The Travers Stakes, also known as the Midsummer Derby, is one of the most historic races in the country and has been an annual feature at Saratoga for nearly as long as the track has been running.
Distance: 1 1/4 Miles
Last Year’s Winner: West Coast
Track and Stakes Record: Arrogate (2016) 1:59.36
2018 Travers Stakes Odds & Entries
Race 11 on Saratoga's Saturday card with a Post Time of 5:44 PM
|1||Trigger Warning||30-1||Irwin Rosendo||Mike Rone|
|2||Wonder Gadot||5-1||Irad Ortiz, Jr.||Mark Casse|
|3||Gronkowski||4-1||Joel Rosario||Chad Brown|
|4||Bravazo||12-1||Luis Saez||D. Lukas|
|5||Vino Rosso||10-1||John Velazquez||Todd Pletcher|
|6||Meistermind||30-1||Manuel Franco||Steven Asmussen|
|7||King Zachary||15-1||Robby Albarado||Dale Romans|
|8||Mendelssohn||12-1||Ryan Moore||Aidan O'Brien|
|9||Good Magic||2-1||Jose Ortiz||Chad Brown|
|10||Tenfold||8-1||Ricardo Santana, Jr.||Steven Asmussen|
|11||Catholic Boy||8-1||Javier Castellano||Jonathan Thomas|
It's been more than a century since a filly was led into the winner's circle after the Travers, and nearly 40 years since one even left the starting gate in the Mid-Summer Derby.
On Saturday, Wonder Gadot is set to become the first filly since Davona Dale in 1979 to start in the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers at Saratoga Race Course, and her connections are hopeful their 3-year-old star can become the first filly to win the race since Lady Rotha in 1915.
Other fillies to win the Travers include Maiden (1865), Ruthless (1867), The Banshee (1868), Sultana (1876), Liza (1895) and Ada Nay (1903).
"Travers Day is always a special and spectacular day, and this year has the potential to be truly historic when Wonder Gadot attempts to become the first filly to win the Runhappy Travers in more than a century," said Chris Kay, President and CEO of the New York Racing Association.
Taking on the boys in one of racing's glamour races doesn't happen often, but on the rare occasion it does, it adds more excitement to an already prestigious event. Triple Crown winner Justify may be retired, but a filly taking on the best of the rest of the 3-year-old males in the 1 ¼-mile Travers is a pretty good draw in itself.
"You want to watch to see if they can do it, if they can beat the boys,'' said Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who sent out filly Silverbulletday in the 1999 Belmont Stakes, where she finished seventh. "It makes the race even more exciting, and it's cool if you can pull it off."
Through the years, some thrilling Triple Crown races involved girls against boys: filly winners include Genuine Risk in the 1980 Kentucky Derby and Winning Colors in the 1988 Derby, Rags to Riches in the 2007 Belmont Stakes and Rachel Alexandra in the 2009 Preakness.
Also, not many among the Spa crowd of 31,171 will forget Rachel Alexandra's stirring win over fast-closing Macho Again in the Grade 1 Woodward. Two years later, the filly Havre de Grace took the Woodward.
And let's not forget Zenyatta continuing her unbeaten streak by winning the 2009 Breeders' Cup Classic, followed a year later with the only loss of her career, by a head to Blame in the 2010 BC Classic. Beholder fared pretty well, too, winning the Grade 1 Pacific Classic in 2015 and 2016.
This time around, Wonder Gadot's owner Gary Barber and trainer Mark Casse have zeroed in on the Travers.
"We think she's special,'' said Casse, "and we're going to try and prove it."
Casse has gone this route before, with success. In 2015, his 4-year-old filly star Tepin beat the boys in the Breeders' Cup Mile, and in 2016 she won the Queen Anne at Royal Ascot, the Woodbine Mile and ran second in the Breeders' Cup Mile.
Wonder Gadot has taken on the boys twice before, beating Canada-breds in the Queen's Plate and the Prince of Wales at Woodbine in her last two races - the first two legs of the Canadian Triple Crown.
Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas, who will try to beat Wonder Gadot on Saturday with Preakness runner-up Bravazo, is quite familiar with sending out top fillies against males. In addition to Winning Colors, he won the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational in 1992 with Serena's Song and has saddled several others to take on males.
"You better have the right one, and this race on Saturday is a very tough one to try it,'' said Lukas. "First of all, though, she has some credibility [with her last two wins], and you have to respect the filly."
Lukas tested the waters with Winning Colors before sending her out in the Derby, and the filly went out and won the Santa Anita Derby. He did the same with Serena's Song, who won the Grade 2 Jim Beam, ran 16th in the Kentucky Derby and came back a few months later and won the Haskell.
A number of factors are involved in making the decision to challenge the boys.
"You start seeing that they are a little bit special,'' said Lukas. "And she has to be a filly that has to get into the race. I don't think he [Casse] wants to have a filly eight to 10 lengths back coming through and trying to run these colts down. You've got to look at the field and see if you belong, and then maybe take a chance."
Rags to Riches, trained by Todd Pletcher, became the first filly in 102 years to win the Belmont.
"It's something you put a lot of thought into,'' said Pletcher about making the choice to enter his filly in the Belmont. "The one thing we knew about Rags to Riches is she was capable of getting the mile-and-a-half. Obviously, with Wonder Gadot, she's been successful at a mile-and-a-quarter."
Physique also is a consideration.
"Generally, the fillies that are successful against males are more robust, stronger constitution types,'' added Pletcher. "Then, of course, there's the talent level. You can check all those boxes [for Wonder Gadot]."
For his part, Casse says females versus males happens more often in Canada, and while he knows the Travers is a different scenario, isn't intimidated.
"I don't think it's daunting," he said. "I think the best way to describe it is more interesting."
Wonder Gadot, who will be ridden by Irad Ortiz, Jr., comes into the Travers with a record of five wins, four seconds and three thirds from 13 starts, having lost twice to Monomoy Girl, in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks and in the Grade 2 Rachel Alexandra.
Nonetheless, Wonder Gadot - named for the actress Gal Gadot, who plays Wonder Woman in the movies - will be a fan favorite.
"She'll have half the population [rooting for her],'' said Lukas. "And she'll have a few males supporting her, too."
Baffert, a two-time Triple Crown winner (with American Pharoah and Justify), will be at Saratoga to send out Abel Tasman in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign. He won't have a horse in the Travers, but you can bet he'll be paying attention.
"With the filly, it's a race you don't want to miss,'' he said.
About the Travers Stakes
The Travers Stakes is the oldest major stakes race in the U.S. having first been conducted in 1864.
The Travers was named for William R. Travers, president of the old Saratoga Racing Association. The initial running of the race was won by his horse Kentucky. From 1864 to 1889, the race was run at 1 3/4 miles, and the current distance was adopted for the 1904 running.
In 1941 Triple Crown champion Whirlaway became the first and only horse to win the Travers after sweeping the Triple Crown. In the 1982 Travers, Canadian champion Runaway Groom became the first horse to defeat the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont winners in a single race. No other horse has accomplished this feat since. In 2012 Alpha and Golden Ticket won the race the first and only Travers dead heat.
Other top horses to win the Travers include Bernardini, Medaglia d'Oro, Holy Bull, Easy Goer, Forty Niner, Alydar, Arts and Letters, Damascus, Sword Dancer, Native Dancer and Man o' War.