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.
This edition of the Travers is shaping up to include a very strong field as the probables include Kentucky Derby runner-up and Haskell winner Good Magic, Jim Dandy winner Tenfold, Curlin winner Hofburg, Wood Memorial winner Vino Rosso, Belmont Stakes runner-up Gronkowski, and Haskell runner-up Bravazo.
In addition, the Travers field is expected to include the first filly in nearly 40 years. When Wonder Gadot enters the starting gate, she will seek to become the first filly to win the Travers since 1915. The filly is named for actress Gal Gadot, who played the role of superhero Wonder Woman in the recent hit movie.
Distance: 1 1/4 Miles
Last Year’s Winner: West Coast
Track and Stakes Record: Arrogate (2016) 1:59.36
** Complete Field & Odds to be posted closer to race day **
Wonder Gadot - First Filly To Win Travers Since 1915?
Already boasting a deep appreciation for the history of Saratoga Race Course, trainer Mark Casse is relishing the opportunity to have star filly Wonder Gadot make some of her own in the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers.
Winner of the first two legs of Canada's Triple Crown, the Queen's Plate and Prince of Wales, Gary Barber's Wonder Gadot will face males again when the 1 ¼-mile Mid-Summer Derby is run for the 149th time on August 25.
No filly has won the Travers since Lady Rotha in 1915. The last filly to try it, Davona Dale, was fourth as the favorite in 1979.
"I've been coming here since I was like 7 years old," Casse said. "When I first thought about it and Gary and I talked about it ... we didn't think about how much excitement it would bring, but it's bringing that and I think it will continue to build which is just great. I love that."
Wonder Gadot worked a half-mile in 48.07 seconds Friday morning over Saratoga's main track, her first breeze since a front-running 5 ¾-length triumph in the Prince of Wales on July 24. The time ranked fifth of 60 horses at the distance.
Going out shortly after the track opened at 5:30 a.m. with exercise rider Chris Garraway up, the 3-year-old daughter of Medaglia d'Oro was caught going her opening quarter-mile in :24 1/5 and galloping out five furlongs in 1:01 and six furlongs in 1:14 2/5.
"She worked ... wonderful," Casse said of the filly nicknamed 'Wonder Woman.' "It was how she did it. She got away a little slow. Chris had never breezed her before but we radioed him and told him to pick it up a little bit and as soon as he asked her, she took off. Then we called back and told him to slow her down.
"We were aiming for 48, and then he dropped her head a little bit and she took off again. She got over it really well," he added. "Her first work back we didn't want her to do too much. That was as fancy as it gets. I would give it an A-plus work."
Wonder Gadot has a record of 5-4-3 and bankrolled more than $1.3 million from 13 career starts. She won the Grade 3 Mazarine and Grade 2 Demoiselle at 2, and had run second or third in her first six starts this year including a runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks before the Canadian Triple Crown races.
Following the retirement of undefeated Triple Crown champion Justify last month, Casse and Barber decided to reroute Wonder Gadot from a planned start in the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama for 3-year-old fillies August 18 and take aim at the Travers.
"We're running in there because, one, we've had great success running our fillies against colts," Casse said, "and when I looked at the numbers and everything and the fact that she's already beaten colts, I think we have a legitimate chance. I'm not in there for the show. I think we've got a big shot to win. I think that's the consensus. We're definitely not hunting bear with a switch.
"I would never want to let her down," he added. "I am about as confident as you can be in horse racing. I am just confident when the dust clears, she is going to be part of the equation. We talked about it, and take nothing away from the Alabama, if she were to have won the Alabama -it's one of the greatest races in North America - but if she were to win the Travers, they will know about her around the world. If [she] wins the Travers, she will be remembered forever."
Wonder Gadot is expected to maintain her regular work schedule leading up to the Travers, Casse said.
"She's in a nice pattern so she doesn't have to do anything different," Casse said. "She has a pattern that she's lived by, and we won't change anything. You'll see her have a similar type work probably next Friday."
Bravazo Preps for Grade 1 Travers Stakes at Saratoga
Calumet Farm's Grade 1 Travers-bound Bravazo was feeling fine following Wednesday morning's breeze, Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. The son of Awesome Again worked a half-mile in 51.60 seconds over the Oklahoma training track. Lukas said the time wasn't exactly what he had in mind, but the 82-year-old conditioner said he will rebound with a sharper plan for next week's breeze en route to the Kentucky-bred's start in the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers on August 25.
