It seems only fitting that the top trainer at Saratoga Race Course this year should have the top two horses in the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers on Saturday, when Chad Brown will saddle 2-1 early favorite Good Magic and second choice Gronkowski in the 149th running of the Mid-Summer Derby.
The Brown trainees headline an eclectic group of 11 3-year-olds entered Tuesday for the 1 ¼ mile race, among them Bravazo, the only horse besides Justify to run in all three legs of the Triple Crown; Catholic Boy, bidding to become a Grade 1 winner on turf and dirt; European import Mendelssohn, and Wonder Gadot, who will be the first filly to run in the Travers since Davona Dale in 1979.
The Travers will be televised live on NBC from 4-6 p.m., and also will be televised on a special Travers Day edition of Saratoga Live, presented by Claiborne Farm, airing nationally on FS2 from 1-4 p.m. ET. Regional coverage of Saturday's Saratoga Live can be found on MSG+, FOX Sports Prime Ticket and Altitude.
The 39-year-old Brown, who heads into Travers Week with 31 winners – 15 more than second-place trainer Todd Pletcher – has yet to hit the board after saddling six Travers starters beginning in 2011. His best finish came with three entries in 2016, when Gift Box placed fourth.
“I've been trying to win this race for a little while and having the top two choices in the race is a good spot to be in,” said Brown, a native of nearby Mechanicville, New York.
Although he was last year's champion 2-year-old colt, Good Magic was overshadowed this spring by the meteoric career of Justify, to whom he finished second in the Kentucky Derby and fourth in the Preakness – his only off the board finish in eight starts. With the retirement of the Triple Crown winner, Good Magic came into his own in his prep for the 1 ¼-mile Travers, winning the Grade 1 Haskell on July 29 by a resounding three lengths.
With more than $2.9 million in career earnings, he will be trying to become the first 3-year-old since Point Given in 2001 to complete the Haskell-Travers double.
Good Magic will leave from post position 9 with Jose Ortiz aboard.
His stablemate, Gronkowski, has made only one start in the United States, finishing second to Justify in the 1 ½-mile Belmont. Prior to that, the Phoenix Thoroughbred III color-bearer won four straight in Europe, all at a mile.
The namesake of New England Patriots' All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski drew post position 3 and was tabbed at 3-1 on the morning line.
“They've both been training terrific and both are coming off strong works,” said Brown. “I would say 1 ¼ miles is Good Magic's limit. I thought he ran a great race in the Derby and if he runs that 1 ¼ mile race back on Saturday, he'll be tough.
“As for Gronkowski, he's been training sharper in the morning since the Belmont and has been more aggressive.”
The filly Wonder Gadot adds a fillip of intrigue as she vies to become the eighth filly to ever win the Travers and the first since Lady Rotha, who won by disqualification in 1915. Trained by Mark Casse, the Canadian-bred daughter of 2002 Travers winner Medaglia d'Oro defeated males in the first two legs of that country's Triple Crown; she also finished second to Monomoy Girl in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks this spring.
She bypassed last Saturday's Grade 1 Alabama in favor of the Travers. Why?
“One, [owner] Gary Barber is never afraid to step out of the box,” said trainer Casse. “We believe the 1 ¼ miles really suits her. We get five pounds. We have an extra week off. Why not? We're all right with trying to make history.”
Wonder Gadot (named after Wonder Woman star Gail Gadot) will leave from post position 2 under new rider Irad Ortiz, Jr., and was listed as the 5-1 third choice on the morning line.
Catholic Boy, trained by former Pletcher assistant Jonathan Thomas, has had success on both turf and dirt, winning the Grade 2 Remsen as a 2-year-old and most recently posting back-to-back turf wins in the Grade 3 Pennine Ridge and the Grade 1 Belmont Derby.
“You only get so many chances to run 1 ¼ miles on the dirt as a 3-year-old,” said Thomas. “We'd like to leave there running, but we'll leave that up to Javier [Castellano]. You've got a long time to get to the first turn, so it's not going to be as much a cavalry charge to the first turn.”
Castellano, who holds the record for most Travers wins by a jockey with five, has the mount aboard Catholic Boy, tabbed at 8-1 on the morning line. They will leave from post position 11.
Mendelssohn, who arrived from Europe Tuesday, is a $3 million yearling purchase began his career in England and Ireland and capped his juvenile season with a victory in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf. An 18 ¾-length victory in the Group 2 UAE Derby prompted his connections to enter the Kentucky Derby, in which he finished 20th, he next finished third in the Grade 3 Dwyer in July.
Listed at 12-1 on the morning line, Mendelssohn will be ridden by Ryan Moore. The pair will leave from post position 8.
As fellow Travers trainer Dale Romans remarked, 'never count Wayne Lukas out.'
