Twelve For 150th Travers At Saratoga
Saratoga’s Feature Attracts Competitive Field
By Margaret Ransom
Juddmonte Farms’ grade 2 winner Tacitus was labeled the 5-2 morning line favorite for Saturday’s $1.25 million Travers Stakes (GI) at Saratoga and the gray colt will face off against 11 rivals for the 150th running of the Saratoga summer racing season feature. The Bill Mott-trained son of Tapit—Close Hatches, by First Defence hasn’t won a race since collecting the victory in the Wood Memorial Stakes (GII) at Aqueduct in early April, but his troubles in the Kentucky Derby (GI), Belmont Stakes (GI) and especially the Jim Dandy Stakes (GII), where he stumbled badly leaving the gate, are more than sufficient excuses and his connections no-doubt are hoping for a clean trip in the Travers, including a victory.
The “Midsummer Derby” is the feature on a tremendous card that features seven stakes, six of which are Grade 1 — $850,000 Sword Dancer, $700,000 Personal Ensign presented by Lia Infinity, $500,000 Ketel One Ballerina, $600,000 Forego presented by Encore Boston Harbor and $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial presented by Runhappy. What the Grade 2, $400,000 Woodford Reserve Ballston Spa lacks in graded status it more than makes up for in quality.
Tacitus, who will carry regular rider Jose Ortiz in the Travers, drew post position six and will wear blinkers for the first time on Saturday.
“You can get a good trip from that post or a bad trip from that post, so we’re hoping for a good trip,” Mott said. “His training has been good. I think we’re just looking for that breakout race and for him to have his day in the sun.”
“(Winning the Travers) would mean as much to me as a Triple Crown race. I’m not sure it wouldn’t mean more.”
Joining Tacitus in the Travers gate will be Jim Dandy winner Tax, who faces off with the favorite for the fifth time; Fountain of Youth Stakes (GII) winner Code Of Honor; Haskell Invitational (GI) runner-up Mucho Gusto; Ohio Derby (GIII) winner Owendale,; Preakness Stakes (GI) runner-up Everfast; and a handful of other runners who have yet to stand out but are looking to rise in the ranks of the sophomore division.
R.A. Hill Stable, Reeves Thoroughbred Racing, Hugh Lynch and Corms Racing Stable’s Tax, who was haltered by trainer Danny Gargan for a mere $50,000 out of his second start at Keeneland back in October (compared to the $738,000 he’s earned so far in his career) was made 6-1 on the morning line despite his Jim Dandy victory and the fact his only off-the-board performances of his career were in the roughly run Kentucky Derby, where he was 14th, and the Belmont Stakes where he finished an even fourth.
Tax, a gelded son of Arch and the Giant’s Causeway mare Toll, drew the far outside in the 12-runner race and Irad Ortiz Jr. will be in the irons again.
“From the 12-hole, we have no choice, so we’ve got to go,” Gargain said of the early race scenario for Tax. “I don’t know what’s done it, but he’s just gotten better with time. He’s getting stronger. It’ll be a strong race, so if we just run them off their feet he’ll win. I think it’s a strong crop. It’s a bunch of good horses and they’re all about the same horse. I think whoever gets the best trip and controls the race wins it. I think whoever has the lead at the eighth pole wins it. I think if I have the lead at the eighth pole, I’ll win the race. So, my goal is to have the lead at the eighth pole.”
W.S. Farish’s homebred Code of Honor, who was third in the Florida Derby (GI) after winning the Fountain of Youth, finished a deceptively good third (bumped to second after the disqualification of Maximum Security) in the Kentucky Derby and came back to romp by 3 ½ lengths in the Dwyer Stakes (GIII) in early July. Since then the Shug McGaughey-trained son of Noble Mission has been at Saratoga where he hasn’t missed a beat. He was made 4-1 on the morning line and will have John Velazquez, who won the 2005 Travers on Flower Alley, aboard. The pair will break from post position two.
“(The post position) didn’t matter to me,” Hall of Famer McGaughey said. “It’s the luck of the draw, whatever you get. They’ll spread themselves out going a mile and a quarter. We’ve got a good rider in Johnny Velazquez and he’ll know how to navigate around there, so I wasn’t real worried about the post.
“Naturally, everybody’s going to say (horses are training) real good, but he has been training very well. I thought he was a little bit lazy coming out of the Dwyer for three or four days, but we got him up here and he’s done everything I’ve asked of him. He had a good blowout (Monday)and I think he’s enjoyed his time up here. We’ll just see what happens Saturday.
“He’s by Noble Mission, who ran long on the grass in Europe. I think he’ll get (the distance). He needs to be ridden right, and he will be ridden right. He’s a one-run horse, and you’ve just got to be patient with him and get him a trip. In the Derby, I’m not trying to stand here and say he might have won but he was compromised a little bit when the horse (Maximum Security) came back over. I think he flinched a little bit from that and it took away from his run just a little bit. He was third-best, and we got lucky and moved up to second.”
Michael Lund Petersen’s Mucho Gusto, a hard-trying second to Maximum Security in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on the hottest day of the summer in the state, is a four-time grade 3 winner who is making his first stab at 10 furlongs. He has a pedigree that suggests he should handle it fine (by Mucho Macho Man—Isagiantcauseway, by Giant’s Causeway) and a two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer in Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, who apparently thinks so too. A good tactical turn of foot will help as well, depending on the early pace scenario.
