Monday, June 7, 2010

All the prime players aim for Travers

Imagine a race with all three Triple Crown race winners -- Super Saver, Lookin At Lucky, and Drosselmeyer. Throw in the second-place finishers from the Kentucky Derby (Ice Box), Preakness (First Dude), and Belmont (Fly Down), and add a late-developing horse such as Trappe Shot, too. What do you have? Quite possibly the Travers Stakes.

This year's Triple Crown series ended on Saturday with no clear-cut leader among the nation's 3-year-old males, a position that was abdicated when Eskendereya, the winner of the Wood Memorial and Fountain of Youth Stakes, was injured prior to the Kentucky Derby and subsequently retired. No one has stepped into fill the void. As of now, though, all the remaining prominent horses in the division are pointing for the Travers on Aug. 28 at Saratoga, making that race, long known as the Mid-Summer Derby, the next best chance for a leader to emerge.

Drosselmeyer, the Belmont winner, and Super Saver, who won the Derby, will both point for the Travers, according to Elliott Walden, the racing manager for Bill Casner and Kenny Troutt's WinStar Farm, which owns both colts. Each horse will have one prep before then.

"We hope one of them ends up being the 3-year-old champion," Walden said. "We've put ourselves in that position going into the second half of the year. We will probably split them for their next race, then get them back together for the Travers and see what happens."

Walden said the obvious Travers preps for both are the Jim Dandy at Saratoga on July 31, and the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth on Aug. 1. Both of those races are at 1 1/8 miles. The Travers is 1 1/4 miles.

Walden called the win by Drosselmeyer, who is trained by Bill Mott, "very satisfying."

"We've had a lot of hopes for him," Walden said. "You get tired of making excuses. He had a great four weeks after the Dwyer. It was the perfect set-up race. He had a big work on Monday. We were hopefully optimistic. We felt like he had it in him. It was nice to see him do it. And it was nice for Billy."

Mott, a Hall of Famer, got his first Triple Crown race win with Drosselmeyer, who gave jockey Mike Smith his first win in the Belmont.

Super Saver, trained by Todd Pletcher, has resumed regular training at Belmont Park. He was kept out of the Belmont after running poorly in the Preakness.

"He's putting weight back on," Walden said. "I think the three races in five weeks got him."

Super Saver was second in the Arkansas Derby in his final prep for the Kentucky Derby.

Walden said that if Super Saver had won the Preakness and been shooting for the Triple Crown in the Belmont, he would have lobbied for WinStar to run Drosselmeyer, too.

"It would have been an interesting debate," Walden said.

WinStar's feat of winning two-thirds of the Triple Crown with different horses was last achieved by W.T. Young's Overbrook Farm in 1996, when Grindstone won the Derby and Editor's Note the Belmont.

As for Lookin At Lucky, he returned to Southern California following the Preakness. His trainer, Bob Baffert, has said that the Haskell is his most likely next start.

As with WinStar, trainer Nick Zito is desirous of splitting up his two colts -- Fly Down and Ice Box -- for their preps for the Travers. Zito on Monday said he believes Ice Box is better suited to the track layout at Monmouth, which is a one-mile oval, like Churchill Downs.

"With him, the Haskell is a good spot. I know Bob," Zito said, referring to owner Robert La Penta, "would like to win the Travers. And our main goal at the end of the year is the Breeders' Cup Classic."

Zito said he would prefer to run Fly Down in the Jim Dandy, but first needed to consult with owner Richard Pell.

"I'd like to go that way," Zito said. "We'll find races. You're not going to run out of good races for good horses."

Zito said Ice Box, who ran poorly as the favorite in the Belmont, displaced his palate while not adjusting to the warm, humid conditions.

"The heat got to him," Zito said. "It was all anxiety. If you can't breathe completely going a mile and a half, you're not going to run. He came back sound."

Zito had a frustrating Triple Crown. In addition to finishing second in the Derby and Belmont, he was third in the Preakness with Jackson Bend.

"With a little bit of luck, we might have won the whole Triple Crown," he said. "But you've got to be happy you have those kinds of horses to run in these types of races."

Another potential starter in the Haskell or Jim Dandy is Trappe Shot, who was an impressive winner of an allowance race on Saturday's undercard. His trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin, said Trappe Shot would run in the Long Branch at Monmouth on July 10 "to see if he can go two turns."

If he can, the Travers would be the goal, McLaughlin said. If not, the seven-furlong King's Bishop would be targeted. Both are Grade 1 races on the same day at Saratoga.

"Our ultimate goal is Aug. 28 at Saratoga," McLaughlin said. "He can run in the Travers or the King's Bishop. Backing up from there, he could run in the Jim Dandy or the Haskell, or the Amsterdam. The Long Branch will tell us if he can't go long. If he can't, we'll back up and point for the King's Bishop, maybe by sprinting in the Amsterdam. He's a very talented horse." JPrivman

Image shown: Saratoga Race Course entrance

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