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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: Catholic Boy
Track and Stakes Record: Arrogate (2016) 1:59.36
Tax and Tacitus, the one-two finishers of the Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes, renew their rivalry on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course in the 150th running of Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers Stakes.
The familiar foes - the 5-2 favorite Tacitus and the 6-1 Tax - will be meeting for the fifth time this year in the "Mid-Summer Derby", headlining an August group of 12 sophomores for the 1 ¼-mile race, including multiple graded-stakes winners Code of Honor, Mucho Gusto and Owendale and a pair of formidable contenders from Saratoga leading trainer Chad Brown in Highest Honors and Looking At Bikinis.
The Travers is the centerpiece of a card featuring seven stakes and six Grade 1s, including the, $850,000 Sword Dancer; $700,000 Personal Ensign presented by Lia Infiniti; $500,000 Ketel One Ballerina; $600,000 Forego presented by Encore Boston Harbor; and $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial presented by Runhappy. Rounding out the blockbuster card is the Grade 2, $400,000 Woodford Reserve Ballston Spa.
Race 11 at Saratoga on Saturday, August 24 - Post 5:44 PM
|2||Code of Honor||4-1||John Velazquez
|Claude McGaughey III|
|3||Highest Honors||10-1||Luis Saez
|4||Laughing Fox||30-1||Ricardo Santana, Jr.
|7||Mucho Gusto||6-1||Joseph Talamo
|8||Chess Chief||30-1||Mike Smith
|9||Looking At Bikinis||10-1||Javier Castellano
|10||Scars Are Cool||30-1||Tyler Gaffalione
|12||Tax||6-1||Irad Ortiz, Jr.
Tacitus, trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott, struck the first blow between the rugged rivals in capturing the Grade 2 Wood Memorial on April 6 at Aqueduct Racetrack when 1 ¼-lengths the better of Tax.
The grey son of Tapit, out of 2014 Eclipse Award winner Close Hatches, followed up with a strong rally to be placed third in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby with Tax placed 14th after a troubled trip.
Garrett O'Rourke, General Manager of Juddmonte Farms, said a win in the Travers would be a huge boost to Tacitus' stallion credentials.
"He couldn't be bred any better," said O'Rourke. "I think everyone appreciates that when they look at a pedigree and see that you're the first foal out of a champion mare, inbred to Unbridled and by the best dirt stallion around. He physically resembles Unbridled, but is also same color as Tapit and has a lot of Tapit traits in him."
Both Tacitus and Tax, conditioned by Danny Gargan, skipped the middle leg of the Triple Crown and continued their battle in the final jewel, the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes, where Tax dueled pacesetter Joevia as Tacitus rallied from seventh to finish second behind Sir Winston, with Tax settling for fourth.
Last out, in a dramatic edition of the Jim Dandy, Tacitus stumbled badly at the start of the nine-furlong route as Tax tracked Grade 1 Preakness winner War of Will through swift splits. Although Tacitus gamely made up ground down the backstretch, and surged strongly the final 70 yards, Tax got first jump turning for home and held on strong for a three-quarter length score.
With one win apiece, the Travers will serve as a lucrative tie-breaker as both rivals arrive in search of a first Grade 1 victory.
Tacitus, winner of the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby in March, will add blinkers for the first time as he departs from post 6 under Jose Ortiz.
O'Rourke said Tacitus should continue to improve as he matures.
"I think, at the end of the day, good horses will overcome things and a big horse like him, he ran tremendously well in the Derby and the Belmont and again in the Jim Dandy," said O'Rourke. "He's gradually getting there, but he's not a horse that was fully mature in May. He's gradually getting to that point. When he does get there, he'll be able to work around his bad luck events and get himself in the race early and use that big, long stride effectively."
Tax, claimed for $50,000 out of a winning effort at Keeneland on October 21, finished third in the Grade 2 Remsen in his first start for new connections ahead of a narrow head score in the Grade 3 Withers, both at the Big A.
Gargan said he relishes the underdog role with Tax, a dark bay son of Arch.
