Trainer Todd Pletcher saw three of his potential starters in the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers breeze early Friday morning, with Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming going four furlongs in 49.60 seconds on the Oklahoma training track in company with Outplay and Belmont Stakes-winner Tapwrit also working a half-mile on the same track in 50.24 seconds.
Always Dreaming, ridden by Hall of Famer John Velazquez, breezed for the third time on the training tack since finishing third in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy on July 29. Outplay, the winner of the Curlin July 28 at the Spa, was officially clocked in 49.99 seconds.
“We were just looking for a good, positive work,” Pletcher said. “They both ran Jim Dandy weekend and breezed well last week, so we just wanted a good indication that they are maintaining form and doing well. I thought they both finished up extremely well and galloped out strongly; all the things you were hoping to see.”
The set worked right before heavy rain fell, with Always Dreaming starting behind Outplay and closed strongly to catch his workmate at the wire.
“He started off about a length and a half behind. Johnny was able to bide his time and move up to him. I had him the last quarter in 23 and 2/5, finishing up strongly and galloping out well,” Pletcher said.
Always Dreaming finished 5 ¼ lengths behind Jim Dandy-winner Good Samaritan last out going 1 1/8 miles. The Travers, presented by NYRA Bets, is contested at 1 ¼ miles. Pletcher said the main track could play faster for the Mid-Summer Derby.
“I would expect an improved performance because he's now had a mile and eighth race under his belt,” Pletcher said. “Right now, if the track continues to play the way it is currently, it's definitely tighter than it was Jim Dandy weekend. I would say it's playing at least a second to a second and a half faster at a mile and an eighth than it did at that time. In retrospect, [with] the freshening we gave Always Dreaming between the Preakness and the Jim Dandy, we were expecting the more traditional, livelier Saratoga track.”
Always Dreaming is 4-1-2 in eight career starts and has raced just once since finishing eighth in the Preakness on May 20.
“I think we're coming into the [Travers] with a fresh, fit horse who has given every indication that he's in good form,” Pletcher said. “I think the time has agreed with him and we've gotten enough out of his training, hopefully ready to fire his best race.”
Outplay, owned by Repole Stable, would be making his graded stakes debut after posting a 5 ¾-length score in the Curlin, which followed a third-place finish in his first stakes start in the Easy Goer on June 10 at Belmont Park.
“I'll talk to Mr. [Mike] Repole and, first of all, determine if we're going to run Outplay here or in the Pennsylvania Derby,” Pletcher said. “I think Outplay has really progressed. The Curlin was a big win for him; the way he did it was great and the way he's training since then has been even better.”
Tapwrit worked in company with Lucy N Ethel, marking his fifth work at Saratoga since winning the Belmont by two lengths. The Tapit colt also was able to finish his set before the rain came in.
“I thought he looked good,” Pletcher said. “The track was playing fair, it wasn't super fast but it was in good shape. We got lucky that we missed most of the rain and this track can handle moisture very well.”
Pletcher has two career Travers wins to his credit, saddling Flower Ally in 2005 and Stay Thirsty in 2011.
Salomon del Valle's multiple graded stakes winner Gunnevera wrapped up his major preparations for next weekend's Travers with a five-furlong breeze at Gulfstream Park West for trainer Antonio Sano.
Gunnevera covered five furlongs in 1:00 under jockey Edgard Zayas, the fastest of four at the distance. It was the first breeze for the 3-year-old Dialed In colt since making his successful comeback in the Tangelo, in which he geared down to win by five lengths with Zayas aboard on August 6.
“He was very relaxed, just an easy work,” said Sano. “He doesn't need much, just maintenance. He's ready. We only want to keep him happy.
“He's really, really good and we're very happy with him,” he added. “He looks the way he looked before he won the Fountain of Youth.”
In his only previous start at the Spa, Gunnevera won the Grade 2 Saratoga Special as a 2-year-old, eventually closing out his season with a win in the Grade 3 Delta Jackpot.
At 3, the chestnut colt was an early contender on the Triple Crown trail, opening his sophomore campaign with a runner-up finish to Irish War Cry in the Grade 2 Holy Bull in February before posting a 5 ¾-length victory in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth on March 4. Gunnevera was third as the even-money favorite in the Grade 1 Florida Derby the following month before finishing seventh in the Kentucky Derby and fifth in the Preakness.
Gunnevera will van up from Florida on Friday evening and is expected to settle in at Saratoga on Sunday.
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