Already boasting a deep appreciation for the history of Saratoga Race Course, trainer Mark Casse is relishing the opportunity to have star filly Wonder Gadot make some of her own in the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers.
Winner of the first two legs of Canada's Triple Crown, the Queen's Plate and Prince of Wales, Gary Barber's Wonder Gadot will face males again when the 1 ¼-mile Mid-Summer Derby is run for the 149th time on August 25.
No filly has won the Travers since Lady Rotha in 1915. The last filly to try it, Davona Dale, was fourth as the favorite in 1979.
“I've been coming here since I was like 7 years old,” Casse said. “When I first thought about it and Gary and I talked about it … we didn't think about how much excitement it would bring, but it's bringing that and I think it will continue to build which is just great. I love that.”
Wonder Gadot worked a half-mile in 48.07 seconds Friday morning over Saratoga's main track, her first breeze since a front-running 5 ¾-length triumph in the Prince of Wales on July 24. The time ranked fifth of 60 horses at the distance.
Going out shortly after the track opened at 5:30 a.m. with exercise rider Chris Garraway up, the 3-year-old daughter of Medaglia d'Oro was caught going her opening quarter-mile in :24 1/5 and galloping out five furlongs in 1:01 and six furlongs in 1:14 2/5.
“She worked … wonderful,” Casse said of the filly nicknamed ‘Wonder Woman.' “It was how she did it. She got away a little slow. Chris had never breezed her before but we radioed him and told him to pick it up a little bit and as soon as he asked her, she took off. Then we called back and told him to slow her down.
“We were aiming for 48, and then he dropped her head a little bit and she took off again. She got over it really well,” he added. “Her first work back we didn't want her to do too much. That was as fancy as it gets. I would give it an A-plus work.”
Wonder Gadot has a record of 5-4-3 and bankrolled more than $1.3 million from 13 career starts. She won the Grade 3 Mazarine and Grade 2 Demoiselle at 2, and had run second or third in her first six starts this year including a runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks before the Canadian Triple Crown races.
Following the retirement of undefeated Triple Crown champion Justify last month, Casse and Barber decided to reroute Wonder Gadot from a planned start in the Grade 1, $600,000 Alabama for 3-year-old fillies August 18 and take aim at the Travers.
“We're running in there because, one, we've had great success running our fillies against colts,” Casse said, “and when I looked at the numbers and everything and the fact that she's already beaten colts, I think we have a legitimate chance. I'm not in there for the show. I think we've got a big shot to win. I think that's the consensus. We're definitely not hunting bear with a switch.
“I would never want to let her down,” he added. “I am about as confident as you can be in horse racing. I am just confident when the dust clears, she is going to be part of the equation. We talked about it, and take nothing away from the Alabama, if she were to have won the Alabama -it's one of the greatest races in North America – but if she were to win the Travers, they will know about her around the world. If [she] wins the Travers, she will be remembered forever.”
Wonder Gadot is expected to maintain her regular work schedule leading up to the Travers, Casse said.
“She's in a nice pattern so she doesn't have to do anything different,” Casse said. “She has a pattern that she's lived by, and we won't change anything. You'll see her have a similar type work probably next Friday.”
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