Although Triple Crown winner Justify was missing due to his summer injury, the 149th Travers Day at Saratoga last Saturday played out as if this year’s Breeders’ Cup Day at Churchill Downs (in November) will have to produce amazing performances to be as good.
There were six Grade-1 stakes and a very good Grade-2 on the Travers Day card that produced some of the very best performances of the year.
For instance, in the 7 furlong Allen Jerkens Stakes for 3-year-olds, 6-5 favorite Promises Fulfilled led throughout to score by 1-1/4 lengths over 32-1 shot Seven Trumpets in the good time of 1:21.44 to take down $275K of the $500K purse.
In the 1-1/8 mile Personal Ensign for fillies and mares, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert won his first of two big stakes on this great card. Here his Abel Tasman, favored at 7-10 odds with Mike Smith aboard, scored by a neck over Elate, after the two 4-year-olds bumped sharply in midstretch. No claim of foul was allowed to alter the outcome.
This actually was Abel Tasman’s second victory in two Saratoga starts dating back to July 2017. It also earned the winner $375,000 and a solid 105 Beyer Speed Figure.
In the very next race, Baffert and Smith teamed up again to win the 7 furlong Ballerina Stakes as their 19-10 favorite Marley’s Freedom rallied from about four lengths back to easily defeat slow-breaking 9-1 shot Still There. The winner not only earned $275K from the $500K purse, but her margin at the wire was 3-1/4 lengths after the latter stumbled leaving the starting gate.
The winner’s final time of 1:21.39 also proved slightly faster than Promised Fulfilled needed to defeat male rivals in the Allen Jerkens. Nevertheless, due to other factors that can influence final time clockings, her Beyer was a flat 100 – somewhat less than the 5-year-old gelding Whitmore would earn in the very next 7 furlong stakes on this amazing card.
Yes, in $600K, 7 furlong, Forego Stakes, Whitmore rallied strongly from sixth at 8-1 to defeat 4-5 favorite City of Light by 1-1/2 lengths. The final clocking in this 7-panel race was 1:21.46, which did earn Whitmore a solid 104 Beyer that ranked close to the best of the day.
Moving to the turf for the $1 million, 1-1/2 mile Sword Dancer, Glorious Empire surprised many Saratoga fans who let this proven turf performer go to the post at 15-1 odds.
Trained by James Lawrence, who works well with imports – and ridden by Julien Leparoux , one of America’ top turf jockeys – Glorious Empire led almost every step of the way while being chased by second place finisher Channel Maker. The final clocking was 2:24.41 was, less than a second off the 2:23.1 course record and earned the winner a 106 Beyer. Best of the Day!
Pre-race favorite Sadler’s Joy never reached a contending position at $2.35-1 odds.
In the $1.25 million Travers stakes – an historically important 1-1/4 mile race for top 3-year-olds – the winner Catholic Boy overcame a wide trip from his outside post position 11, to score a dominating four-length victory over front-running Mendelssohn in 2:01.94.
The performance not only earned Catholic Boy a 104 Beyer but this hard-hitting sophomore, who has excellent form on dirt and turf, impressed me so much that if he stays healthy, I expect him to be a solid contender against older horses in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs on Nov. 3.
Even beyond the six Grade-1 stakes at Saratoga on Saturday, the Grade-2, $400K Woodford Reserve at 1-1/16 miles on the grass certainly proved to be a strong event. It was won wire to wire by 7-2 shot Quidura over 8-1 shot Hawksmoor, with 9-10 favorite A Raving Beauty finishing a disappointing fourth.
Taken together, all of these stakes certainly helped to attract the 49,418 fans in attendance while setting the all-sources, record pari-mutuel handle of $52,086,597 established at Saratoga on this special day.
Beyond those numbers, Travers Day definitely provided a good list of horses that will deserve to be watched carefully through the next dozen weeks leading to the rich Breeders’ Cup races to be run at Churchill Downs, Friday, Nov. 2 and Saturday, Nov. 3. Frankly, I thought this racing day was one of the best I’ve seen in many seasons.
Added Note: While good races are being run this summer at Del Mar, including Saturday’s 7 furlong, $200K Pat O’Brien stakes won by Catalina Cruiser, there has been no single day at any track this year to equal what we saw at Saratoga on Travers Day, Aug. 25.