QUALITY ROAD THE TRAVERS FAVORITE
Quality was more important than quantity on Wednesday when NYRA set the odds for Saturday's $1 million Travers Stakes.
That's Quality Road, to be exact, made the 8-5 favorite by NYRA oddsmaker Eric Donovan even though the 3-year-old colt has raced only once in five months and is making a huge jump in distance from his most recent start to the 11/4 miles of the Midsummer Derby.
Quality Road also received the No. 4 post when the seven-horse field was drawn in the paddock for the 140th running of the Travers, the oldest stakes at Saratoga Race Course.
"I guess it's the position you want to be in," Todd Pletcher, Quality Road's trainer, said of being the favorite. "The horse is doing very well and training well so we're looking forward to it. I really didn't think about (the odds) too much. I wasn't sure he'd be the favorite, but he deserves a lot of respect based on his record."
Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird is the second choice at 3-1 and will break out of the No. 6 post. Kensei, in the No. 7 post, carries 7-2 morning-line odds after his victory in the Jim Dandy at the Spa in July.
The field was reduced by one when Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird had to withdraw with throat problems.
Although he's been lightly raced of late, Quality Road's two most recent outings have resulted in track records at the Florida Derby on March 28 and the Amsterdam Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 3.
In between, he was sidelined with hoof injuries that took him off the Kentucky Derby trail and was transferred to Pletcher from the barn of Jimmy Jerkens.
In his first start under Pletcher, Quality Road finished the 61/2-furlong Amsterdam in 1 minute, 13.74 seconds, which broke a 30-year-old track record.
At issue is whether it's enough to prepare him for the much longer Travers. "He's proven himself to be a nice horse, and I think Todd will have him ready to run," said Tim Ice, who conditions Summer Bird.
Pletcher pointed out that under the care of Jerkens, Quality Road won the Florida Derby in a record 1:47.72 at nine furlongs.
"He's an exceptional athlete," Pletcher said. "He's very talented. He's got speed and he's capable of carrying it over a distance of ground. He won the Florida Derby at a mile and an eighth so we're hoping some of that foundation will help us on Saturday."
It's not unprecedented for a horse to be favored in the Travers coming off a period of relative inactivity. Bellamy Road was the 2-1 choice in 2005 in his first race since the Kentucky Derby.
Pletcher won his first Travers with Flower Alley that year with Bellamy Road coming in second.
"I'm not surprised at all that (Quality Road) is the favorite," said jockey John Velazquez, who rides the son of Elusive Quality. "Everyone's been watching him since Florida."
Another horse that bears watching is Summer Bird, who seems underestimated even though he won a Triple Crown race. His sire, Birdstone, won the 2004 Travers.
Ice pointed out his horse has never gone off at odds lower than 3-1.
"I kind of like being overlooked," Ice said. "They overlooked us a lot in the Belmont, and he performed well. It's fine. It doesn't matter to me. I'm going to train my horse and have him ready to run, regardless of what other people think of him."
by Mark Singelais
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