"Well, I haven't taught him how to read yet, so he doesn't know he's an underdog," said Gargan, with a laugh. "Nobody wrote about us going into the Jim Dandy and we did just fine and nobody's really written about us now, but I think he's in his best form today.
"Tacitus has beaten us once [Wood Memorial], but I think that was a misjudgment by me not to train him up for that race from Florida," added Gargan. "We stayed with him in New York and missed some time. In the Derby, he didn't really go over the track well and that race took a lot out of him. I don't think I had him 100 percent fit for the Belmont, but if I did, I think we would have won that race as well. Since then, he's been doing great and training forwardly. We're excited and ready to run."
Irad Ortiz, Jr. has the call aboard Tax from the outside post.
W.S. Farish's Code of Honor, a chestnut son of Noble Mission, won the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park in February. Following a good third in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, Code of Honor rallied strongly along the rail in the Kentucky Derby in which he was placed second. Code of Honor will have the benefit of two Hall of Fame connections, with trainer Shug McGaughey seeking his fourth Travers win and jockey John Velazquez.
"I think he's come a long way in the last two or three months and I don't think the distance will be a problem," said McGaughey. "He's a laid-back, one-run type of horse and that's what we'll try to do with him. Hopefully, at the quarter pole, we're in a decent position where he can go on and make his run and see what happens."
Velazquez, aboard Flower Alley for a victory in the 2005 Travers, will guide Code of Honor, 4-1, from post 2.
Michael Lund Petersen's Mucho Gusto, trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, arrives at the Travers from a runner-up effort in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational.
The four-time Grade 3 winner, who captured the Bob Hope at Del Mar at 2 years old, as well as the Robert Lewis, Affirmed and Laz Barrera this year at Santa Anita Park, has never finished off the board in eight starts. The chestnut son of Mucho Macho Man will look to give Baffert his fourth Travers win and third in four runnings, with Arrogate taking the 2016 edition in a Travers record time for 1 ¼ miles, and West Coast in 2017.
Baffert said he relishes a chance at another Travers score.
"It's always great to be a part of the Travers. It's an event," said Baffert. "The city embraces it and everyone is into it. It'll be an exciting race, with a lot of good horses."
Joe Talamo has the call from post 7 at odds of 6-1.
A $200,000 purchase at the 2017 Keeneland September Sale, Rupp Racing's Owendale appears to be peaking at the right time, capturing the Grade 3 Ohio Derby last out after running third in the Preakness.
Trained by Brad Cox, Owendale has recorded Beyer Speed Figures in excess of 90 in each of his last three starts, starting with a 98 for his 1 ¾-length win in the Grade 3 Lexington at Keeneland in April, setting him up for his start in the Triple Crown's middle jewel. The son of Into Mischief, who has been training at Churchill Downs, will be making his Saratoga debut at odds of 6-1.
Florent Geroux retains the mount from post 1.
Chad Brown, a three-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer, is in search of his first Travers win and will have two chances.
Highest Honors, also owned by Farish and listed at 10-1, has been stretched out in distance in each of his three previous starts, which includes back-to-back wins after running second in his debut at 6 ½ furlongs in April at Keeneland. The Tapit colt broke his maiden going 1 1/16 miles on June 1 at Belmont and then won the 1 1/8-mile Curlin last month at the Spa.
Jockey Luis Saez will be attempting to earn his second Travers victory aboard Highest Honors after winning six years ago aboard Will Take Charge, the 2013 Champion 3-Year-Old Male. Highest Honors will depart from post 3.
Long Lake Stable, Madaket Stables, Thomas Coleman and Doheny Racing Stable's Looking At Bikinis, also 10-1, finished third in his stakes debut in the Curlin. Purchased for $240,000 from the Ocala Breeders' Sales Company's 2-Year-Olds in Training Sale last April, Looking At Bikinis won his first two starts, besting eventual graded-stakes winner Cutting Humor in his debut in September at Belmont Park. Hall of Famer Javier Castellano will be looking to add to his record six Travers victories, including his triumphant ride last year aboard Catholic Boy. They will depart from post 9.