The three-time Travers winner brings jockey Joe Talamo to Saratoga for his first Travers mount on Mucho Gusto and the pair will break from post two. The morning line maker assigned them to be co-third choice.
“It’s always great to be a part of the Travers,” Baffert said. “It’s an event. The city embraces it and everyone is into it. It’ll be an exciting race, with a lot of good horses.”
Rupp Racing’s Owendale makes his return to grade 1 company in the Travers off a win in the Ohio Derby at Thistledown three months ago. Brad Cox Jr. trains the son of Into Mischief, who has been doing exceptionally well at Churchill downs since that last start. He’s never tried this distance, but was a decent third in the Preakness at just a sixteenth of a mile shorter, and his chances certainly increase if the pace is quick as expected. Florent Geroux retains the mount and they will lead the field to post.
Leading trainer and multiple Eclipse Award-winner Chad Brown has yet to win a Travers, but will tighten the girth on two this year, Highest Honors and Looking at Bikinis.
Will Farish also owns Highest Honors, who won the Curlin Stakes over this track at nine furlongs a month ago in only his third career start. The gray son of Tapit and Tap Your Feet will have Luis Saez, who won the Travers in 2013 aboard Will Take Charge, in the irons for the first time. He is 10-1 on the morning line and drew post postion three.
Long Lake Stable, Madaket Stables, Thomas Coleman and Doheny Racing Stable own Looking At Bikinis, who was third behind his stablemate in the Curlin Sakes. The son of Lookin at Lucky—Bikini Beauty, by Bernardini will carry six-time and leading Travers winner Javier Castellano looking for a repeat after guiding Catholic Boy to the win a year ago. Looking At Bikinis will break from post nine.
Godolphin’s homebred Endorsed was second behind Highest Honors in the Curlin Stakes last out and the well-bred bay son of 2002 Travers winner Medaglia d’ Oro and the grade 1-winning Tapit mare Dance Card will be making his third start off an eight-month break for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin which, coupled with pedigree, suggests he will be fit to go the distance in his first stab at it. Joel Rosario rides in search of his first Travers victory from post position 11. McLaughlin sent out Godolphin’s Alpha to a dead-heat Travers win in 2012 for his only victory in the race.
“He went from six to nine furlongs; we think he wants the distance,” McLaughlin said. “He’s doing fabulous coming out of the Curlin. I don’t think there’s any bad post in a 1 ¼-mile race. We’ll leave it to Joel to decide whether we’ll be forwardly placed or take back.”
Calumet Farm’s Everfast is still eligible for all of his conditions despite racing 12 times after his debut score at Ellis Park a year ago, but did finish second in the Preakness and the Holy Bull. Churchill Downs’ leading trainer Dale Romans conditions this son of Take Charge Indy, who will be ridden for the first time by Peru’s leading jockey Martin Chuan. This longshot will break from post position five.
Alex and JoAnn Lieblong’s Laughing Fox, who won the Oaklawn Park Invitiational on Kentucky Derby Day, seems to have issues when he takes on graded stakes company and is coming off a fourth-place finish in the Jim Dandy Stakes last out. The Steve Asmussen-trained son of Union Rags has been in Saratoga since late June and has trained great, but he needs more than that to be a factor against this bunch.
Regardless, Asmussen remains positive about the colt’s chances under jockey Ricardo Santana Jr.
“I think the conditions in which the race is run under will be interesting,” Asmussen said. “Most of these three-year-olds’ last races, whether it was the weather here in the Jim Dandy or the heat in the Haskell, or not run since the Belmont, whatever the conditions were, they weren’t favorable. I think the race lacks a lot of pace; Saratoga speed seems to be so effective. That’ll be a huge concern.”
Maiden winners Chess Chief, who is trained by Dallas Stewart for the Estate of James Coleman, Jr., and Scars Are Cool, who is conditioned by Stan Hough for Sagamore Farm.
Mike Smith, a four-time Travers winner, will be aboard Chess Chief from post position eight, while Scars Are Cool will leave from post ten under Preakness winner Tyler Gaffalione.
The 2019 Travers field, with jockeys and trainers:
- Owendale, Florent Geroux, Brad Cox, 6-1
- Code of Honor, John Velazquez, shug McGaughey, 4-1
- Highest Honors, Luis Saez, Chad Brown, 10-1
- Laughing Fox, Ricardo Santana, Jr, Steve Asmussen, 30-1
- Everfast, Martin Chuan, Dale Romans, 30-1
- Tacitus, Jose Ortiz, Bill Mott, 5-2
- Mucho Gusto, Joe Talam, Bob Baffert, 6-1
- Chess Chief, Mike Smith, Dallas Stewart, 30-1
- Looking at Bikinis, Javier Castellano, Chad Brown, 10-1
- Scars Are Cool, Tyler Gaffalione, Stanley Hough, 30-1
- Endorsed, Joel Rosario, Kiaran McLaughlin, 15-1
- Tax, Irad Ortiz, Jr., Danny Gargan, 6-1
The Saratoga Springs weather is expected to be beautiful and warm, with partly sunny skies and highs in the mid-70s. The Travers has been carded as the 11th race with a post time of 5:44 p.m. ET and will be televised live on FOX from 5:00 to 6:00 p.m. ET. Undercard coverage will also be televised on a special Travers Day edition of Saratoga Live, airing nationally on FS2 from 11:30 to 5:00 p.m. ET. Regional coverage of Saturday’s Saratoga Live can be found on MSG+, FOX Sports Prime Ticket and Altitude.