"Slow, not what I wanted, but slow is better than fast," Lukas said. "I was looking for a little bit more, but he went by himself. I drilled on him [the exercise rider] that this work was not the one; next week is the one I want to be sharper. I told him don't overdo it. He went too slow, but by a jump or two.
"The easiest thing for a trainer to do is to take a slow work and correct it, but when you get a fast one, a bullet work, boy, you lay awake a little bit. How do you get them back? You left him out there in the morning, and you know it. Now, you've got to really make an adjustment when they go too slow. I'll probably work him back Monday, cut him back in six days where normally I work in seven or eight days."
The work was the first since Bravazo's runner-up finish to Good Magic in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational on July 29. His lone win this year came in the Grade 2 Risen Star on February 17 at Fair Grounds before starting in all three Triple Crown races, where he finished sixth in the Kentucky Derby, second in the Preakness and sixth in the Belmont Stakes on June 9.
Lukas, who added that jockey Luis Saez will remain aboard Bravazo in the Travers, said his colt will be a much better horse when he leaves the gate in the Mid-Summer Derby. He compared Bravazo's growth to 2013 Travers winner Will Take Charge, who finished out of the money in all three legs of that year's Triple Crown before running second in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy and winning the Travers the following month. He eventually fell a nose behind Mucho Macho Man in that year's Breeders' Cup Classic.
"Well we might have to change our strategy in the race a little bit, depending on who goes," Lukas said. "The thing about this horse is he's developing a lot like Will Take Charge. He started getting good at this time of the year. He started developing and started getting stronger. That's what I see happening here, so I'm hoping that's what's going to happen. We may have to change our strategy a little bit. Chad Brown's horse [Good Magic], from where I'm sitting, I think that's a good horse. It's going to be a damn good Travers."
Grade 2 Jim Dandy Winner Tenfold Working Towards Travers
Tenfold is expected to return to the worktab on Sunday morning at Saratoga as he preps for the Grade 1 Runhappy Travers, said Scott Blasi, assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.
The work, set for 6 a.m., will be the first for Tenfold since winning the Grade 2 Jim Dandy on July 28 at the Spa. The Curlin colt bested Flameaway by three-quarters of a length to win at 1 1/8 miles and will now take aim at the Mid-Summer Derby, contested at 1 ¼ miles.
The Jim Dandy was the first stakes win for Winchell Thoroughbreds' homebred, who had previously run fifth in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, third in the Grade 1 Preakness, and fifth in the Grade 1 Belmont. Following the win in his Saratoga debut, Asmussen said Tenfold would have two works before the Travers.
Blasi said regular jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr. is expected to be aboard for Sunday's work.
Midnight Bisou came out of her last breeze on Monday in good order as she points to the Grade 1 Alabama on August 18. One of the top contenders for the 3-year-old filly division, Midnight Bisou ran second to Monomoy Girl in the Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks on July 22 at Saratoga.
On Monday, Midnight Bisou breezed five furlongs in 1:01.02 on the Oklahoma training track. The daughter of Midnight Lute has already registered four graded-stakes wins in the current campaign, racking up victories in the Grade 2 Santa Ynez, Grade 3 Santa Ysabel, Grade 1 Santa Anita Oaks and Grade 2 Mother Goose, the latter on June 30 at Belmont.
"Her last work was nice and if everything continues to go right, we'll train up to the Alabama," Blasi said.
Asmussen will saddle a pair of talented juveniles in Sunday's Grade 2, $200,000 Saratoga Special presented by Miller Lite. Out of the six-horse field, only Sir Truebadour has graded-stakes experience, wiring the field to win the Grade 3 Bashford Manor on June 30 at Churchill Downs.
The Kentucky-bred, who was purchased for $300,000 at Fasig-Tipton's Yearling Sale last summer at Saratoga, drew post 5 and is 9-2 on the morning line with jockey Joel Rosario aboard.
"He's been very precocious early on for us, we need him to continue to improve," Blasi said.
His stablemate, Tight Ten, will make his stakes debut from post 4 at 5-2 odds. The son of Tapit earned a 75 Beyer Speed Figure in his maiden win on June 28 at Churchill, capturing the six-furlong sprint in front-running fashion.
"Tight Ten was impressive racing greenly in his maiden special weight, and he won anyway, so we think he has a tremendous amount of talent," Blasi said.