Godolphin's Endorsed, at 15-1, is coming off his best stakes effort, running second to Highest Honors in the 1 1/8-mile Curlin. Out of the Grade 1 winning Tapit broodmare Dance Card, Endorsed broke his maiden at Saratoga at first asking. He is trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, who won the 2012 Travers when Alpha dead-heated with Golden Ticket.
The son of 2002 Travers winner Medaglia d'Oro will look to become the first son of a Travers winner to take the "Mid-Summer Derby" since Alpha, a son of 2006 hero Bernardini. Joel Rosario has the call from post 11.
McLaughlin said Endorsed, who exited a six-furlong allowance win into his runner-up Curlin effort, should enjoy the added distance on Saturday.
"He went from six to nine furlongs; we think he wants the distance," said McLaughlin. "He's doing fabulous coming out of the Curlin. I don't think there's any bad post in a 1 1/4 mile race. We'll leave it to Joel to decide whether we'll be forwardly placed or take back."
Dale Romans will saddle graded-stakes veteran Everfast for Calumet Farm, entering off a fourth-place finish in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational in July at Monmouth Park. His runner-up effort to War of Will in the Preakness, at odds of 29-1, earned him a personal-best 96 Beyer Speed Figure.
A son of Take Charge Indy, he has been ambitiously placed throughout his career, running in the Grade 3 Iroquois in his second career start and following with the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity a month later. On the Derby trail, Everfast ran second in the Grade 2 Holy Bull. A seventh-place finisher in the Belmont Stakes, Everfast will be making his fourth consecutive Grade 1 appearance. Martin Chuan will pilot Everfast, a 30-1 choice, from post 5.
Alex and JoAnn Lieblong's Laughing Fox, who finished fifth in the Grade 1 Preakness, returned to Saratoga for the first time since his debut in August 2018 to run fourth in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy in July. The son of Union Rags has trained at the Spa since and will be Hall of Fame conditioner Steve Asmussen's fourth Travers starter since 2016.
Asmussen said the notable defections of Maximum Security and Game Winner from the Travers have changed the pace scenario for the 1 1/4-mile test.
"Obviously, the complexion of the race has changed considerably the past couple of weeks. It's a very interesting group of three-year-olds meeting," said Asmussen. "I think the conditions in which the race is run under will be interesting. 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."
Purchased for $375,000 at the Ocala Breeders' Sale, the Kentucky bred earned stakes blacktype for the first time when capturing the 1 1/8-mile Oaklawn Invitational on May 4. Ricardo Santana, Jr. will guide Laughing Fox, 30-1, from post 4.
Rounding out the field are maiden winners Chess Chief, trained by Dallas Stewart for the Estate of James Coleman, Jr. at odds of 30-1; and Scars Are Cool, trained by Stanley Hough for Sagamore Farm, also at 30-1.
Hall of Famer Mike Smith, a four-time Travers winner, rides Chess Chief from post 8, while Scars Are Cool will leave from post 10 under Tyler Gaffalione.
W.S. Farish's homebred Code of Honor, a chestnut son of Noble Mission, posted his final workout in preparation for the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers on Monday morning on the Oklahoma training track.
Hall of Fame conditioner Shug McGaughey, in search of his fourth Travers win after previously winning with Easy Goer in 1989, Rhythm in 1990 and Coronado's Quest in 1998, said he was impressed by Code of Honor's effort.
"We just wanted to get a handy half-mile into him, just a blow out," said McGaughey. "I thought it went excellent. He went in 49 and 2 and galloped out really well, which he always does. It was a pretty exciting work for me and I'm looking forward to Saturday."
A winner at first asking last August at Saratoga, Code of Honor followed up with a rallying second in the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont. He began his sophomore campaign on the Kentucky Derby trail at Gulfstream Park, finishing fourth in the Mucho Macho Man before a driving three-quarter length score in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth.
After a troubled third in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, Code of Honor loomed large in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby advancing along the rail through the final turn to take the lead with a quarter-mile to run, where he was impeded by Maximum Security before re-rallying to finish third. The disqualification of Maximum Security elevated Code of Honor to second, with Travers rival Tacitus, winner of the Grade 2 Wood Memorial, placed third.
