It has been an up-and-down season for this son of Curlin. He has won just once this year, but he’s competed against top-class company all year long. His Wood Memorial win landed him a spot in the Kentucky Derby, where he finished ninth, but he was an improved fourth in the Belmont Stakes. Last time out, he dropped way behind early before rallying to finish third in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes. He’ll like the added distance here, and if he gets some pace to run at up front, then he could be a factor.
#11 Catholic Boy – Even though he seems to be at his best when running on the turf, his connections have opted to try dirt once again in this very tough spot. He is 4-for-5 overall on the grass and has three graded stakes wins, including the Grade 1 Belmont Derby last time out, but on dirt, things haven’t gone quite as well – he has just 1 win in 3 starts on that surface. We know he’ll like this distance, which is a plus, but his past record on the dirt definitely leaves question marks.
#10 Tenfold – This lightly-raced colt made his presence felt on the Triple Crown trail with a third in the Preakness and a fifth in the Belmont Stakes. After those efforts, you had to know that he had a big race with his name on it, and that turned out to be true when he won the Jim Dandy last time out. His final time and Beyer were not all that impressive, but you have to remember that he drifted out for basically the entire stretch and still won. He must be much more professional here in order to have a shot, but if he can straighten it all out, then he will have a shot.
#8 Mendelssohn – Hype doesn’t even begin to describe the talk about this horse. At times, it was warranted. The breeding speaks for itself, but he has proven his worth on the track, too. Last year, he shipped to the United States to win the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf, and this year, he absolutely dominated rivals in the Group 2 UAE Derby. However, his last two races have been disasters – he was last in the Kentucky Derby and a well-beaten third in the Grade 3 Dwyer Stakes. He needs to rebound in a big way here.
#2 Wonder Gadot – Casse makes a very ambitious move here, sending out his star filly against the boys. There are some positives working in his favor – Wonder Gadot is on a two-race winning streak while also knowing that she likes going the 1 1/4-mile distance. She also gets Irad Ortiz, Jr. to ride after a fever knocked his original mount, Hofburg, out of the race. Obviously, the big negative is that a filly has not won this race in over a century. Casse should be applauded for trying, but the task will be very difficult.
#7 King Zachary – Trainer Dale Romans still believes that this horse belongs among the top of the division, which is why he has spotted him in this race. After breaking his maiden in the spring at Gulfstream Park, Romans quickly entered him in the Wood Memorial, where he finished sixth. After that race, he dropped down to allowance company and won, then dominated rivals in the Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes next time out. However, he must rebound here off of a poor performance last out in the Grade 3 Indiana Derby, where he finished a disappointing fourth.
#1 Trigger Warning – You could say that this horse is coming in fairly hot after two solid performances in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby and the Indiana Derby, where he finished third and second, respectively. Before those efforts, he had won two straight, including the $100,000 Tom Ridge Stakes at Presque Isle Downs. The Travers is a major move up in class for him, though, which is his biggest question mark.
#6 Meistermind – This is an interesting entry, as he is only a maiden winner and was a well-beaten fifth in his local debut at Saratoga against allowance foes. He might just be entered in this spot to keep his Steve Asmussen stablemate Tenfold company.
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