Catholic Boy On Target For Travers
Trainer Jonathan Thomas said everything is on target for G1 Runhappy Travers hopeful Catholic Boy, who exited his five-furlong work on the main track in 59.66 seconds Monday in good order.
The breeze, under Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano, was his second at Saratoga since his victory in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes on July 7.
"He came out of his last work really well," Thomas said. "We're happy with what he did out here on the main track. Everything is in play at the moment, we're just taking it week by week."
The Kentucky-bred son of More Than Ready gives Thomas versatility in selecting prospective starts for his ridgling. After breaking his maiden over turf at first asking as a 2-year-old at Gulfstream, he returned over a month later, winning the 2017 Grade 3 With Anticipation at Saratoga.
His only career loss on grass came when fourth in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf in November at Del Mar before returning to capture the Grade 2 Remsen at Aqueduct in the finale of his juvenile campaign.
Catholic Boy began his 3-year-old year with a second-place finish in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis on February 10 at Tampa Bay. He continued his journey along the Triple Crown trail by finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Florida Derby on March 31 at Gulfstream.
After it was discovered that he bled in the Florida Derby, Thomas decided to give the earner of $1,172.000 some time off. After a freshening of few months, Catholic Boy returned with wins in his next two starts, the Grade 3 Pennine Ridge on June 2 at Belmont and the Belmont Derby one month later.
"I think the target of the Belmont Derby was very intriguing knowing that he was adept on the grass," said Thomas. "The timing was such that it looked like the most logical target for him. I never thought the mile and a half of the Belmont was really something we wanted to tackle so we circled the Belmont Derby and worked backwards after the Florida Derby."
Thomas said he has faith that Catholic Boy would be tough to contend with in the Travers. More than a few factors have given him the confidence over the last few weeks.
"Obviously we have two more opportunities to breeze him on the main track and see if through a body or work, two more works on the main track, would give us any indication. Javier seemed to be really thrilled with how he breezed the other day, so that gave me a lot of confidence," he said.
"Every time we put a bridle on him, he's tried, so I don't see why this [Travers] would be any different," he added. "There's also big residual ramifications for being a stallion if we were to get it done. I'm lucky to train him and I'm also a fan of him as a horseman because he's sound, hard-sknocking and trying. He's a beautiful colt, so I have a responsibility to try and get him into the stallion barn , and this [Travers] will go a long way. He's really accumulated a little fan base, and as a fan he's just a fun horse to train. It's a lot of fun being around him. I wouldn't be opposed to breezing him on the turf once in between, too."
King Zachary works sharp five furlongs, `all signs are a go' for Travers
Thomas Conway's King Zachary breezed five furlongs in 59.34 seconds with exercise rider Tammy Fox in the irons on the main track Saturday morning and is officially in the mix for the Grade 1 Travers, said trainer Dale Romans.
"He was super," he said. "We can officially be considered in. All signs are a go to the Travers."
The chestnut colt by Curlin will make his start in the Travers after finishing fourth in the Grade 3 Indiana Derby at Indiana Grand Race Course on July 14. Romans will try to capture his second Travers win after saddling fellow Curlin progeny Keen Ice to an upset victory over Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the 2015 Mid-Summer Derby.
"It would be big," Romans said. "It's going to be a good race. I like that move by Mark [Casse]. I think it's brilliant. He's putting the filly [Wonder Gadot] in to see what she can do. I like it."
The Kentucky-bred finished third at Churchill Downs in his only start as a 2-year-old then returned this year and broke his maiden at Gulfstream Park in March. The colt then shipped north to Aqueduct, where he finished sixth in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial on April 7. A closing victory against allowance company at Churchill Downs led to a 4 ¾-length win in the Grade 3 Matt Winn on June 16 before the Indiana Derby.
Stablemate Seven Trumpets earned the bullet for his five-furlong move on Saturday, covering the distance in 58.44 on the main track with Fox. Romans called the work - the fastest of nine - "freaky fast," and added that he will enter the West Point Thoroughbred's Morning Line colt to the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens on the Travers undercard. Seven Trumpets will be one of two saddled by Romans as he plans to send Grade 1 Alfred Vanderbilt winner Promises Fulfilled in the seven-furlong race.
Romans also said that he may gallop Grade 2 Gulfstream Park Oaks winner Coach Rocks up to the Grade 1 $600,000 Alabama on August 18. By Oxbow, Coach Rocks last worked on July 29, her second local work following her runner-up finish in the Grade 3 Delaware Oaks on July 7.
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.