"We had a very good trip until we got to the quarter-pole and then Maximum Security bore out and we kind of eased up in there, and when he came back over I thought he intimidated us a little bit," said McGaughey. "At that time, he was still mentally and physically immature. I don't know that it cost us the race by any means, but I think it cost him a little bit when he came back over and tightened it up on him down on the rail."
Freshened up following the Derby effort, Code of Honor returned with renewed vigor on July 6 at Belmont to win the Grade 3 Dwyer with an eventful last-to-first rush under Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez.
"I knew, unless we won the Derby, that I wasn't going to run him back in the Preakness or the Belmont. I knew where the Dwyer was and that's where I wanted to start him back," said McGaughey. "There again, he did everything right between the Derby and the Dwyer and I would have been awfully disappointed if he didn't run well. But, he did run well and he showed me some things that day that I hadn't seen before when he had to switch course a little bit. When he was making his move and it didn't seem to bother him, I was very pleased with what I saw."
McGaughey said Code of Honor has continued to improve out of the Dwyer.
"He's had time between races now and he's done everything right. I can't see that his last race [the Dwyer], which was back in the first part of July, took anything out of him. I think he's done nothing but move forward," said McGaughey.
The post-position draw for the Travers is set for 6 p.m. on Tuesday from the Adelphi Hotel in downtown Saratoga, with a prospective field of 12 including, Chess Chief [Dallas Stewart, Mike Smith], Code of Honor [McGaughey, Velazquez], Endorsed [Kiaran McLaughlin, Joel Rosario], Everfast [Dale Romans, Martin Chuan], Highest Honors [Chad Brown, Luis Saez], Laughing Fox [Steve Asmussen, Ricardo Santana, Jr.], Looking At Bikinis [Brown, Javier Castellano], Mucho Gusto [Bob Baffert, Joe Talamo], Owendale [Brad Cox, Florent Geroux], Scars Are Cool [Stanley Hough, Tyler Gaffalione], Tacitus [Bill Mott, Jose Ortiz], Tax [Danny Gargan, Irad Ortiz, Jr.].
McGaughey said he isn't too concerned with which post his star pupil lands at Tuesday's draw.
August 19 - Bob Baffert will have a horse in the $1.25 million Runhappy Travers, after all.
The Hall of Fame trainer said Monday that Mucho Gusto, runner-up in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on July 20, will run in the Travers on Saturday at Saratoga.
"He came out of the Haskell really well, and he breezed this morning [at Del Mar], and went really well, really strong,'' said Baffert. "When they work like that, I like to run them the next week."
Owned by Michael Lund Petersen, Mucho Gusto worked five furlongs in 59.20 seconds, the fastest of 39 workers at the distance. Baffert said Mucho Gusto will be shipped on Tuesday, and that his assistant Jimmy Barnes will be at the race.
The 3-year-old son of Mucho Macho Man will be ridden by Joe Talamo.
Mucho Gusto won a pair of Grade 3 events at Santa Anita Park, the Laz Barerra and the Affirmed in his two previous starts before the Haskell, where he finished 1 ¼ lengths behind the winner, Maximum Security. He's hit the board in all eight career races, including three wins, a second and a third in 2019. The chestnut colt has career earnings of $630,800.
"With that work, he punched his own ticket to the Travers,'' said Baffert. "We think he's ready to do something big."
Late last week, Baffert withdrew 2018 Eclipse Award champion 2-year-old Game Winner from Travers consideration after the colt came down with a virus.
Mucho Gusto will be the 10th Travers starter for Baffert, who has previously won the "Mid-Summer Derby" with Point Given in 2001, Arrogate in 2016 and West Coast in 2017. His 2015 Triple Crown winner American Pharoah finished second to Keen Ice.
Chess Chief, a Virginia-bred son of Into Mischief, posted a bullet breeze at Churchill Downs on Monday, covering four furlongs in 48 flat working in company with allowance winner Twelfth Labour.
Stewart said the work went well and that he had landed Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, a four-time Travers winner, to ride on Saturday.
