The following appeared in Bloodhorse.com on August 21st. The Travers Stakes, in addition to five other Grade I stakes races, will be contested at Saratoga this Saturday, August 25th in the summer’s biggest racing event. Fans can watch and wager the action at any of the four Virginia Bets OTBs — at Breakers Sports Grille in Henrico, at Ponies & Pints in Richmond, at Buckets Bar & Grill in Chesapeake and at The Windmill OTB Sports Grill in Collinsville/Martinsville. Virginia residents can also bet on line at TVG.com, Xpressbet.com, TwinSpires.com and NYRABets.com.
The endgame for the male runners in the $1.25 million Runhappy Travers Stakes (G1) isn’t divisional bragging rights because, let’s face it, that big red ship sailed June 9, shortly after 6:50 p.m.
In completing his Triple Crown sweep, undefeated Justify walked into racing’s annals with undisputed regard as the most superior runner of his generation. While his subsequent retirement opened a door of opportunities for his peers in top-level races still on the table, the historic results of his whirlwind career have made it so that no matter what his fellow sophomores achieve the remainder of the year, they’ll still bump up against a towering measuring stick.
They won’t get another chance at beating Justify, but here is what his best classmates can achieve going forward. They can show how much their own ability has advanced since the rigors of the classic season. They can tout their hardiness over the course of a full campaign. They may even throw down an effort or two that makes the racing community wonder if their more seasoned selves could have eventually knocked the wunderkind off his perch.
An Aug. 25 win in Saratoga Race Course‘s signature race would be a ideal place to start. To that end, a field of 11 led by reigning juvenile champion Good Magic will face off in the 10-furlong Travers Stakes, with the son of Curlin installed as the 2-1 morning-line favorite to conquer his nine male challengers, including stablemate Gronkowski, and the tough filly Wonder Gadot in the 149th edition of the Midsummer Derby.
At the start of the Triple Crown season, the sophomore males were being roundly hailed for their apparent depth of quality. Where Justify took that narrative and turned it into a three-part testimony to his own freakish talent, certain core pieces of the original argument have remained intact.
Just as he began the year at the top of the divisional heap following his championship-securing victory in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) last November, Good Magic comes into the Travers Stakes with his old friend the bull’s-eye back upon his balanced frame. After laying his heart down while chasing Justify in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, the Chad Brown-trained colt showed he still had mojo to spare when he won the July 29 Betfair.com Haskell Invitational Stakes (G1) by three lengths over fellow Travers entrant Bravazo.
Owned by e Five Racing and Stonestreet Stables—which also bred him—Good Magic has repeatedly reinforced Brown’s confidence even when he hasn’t come away with the victory. Where the Travers’ 1 1/4-mile distance may be at the edge of the colt’s stamina, Good Magic’s class still carried him to a runner-up effort behind Justify in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1).
“I’d say 1 1/4-miles is his limit but he’s certainly bred for it,” Brown said. “He ran a great race in the Derby and I think if he runs that 1 1/4-miles race back on Saturday, he’ll be tough. I’ve been trying to win this race for a little while now and to have the top two horses coming in. I can’t think of a better position than that.”
Good Magic has been most effective making a wide, sweeping move on the final turn, and his starting spot out of post 9 should set him up nicely to do just that. If he is in front at the head of the lane, Brown hopes the only thing he sees out of the corner of his eye is his other runner, Gronkowski, trying to do his North American debut one better.
Phoenix Thoroughbreds’ Gronkowski far outran his 24-1 odds when he closed from the clouds after a poor break to finish second in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1). That start marked both the first try on dirt and first outing beyond a mile for the son of Lonhro, with Brown expecting more improvement from the 4-1 second choice on the morning line.
“I’m real happy with both posts, it’s exactly what I wanted. I wanted Gronkowski inside and Good Magic outside, so we got lucky,” Brown said after Gronkowski landed in post 3. “(Gronkowski) is training sharper in the morning. Whether that leads to a better break out of the gate, we’ll see. He’s definitely more aggressive. Now that we’ve had more time with the horse, we’ve gotten to know him better. I just feel he’s in a nice rhythm right now. He’s been breezing a lot sharper.”
There is a case to be made for multiple grade 1 winner Monomoy Girl being the best 3-year-old of either sex still in training. If one subscribes to that theory, Gary Barber’s Wonder Gadot bears a strong look in her latest try against males.
The daughter of Medaglia d’Oro is aiming to make history as the first filly since Lady Rotha in 1915 and eighth filly overall to win the Travers—and trainer Mark Casse has been not-so-quietly confident that his popular distaffer is just now tapping into her best self.
Not only is Wonder Gadot the most seasoned member of the Travers field with 13 career starts, but the leggy dark bay distaffer has thrived when given more ground to work with. She finished second to Monomoy Girl by just half a length in the Longines Kentucky Oaks (G1)—the closest any challenger has come to that chestnut beast this season—and went to take the first two legs of the Canadian Triple Crown, starting with the 1 1/4-mile Queen’s Plate.
“We believe the mile and a quarter really suits her,” Casse said of 5-1 morning-line third choice, who will leave from post 2. “She gets five pounds. We got an extra week off the Prince of Wales, and, voilà. We’re alright with trying to make history.”
Where she sat just off the pace in the Queen’s Plate, her first start racing in blinkers, Wonder Gadot showed her handiness by leading every point of call in the July 24 Prince of Wales Stakes contested over a sealed, sloppy Fort Erie surface.
“She’s pretty versatile and she’s tough, so as long as she breaks good she’s going to be up close, and, maybe she’ll save a little ground, and, hopefully, get lucky,” Casse said.
In Catholic Boy, the Travers field boasts that rare contender that comes into the test off a grade 1 win over the classic distance. That triumph was earned on the turf during his scintillating effort in the July 7 Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes (G1T), but the son of More Than Ready has back class to draw upon on the main track as well.
The Jonathan Thomas trainee won the Remsen Stakes (G2) last December and was on the Road to the Kentucky Derby before finishing fourth in the Xpressbet Florida Derby (G1) where he was reported to have bled.
“You only get so many chances as a 3-year-old to run a mile and a quarter on the dirt two times. I think early on he was going through a bit of a growth spurt,” Thomas said. “Now, we’re bringing a bit of a more mature, stronger young horse. We kind of owe it to him and the clients to give him a shot. It could have significant ramifications in the stud arena and that’s part of our jobs as trainers.”