TRAVERS DAY PREVIEW
Who knew that the Albany Stakes at the time would be so unique?
Because the Albany produced the only winning favorite in 17 races entering Friday afternoon's card at Saratoga.
Will this sudden outpouring of double-digit winners continue into the 13-race Travers program on Saturday? Who can say? But one thing seems certain: a rainy day at the Spa. At least according to the weather channel, which predicts t-storms, and a 90 per cent chance of precipitation.
Since the seven Travers runners have very little wet-track form, notably the favored Quality Road, the real possibility of an off-track throws the proverbial monkey wrench into handicapping the feature.
And what about the supporting card?
No less than six races are scheduled for the grass, starting with the opener at 11:35 a.m. a $59,000 allowance for New York-bred 3-and-up at 1-1/16 miles.
As the New York beat man for 30-odd years for the Post and Daily Racing Form, I've seen enough Saratoga racing to know that the early speed has a huge advantage on sloppy and/or muddy racetracks.
I understand. This is no great revelation. Speed is king on wet tracks everywhere, but it just seems to me this is especially true at the Spa. With that in mind, the first thing you need to do Saturday morning is ring Saratoga Race Course (1-518-584-6200), ask for the racing office, and get the status of the grass races.
Since it's Saturday, and Travers Saturday to be specific, you'll probably be told that, until further notice, they are still on the grass. But that of course is subject to change.
The second thing you need to do is call my John Piesen Hot Line (1-888-612-2283) for Travers Day selections.
The first thing that strikes me about this Travers field is that there are only two grade one winners in the lineup -- Quality Road (Florida Derby), and Summer Bird (Belmont Stakes), and that one (Warrior's Reward) hasn't won a stake of any kind.
The second thing I notice is that none of the seven have started more than seven times. I suspect that this is a first in the 140 runnings of the Travers. It wasn't that far back when horses generally had more than seven starts as a 2-year-old.
The Travers Seven is a combined 21-for-43, not a bad batting average.
There are zero millionaires in the field -- most unusual in this day and age of inflated purses.
Then you have three jockeys who have never been beaten on their Travers mounts. Velazquez is 3-for-3 on Quality Road, Prado 2-for-2 on Kensei, Garcia 1-for-1 on Our Edge.
Our Edge, although the 15-1 rank outsider on the morning line, and the bottom feeder in the DRF rankings, has a legit chance to steal this, especially if the track comes up wet.
Garcia no doubt will send Our Edge, and dare these world-class riders to challenge him. Knowing the psych of these riders as well as I do, none of them want to have to explain to their Hall of Fame and Hall-bound trainers why they used up their horses chasing a 20-1 shot.
It should be noted that two of the horses (Sumo and Pitched Perfectly) who were beaten a pole by Our Edge in the Barbaro at Delaware Park, came back to win at the Spa.
"Why not take a shot?", asks trainer Zito. "That's what we're in the business for."
And Our Edge is at least twice the horse as Da' Tara, who wired the '08 Belmont for the same connections -- Zito, Garcia and owner LaPenta.
Will Our Edge replicate Da' Tara? Probably not. But there are going to be a lot of folks who wish they had a ticket on him going down the backside.
In the absence of Rachel Alexandra and Mine That Bird, Summer Bird emerges as the lone winner of a Triple Crown race to make the Travers. Moreover, he is the only one of the 20 Kentucky Derby starters to make the Travers.
Talk about attrition!
This is the fifth anniversary of Birdstone's victory in the '04 Travers, so if son Summer Bird wins the '09 Travers, turf writers will have their lead for the Sunday papers.
There obviously is a lot to recommend about Summer Bird. His Belmont was no fluke, and he ran big twice in the slop -- a fast-closing, troubled sixth in the Derby, and a second to Rachel Alexandra in the Haskell.
Trainer Ice spent the summer at Monmouth Park watching speed kill. With that in mind, he instructed jockey Desormeaux to change tactics, and send Summer Bird after Rachel early. Because of his inside post, Summer Bird wound up on the rail, the worst part of the racetrack, and never did get to the outside.
Ice promises that Summer Bird will revert to his previous off-the-pace strategy in the Travers. Needless to say, this guy is a must-use.
As for Kensei, it's hard to imagine a son of Mr. Greeley getting a mile and a quarter, but obviously his high-profile connections feel strongly enough in his ability to run him, rather than Rachel, in this spot.
Charitable Man found the mile and a half too far to travel in the Belmont, and had no excuse when third at 6-5 to Kensei in the Jim Dandy. Trainer McLaughlin blamed the rider, not the horse, and switches to Dominguez.
If Our Edge were not in the Travers, I could see CM getting loose on the lead. But Our Edge is in the race.
And as for Quality Road, you won't find better work lines -- three :59s and a '13. Although he has never competed on a wet track, that last :59 came over a muddy Spa strip last Monday.
QR will be a short-priced favorite...and that's the only knock on him.
The Travers, to be run as Race 12 at 5:46 Eastern, will be aired live on ESPN, and will go as the last leg in a $1 million guaranteed stakes pick four.
Let's take a look at the first three legs, remembering that we are the mercy of the weather...
Rutherienne and Cocoa Beach match up in the $200,000 Ballston Spa Handicap for fillies and mares, 3 and up, at 1-1/16 miles on the grass? Both are five years old, both have won 10 races, and both are millionaires.
Rutherienne has never so much has raced over a dirt track, whereas Cocoa Beach is a multiple graded stakes-winner on dirt.
My Princess Jess, from Barbaro's owner and Funny Cide's trainer, won the Lake George over a soft grass course here last year.
Jockey Marquez gives up a potentially lucrative afternoon at his home base at Monmouth Park to pilot longshot Dyna's Lassie, his first mount of the meeting.
Who's right about Teamgeist?
The Argentine import is the 120-pound co-highweight with Rutherienne and Cocoa Beach, but is ranked at the bottom at 15-1 in the DRF selection box.
The $300,000 Ballerina for fillies and mares, 3 and up at seven furlongs, has produced many thrillers over the years, and this should be no exception.
Indian Blessing, 9-4-0 in 14 starts for trainer Baffert, is the only two-time Eclipse Award-winner in training, and will pass the $3 milestone with a victory here.
At 119 pounds, she is getting three pounds from Informed Decision, and goes back to Johnny V, who is 3-1-0 in four rides on her.
Informed Decision is 5-for-5 at seven furlongs, has won her last five starts, and is 8-for-10 for trainer Sheppard..
Both fillies are unbeaten on wet tracks.
The Sheiks cut Music Note back in distance and go to hot stakes jock Maragh.
Speaking of the Sheiks, they purchased Everyday Heroes for big bucks, and Vineyard Haven for bigger bucks, and will run them as a coupled entry in the $300,000 King's Bishop for 3-year-olds at seven-eighths.
Big Drama has been the hard-luck horse of the year, but finally gets a break here, drawing outside in a field of eight. He is 2-for-3 going seven, and the loss was a bogus DQ in the Swale last spring at Gulfstream.
This is a make or break race for jockey Coa, who is off his game at the Spa.
Munnings cuts back off a respectable third to Rachel in the Haskell, but takes the worst of the weights and the draw.
So rain or shine, enjoy Travers Day at the Spa. See you back here next week.
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