"He worked great. They worked head-and-head together," said Stewart. "Mike Smith is going to ride him in the Travers."
Trained by Dallas Stewart for the Estate of James Coleman, Jr., Chess Chief will step into Grade 1 company for the first time in the Travers.
Chess Chief graduated at fifth asking on March 19 at Fair Grounds when making his first start around two turns. The improving bay, an April foal, was sent to the nine-furlong Grade 2 Blue Grass at Keeneland out of the maiden score and ran fifth at odds of 85-1.
Most recently, Chess Chief has tackled the talented Mr. Money, a multiple graded-stakes winner on a four-race win streak, finishing fourth in the Grade 3 Indiana Derby and second, last out, in the nine-furlong Grade 3 West Virginia Derby, where he earned a career-best 90 Beyer Speed Figure.
"He ran pretty good the other day and hopefully he's getting better with age," said Stewart. "His races are getting better and he's by Into Mischief, who is hot as a firecracker."
Stewart said the recent departure of Maximum Security and Game Winner from the Travers, as well as the added distance on offer, provided the impetus to enter the late-blooming colt in the "Mid-Summer Derby."
"He ran big going a mile and an eighth and I thought a mile and a quarter would suit him," said Stewart. "It's a big race and a couple of the heavy favorites aren't going, so we're giving it a shot.
"He's a mid-pack horse and comes on with a finish," added Stewart. "They say this race might be lacking a little pace, but we'll see what happens."
Martin Chuan, a 24-year-old Peruvian jockey who has been riding this summer at Ellis Park, will be aboard Preakness runner-up Everfast in Saturday's Grade 1 Runhappy Travers, trainer Dale Romans said Monday morning.
A multiple Group 1 winner in his home country, Chuan is 5-4-4 from 24 starts at Ellis Park this year, with four winners for Romans and one for Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.
"I think he's an excellent rider; he's the king of South America," said Romans, whose son, Jacob, is holding Chuan's book. "I think he's going to be on par with the Ortiz brothers someday. He's intelligent, well-grounded ... I think he can really ride and I know I'll get 100 percent effort with a horse who'll be a bit of a price."
Chuan has won more than 1,200 races in his home country, said his agent. Last year, he rode briefly at Ellis, winning two races from 15 starts, before returning to Lima, where he is the country's leading rider. Prior to that, he rode once at Churchill Downs in 2017 and once at Turfway Park in 2013, finishing off the board in both races.
August 17 - Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott is not afraid to try something new before a big race. So when the discussions came up to race Tacitus with blinkers for the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers, he was not hesitant to make the equipment change.
Juddmonte Farms' homebred dual Grade 2 winner sported blinkers when beginning "Mid-Summer Derby" preparations, which included a final breeze on Saturday morning over the Oklahoma training track at Saratoga Race Course when the gray or roan Tapit colt went five furlongs in 1:00.48 in company with Seismic Wave. Regular rider Jose Ortiz was aboard for the journey, the fastest of five recorded works at the distance.
"It was what we were looking for. He was a bit more focused with the blinkers," Ortiz said. "There was a loose horse, so we pulled up at the quarter-pole and when he galloped to the seven-furlong [pole] he was very focused. Before, he used to look around and play around, but he doesn't do that now, so that makes me more confident. He worked unbelievable. He has a nice way that he goes, he can do 12s the whole way around there."
Tacitus, who is out of 2014 Champion Older Filly Close Hatches, enters the Travers off a pair of runner-up finishes in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes and the Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes, where he stumbled coming out of the gate, but managed to recover enough to finish a strong second to fellow Travers aspirant Tax.
"It was a small field, but it was very impressive what he did," Ortiz said. "He went to his knees, got up and ran a very nice race. I think he's probably one of the best three-year-olds but he's just been very unlucky. Hopefully, we turn the tables in the Travers. We talked about [adding blinkers] after the [Jim] Dandy and we both agreed. He [Mott] said he'd think about it. He ran third in the Derby, second in the Belmont, so we didn't want to change much."