The Hall of Famer returns with Bravazo, his 20th starter in the Mid-Summer Derby and first since taking his third Travers in 2013 with Will Take Charge.
Sixth in the Derby and Belmont and second in the Preakness, the son of Awesome Again enters the Travers off a runner-up performance in the Haskell behind Good Magic. Overall, the Calumet Farm color-bearer is 3-3-1 from 13 starts, including a victory in the Grade 2 Risen Star, with earnings approaching $1 million.
He will be ridden by Luis Saez from post 4 at odds of 12-1.
“We're more concerned as trainers as to who's on either side of us, than on the actual post,” said Lukas. “I don't think anything will be easy, but I think we'll be able to get away and get position. We have a horse that has good tactical speed and will keep everyone honest. He's made every dance, but surprisingly he's following a pattern like Will Take Charge. He's gained weight, and I think he's better right now than he has been. He's more aggressive and more mature. I think we're going to get his best effort.”
Trainer Steve Asmussen goes in search of his first Travers victory with the pair of Tenfold, winner of the Grade 2 Jim Dandy on July 28 at the Spa, and Meistermind, a half-brother to 2009 Derby winner Mine That Bird.
The 2016 Hall of Fame inductee's best finishes in the race came in 2016 and 2008 with Gun Runner and Pyro both finishing third.
Tenfold, a son of Asmussen's two-time horse of the Year Curlin, is looking to become the 11th horse to complete the Jim Dandy-Travers double and first since Alpha dead-heated with Golden Ticket to win in 2012.
Meistermind, owned by WInStar Farm, China Horse Club and SF Racing, owns one victory in six starts, having won a maiden race at Churchill Downs at the Travers distance. Most recently he was fifth in his Spa debut, an allowance on August 3.
Tenfold, with Ricardo Santana, Jr. in the irons, will leave from post 10 while Meistermind will depart from post 6 with Manny Franco in the irons.
Tenfold is 8-1 on the morning line while Meistermind is 30-1.
Vino Rosso will be looking to give Pletcher his third Travers win, with the trainer having taken the race in 2011 with Stay Thirsty and 2005 with Flower Alley. Purchased for $410,000 at the September Keeneland yearling sale, the son of Curlin was 2-for-2 as a juvenile and qualified for the Derby with a three-length victory in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. He ran ninth at Churchill Downs over a sloppy track, was fourth in the Belmont, and most recently placed third in the Jim Dandy after dropping out of it early.
“Hopefully he shows a little more speed than he did in the Jim Dandy,” said Pletcher. “He's a horse that has some concentration issues. He dropped back, but actually made up some ground on the backside in the Jim Dandy, but you can't make that kind of mistake in the Travers. He's had two good, sharp works and I think 1 ¼ miles suits him pretty well.”
Hall of Famer John Velazquez has the return call on the Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable color-bearer from post 5. He was listed at 10-1 on the morning line.|
The other outsiders in the field are King Zachary, 15-1, and Trigger Warning, 30-1.
Trained by Romans, who upset Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the 2015 Travers, King Zachary was purchased for $550,000 at the 2016 Keeneland yearling sale. Winner of the Grade 3 Matt Winn at Churchill Downs, the Curlin colt most recently finished fourth in the Grade 3 Indiana Derby on July 14.
“His pedigree seems to say he'll go the distance,” said Romans. “I'm just going to leave it up to Robby [Albarado]. If they're going slow early, he'll be up close, if they're going fast, he'll lay back and make one big run. We're 15-1, but a lot of people will take 15-1 in the Travers. It's great to be part of this event.”
Regular rider Robby Albarado has the call on King Zachary, who drew post position 7.
Trigger Warning, second by a head in the Indiana Derby, will be making his first Grade 1 appearance. The Candy Ride colt possesses a win in the six-furlong Tom Ridge at Presque Isle Downs and a pair of allowance wins at Sunland Downs in addition to his maiden score at Turf Paradise.
He is listed at 30-1 on the morning line from post position 1.
- Trigger Warning – Mike Rone – Irwin Rosendo (30-1)
- Wonder Gadot – Mark Casse – Irad Ortiz, Jr. (5-1)
- Gronkowski – Chad Brown – Joel Rosario (4-1)
- Bravazo – D. Wayne Lukas – Luis Saez (12-1)
- Vino Rosso – Todd Pletcher – John Velazquez (10-1)
- Meistermind – Steve Asmussen – Manny Franco (30-1)
- King Zachary – Dale Romans – Robby Albarado (15-1)
- Mendelssohn – Aidan O'Brien – Ryan Moore (12-1)
- Good Magic – Chad Brown – Jose Ortiz (2-1)
- Tenfold – Steve Asmussen – Ricardo Santana, Jr. (8-1)
- Catholic Boy – Jonathan Thomas – Javier Castellano (8-1)
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