The Race Is for Place in the "Midsummer Derby"
Does it sound too simplistic to think Zayat Stables, LLC's AMERICAN PHAROAH will reassert his dominance over fellow 3yo’s in the 146th running of the Travers Stakes at Saratoga on August 29, 2015?
There have been some upsets thoroughbred racing fans were intermittently exposed to through the years?
Triple Crown winners have succumbed at “The Graveyard of Champions”: SECRETARIAT lost to ONION in the 1973 Whitney…AFFIRMED was disqualified in the 1978 Travers after interfering with arch rival ALYDAR. Then there was RUNAWAY GROOM, who defeated eventual champion CONQUISTADOR CIELO and the two other Triple Crown race winners in 1982.
|Beautiful Saratoga, grandstand view from the backside.|
The inimitable Charlie Whittingham once said, “Horses are like strawberries, they spoil overnight.” We also know that terrible racing luck, unexpected race riding (see SMARTY JONES’ 2004 Belmont Stakes loss), and the inexplicable clunker (see AMERICAN PHAROAH’s debut) can fell the best of horses.
However, over the last 15 years, Champions WILL TAKE CHARGE (2013), SUMMER BIRD (2009), and BERNARDINI (2006), Horse of the Year POINT GIVEN (2001), along with heavily favored Kentucky Derby winner STREET SENSE (2007) have graced the Travers Stakes winner’s circle.
AMERICAN PHAROAH has already defeated all of this year’s “Midsummer Derby” starters save 20-1 shot SMART TRANSITION and a pair of 50-1 bombers, MID OCEAN and KING OF NEW YORK. His speed figures are best, whether by BRIS or Beyer (sheets players will have to chime in). The race shape is squarely in the Bob Baffert trainee’s favor, with vanquished Haskell Invitational second choice UPSTART the only other E/P designated style in the field. Should anyone try to exert early energy chasing while AMERICAN PHAROAH gallops to the lead, they’re sure to lose their needed kick and any chance of being second in the demanding 1 ¼ miles test, as UPSTART tired to third in the Haskell.
The son of PIONEEROF THE NILE owns seven Grade 1 stakes wins, by far the “class” of the field, while the rest of the runners have two combined (TEXAS RED - BC Juvenile, FROSTED - Wood Memorial). ‘PHAROAH won eight graded stakes total under Victor Espinoza; of the rest only Keith Desormeaux-trained TEXAS RED boasts two (UPSTART crossed the wire 1st in the Fountain of Youth but was disqualified to 2nd).
|Bob Baffert, pictured here at Santa Anita, 2011|
Baffert's best-ever trainee gets special treatment at Saratoga, galloping alone in front of throngs of adoring/screaming fans on freshly groomed dirt, while the rest of the field exercise in the same sets as allowance and claiming horses. Their connections don’t complain probably because they’re in awe, reduced to fans in the presence of greatness, like the rest of us.
|Texas Red and Kent Dewormeaux, before the 2015 San Vicente|
The Travers will be a rematch between Champion AMERICAN PHAROAH and TEXAS RED, the dominant Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner who returned to winning form with an easier-than-looked G.2 Jim Dandy Stakes win. ‘RED makes that all-important 3rd start off the layoff but will carry three more pounds at the longest trip he’s ever run.
|American Pharoah, dominant winning the G.1 Frontrunner in 2014, with a view most Travers starters/jockeys have seen.|
So, is it as easy as AMERICAN PHAROAH? I believe the answer is “Yes” and a defeat would be a “TEXAS”-sized upset. If Kent Desormeaux and 'RED challenge 'PHAROAH too energetically, Donegal Racing's KEEN ICE, Dale Romans' Haskell runner-up, under Javier Castellano for the first time, will fly fast for place.
Enjoy one of the most thrilling non-Breeders’ Cup, non-Derby, or non-Triple Crown Belmont Stakes days...a race card and marquee race fitting for Saratoga, the most historic and beloved track in America!