Mott was pleased with how Tacitus trained with blinkers and said that he appears much more focused than before.
"I think the blinkers seem as though they helped him focus a little bit. Even in the workout, it looked like his head carriage was a little more straight and level," Mott said. "Does he absolutely have to have them? Maybe not. But if they help him an inch it'll be worth it. The good thing is that they didn't make him anxious or rank. They just helped him focus through the stretch."
Mott added he was satisfied with the work.
"I thought it looked good. He tracked [Seismic Wave] and joined him at the head of the lane. It looked like he cruised on by with not a lot of encouragement," Mott said. "He was very focused. He galloped out nicely."
Tacitus began his 3-year-old season on a high note with victories in the Grade 2 Tampa Bay Derby and the Grade 2 Wood Memorial and was subsequently placed third in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby. Tacitus was unfortunate in his last two outings, where he had a wide post and trip in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes and stumbled badly coming out of the gate in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy.
"When he arrived at the eighth pole in the Jim Dandy, Jose still thought he had a little more horse and he started to play with them a little bit," Mott said. "Part of that could have been fatigue as well. Sometimes horses start to fatigue and maybe they're a little more apt to not be as forward. Maybe he had a little more but the fatigue might have taken over."
Give the outside post that Tacitus drew in the Belmont, Mott would prefer to break elsewhere in Travers.
"We thought [the outside post] would be okay in the Belmont and it didn't work well for us. I thought we'd get a clean trip, which we did, but we also got a wide trip," Mott recalled. "The winner [Sir Winston] was forced to be inside and because of where the field required him to be, he was down inside and it opened up and he went. It was a terrific ride by Joel Rosario [aboard Sir Winston] and a perfect run by the horse, but it was circumstances on his part and circumstances on our part. You see that a lot of times, you're stuck inside and it forces your jock to save ground. They don't have an opportunity to come out and it opens up and away they go. Each race is different, you can't predict what will happen."
With the recent defections of reigning Champion 2-Year-Old Game Winner and two-time Grade 1 winner Maximum Security, Tacitus could end up being the favorite for the Travers.
"At this juncture, anybody who has a horse just hopes they stay healthy until race time, whether it's a soundness issue or whether there's a virus," Mott said. "You cross your fingers and hope you stay in good shape. I don't think you want to be acting joyous over someone else not being able to run because you could be in the same shoes. We were bringing Hofburg up last year and he got sick right before the race. I'm just worried about my one horse and cross my fingers that he stays healthy for race day."
August 17 - Three-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown, currently at the top of the Saratoga trainer standings with 21 wins and a comfortable 10-win lead with 13 days remaining in the meet, is the overwhelming favorite to wrap up his fourth consecutive trainers title at the historic summer stand.
Brown will look to cap another successful summer with his first career victory in the Travers, saddling pair of formidable contenders in Highest Honors and Looking At Bikinis.
W.S. Farish's Highest Honors, a Tapit gray, and Long Lake Stable, Madaket Stables, Thomas Coleman and Doheny Racing's Looking At Bikinis, by Lookin At Lucky, visited the main track following the renovation break at 8:45 a.m.
Highest Honors completed five furlongs in 1:01.66.
"He went super," said Brown. "It was a nice little maintenance move. He galloped out strong and came back with a lot of energy."
Highest Honors finished second by a neck in his career debut on April 20 at Keeneland, and graduated in his second start going 1 1/16 miles on June 1 at Belmont Park. The rapidly improving colt won his stakes debut in the Curlin on July 26 by 1 ½ lengths over a muddy track, besting stablemate Looking At Bikinis.
"He's been looking for a mile and a quarter for some time," said Brown. "I know he's lightly raced and lacks some experience, but I'm confident the distance will suit him."
Looking At Bikinis posted a five furlong move in 1:00.85. The well-regarded colt won his first two career starts at Belmont Park winning his debut in September of 2018 and returning to take an optional-claiming race on June 27. Sent off as the even-money favorite in the Curlin, he broke alertly and took the lead before fading to finish third by a neck.
"He bounced out of the Curlin well," said Brown. "We only wanted to go onto this race if he trained well and he has. I'm hoping his performance last time was compromised by the wet track. Hopefully, if the conditions are dry, he can work out a better trip and we'll see his previous form."
Highest Honors will be ridden by Luis Saez. Hall of Fame rider Javier Castellano will be aboard Looking At Bikinis in the Travers.
August 15 - Trainer Jason Servis said today that multiple Grade 1 winner Maximum Security will skip the Travers Stakes on Aug. 24 at Saratoga to point to the Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 21 because the Haskell Invitational and Florida Derby winner "still is not 100 percent."
"I don't like where he's at. He's not eating the way I want him to eat and he's not carrying the weight I'd like to see him carry," Servis said late Thursday afternoon in making the announcement. "I just want to make sure he's 100 percent for his next race and he's not there right now.
"The best thing is to wait until he is 100 percent and point to the Pennsylvania Derby."
Maximum Security, the first horse disqualified from first place in the Kentucky Derby, has been stabled at Monmouth Park since returning from Louisville in early May.
The absence of the Gary and Mary West-owned colt from the Grade 1 Travers follows on the heels of the announcement that Game Winner, also owned by the Wests, would pass the Travers as well due to a health issue. The $1 million Pennsylvania Derby is also a Grade 1 race.
"With Game Winner out, if Maximum Security was 100 percent I'd go to the Travers," Servis said. "But he's just not back to where he was. I'll probably give him a week off and that still gives me more than four weeks until the Pennsylvania Derby.
"I'm fortunate to have patient owners in the Wests who will allow me to take a step back if I don't feel the horse is 100 percent. It's easy to run. But if I ran him when he wasn't 100 percent, you come out of the race saying to yourself `What was I thinking?' "
Gary and Mary West's multiple graded-stakes winner Game Winner will miss his next scheduled start in the 150th running of the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers due to a virus, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said.
"We're still absorbing the disappointment," said Baffert. "He's going to be fine, but it's the timing."
Game Winner posted a six-furlong breeze in 1:12 flat on Tuesday at Del Mar, but Baffert said the reigning Eclipse Award-champion 2-Year-Old was not being his usual self on Thursday morning.
"He worked great, but today he had a little temperature," said Baffert. "There's been a little virus going through the barn. He was my second one this week. I hope it stays away from the others."
Game Winner won three Grade 1 races in a spectacular 2-year-old campaign that include a victory in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. After finishing fifth in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby, Game Winner made a tremendous return to the winner's circle with a five-length score in the Grade 3 Los Alamitos Derby.
Baffert said he was uncertain where the 3-year-old Candy Ride colt would run next.
"It's too bad because he couldn't be doing better right now," added Baffert. "I haven't thought about anything now."
Rupp Racing's Owendale will have one final work in Kentucky before travelling to Saratoga next week for the 150th running of the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers, trainer Brad Cox said Thursday morning.
Owendale, the third-place Preakness finisher who has compiled a 4-1-2 record through 10 career starts, will be making his first start at the Spa and is coming off a half-length win over Math Wizard in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby on June 22 at Thistledown in his last start.
"He's doing great. He's going to breeze Saturday at Churchill and fly to Saratoga on Tuesday," Cox said. "We thought all along that he could be a horse who matures with age, and he has. He's responded well. If everything goes well Saturday with the breeze, which we expect it to, he should be ready for the 24th."
The Into Mischief colt started his sophomore campaign with a win against optional claimers on January 17 at Fair Grounds and stepped up to stakes company with an eighth-place finish in the Grade 2 Risen Star at the same track in February.
Owendale notched his first stakes win next out in the Grade 3 Lexington at 1 1/16 miles at Keeneland, setting him up for his first start in a Classic when he earned black type behind Everfast and winner War of Will in the Grade 1 Preakness on May 18 at Pimlico, marking Cox's first on-the-board finish in a Triple Crown race.
Out of that effort, Owendale earned a personal-best 99 Beyer Speed Figure in besting the six-horse Ohio Derby field at 1 1/8 miles. He will now stretch out to the Travers distance of 1 ¼ miles for the first time.
"With Bernardini on the mare side and having Into Mischief, there's probably a little bit of a question mark with a mile and a quarter, but he's a big, leggy horse who covers a lot of ground, so we're optimistic," Cox said.
Code of Honor posted his third workout since winning the Grade 3 Dwyer at Belmont Park on July 6, and Hall of Fame conditioner Shug McGaughey said W. S. Farish's Code of Honor is looking good two weeks away from his next expected assignment in the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers on August 24.
The Noble Mission colt breezed four furlongs in 47.85 seconds in company on Sunday on the Oklahoma training track, leaving his trainer in good spirits.
"He looked really good this morning," said McGaughey. "We opted to skip the Jim Dandy following the Dwyer because he tends to like having more time between races. We're 13 days away now and we're on target."
The Dwyer was a second graded stakes victory for Code of Honor, who took the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park on March 2 before finishing third in the Grade 1 Florida Derby to Maximum Security.
McGaughey is in search of his fourth Travers win after has previously winning the race with Easy Goer in 1989, Rhythm in 1990 and Coronado's Quest in 1998.
August 10 - On Saturday morning at Saratoga, Brown's Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers contenders Highest Honors and Looking At Bikinis were on the work tab.
Long Lake Stable, Madaket Stables, Thomas Coleman and Doheny Racing Stable's Looking At Bikinis won his first two starts impressively at Belmont Park earning a 95 Beyer in an optional-claiming mile score over Not That Brady in June. Last out, sent to post as the even-money favorite in the nine-furlong Curlin over a muddy Saratoga main, Looking At Bikinis set the early pace but faded to third as Highest Honors rallied from last-of-six for a 1 1/2-length score.
Highest Honors, a Tapit grey owned and bred by W.S. Farish, earned a 94 Beyer for the Curlin win after a promising maiden victory at Belmont on June 1.
Looking At Bikinis worked four furlongs in 48.85 seconds on Saturday morning on the Saratoga main track, while Highest Honors, a half-brother to multiple Grade 1-winner Diamondrella, went a half-mile in 49.98.
Brown said both horses worked well in preparation for the Travers.
"It was just a maintenance work and he galloped out very strong," said Brown regarding Highest Honors. "I'm happy with how both horses are moving."
The three-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer said a muddy track may have been Looking At Bikinis undoing last out.
"Going into that race, I thought the distance would be his friend," said Brown. "I guess he didn't fire. The track was really wet and he was on a bad rail that day, so it's hard to evaluate him. I'll see how he works next week before making a decision on that horse."
Gary and Mary West's multiple graded-stakes winner Maximum Security breezed four furlongs in 54 seconds flat on August 7 at Monmouth Park as he continues preparations for his next start in either the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers on August 24 at Saratoga Race Course or the Grade 1, $1 million Pennsylvania Derby on September 21 at Parx.
Trainer Jason Servis said a decision is forthcoming for the winner of both the Grade 1 Florida Derby and Grade 1 Haskell Invitational.
"We'll make a decision soon for his next start. I just want to make sure he is 100 percent, but he's still not there yet," said Servis.
Early probables for the Grade 1 Runhappy Travers include: Code of Honor (Shug McGaughey); Endorsed (Kiaran McLaughlin); Everfast (Dale Romans); Game Winner (Bob Baffert); Highest Honor (Chad Brown); Laughing Fox (Steve Asmussen); Lookin At Bikinis (Brown); Maximum Security (Jason Servis); Owendale (Brad Cox); Tacitus (Bill Mott); and Tax (Danny Gargan).
Michael Dubb, Madaket Stables and Bethlehem Stables' World of Trouble continues to recover from a bruised foot which forced Servis to scratch the multiple Grade 1 winner from the Grade 3, $200,000 Troy on August 3 at the Spa.
"We're still battling a little foot issue with him," said Servis.
World of Trouble, riding a five-race win streak including the Grade 1 Carter Handicap at Aqueduct and Grade 1 Jaipur June 8 on Belmont Stakes Day last out, is targeting the Grade 3, $300,000 Turf Monster on September 2 at Parx.
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.
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