by NYRA Press Office
With two straight Eclipse Awards as top trainer, 10 Breeders’ Cup victories and more than $137 million in purses earned, trainer Chad Brown has accomplished much in a short time. A victory in the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers is one accomplishment that has eluded the 39-year-old, and Brown is hoping that will change Saturday when he sends out the top two morning-line choices in Good Magic (2-1) and Gronkowski (4-1).
Brown, whose 33 wins are more than double his next-closest competitor in Todd Pletcher (16) on the Saratoga Race Course meet leaderboard, has saddled six previous entrants in the Mid-Summer Derby, with his best finish a fourth-place effort by Gift Box in 2016.
“It would be the biggest race of my career; the most important race, personally,” said Brown, a native of nearby Mechanicville, New York who won the 2017 Preakness with Cloud Computing and has 10 victories in Breeders’ Cup races. “It would mean a lot to my staff, my family, my friends, the community; this is our home track. It doesn’t get any bigger than this.”
Good Magic drew post 9 in his first race since winning the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational on July 29 at Monmouth Park, staying just off the speed before kicking strongly to win by three lengths over fellow Mid-Summer Derby contender Bravazo at 1 1/8 miles. Jose Ortiz, who was aboard for that win as well as his victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November at Del Mar and his runner-up effort to eventual Triple Crown winner Justify in the Kentucky Derby on May 5, will have the return call.
“For him being a 2-year-old champion, and running the Derby and the Preakness on sealed, sloppy tracks – not good conditions – and to make it through the Haskell, this horse has really trained and run a lot. For him still to be sound and happy and looking good, it’s remarkable. It’s really rare to have a horse that can do that,” Brown said.
Gronkowski is coming off a strong North American debut in which he rallied to finish second behind Justify in the Belmont Stakes on June 9. After Gronkowski made the first six starts of his career in Great Britain, Brown said the extra time between races, along with running against the highest level of competition in his division in a Classic race, has helped prepare the colt for the Travers.
“He's real consistent in his training,” Brown said. “He’s gotten sharper, fitter, stronger; always shows up in the morning when I need him, in his gallops and his breezes. I feel like this horse is setting up for a forward move coming off the Belmont.”
Gronkowski drew post 3 and will have the services of jockey Joel Rosario, whose best finish in the Travers was a third aboard Tonalist in 2014.
“Right now, we're just focused on bringing these two horses to the races as healthy and happy as we can,” Brown said. “I'll leave it up to the jocks when the gate opens, but Good Magic will be forwardly placed and Gronkowski will be running towards the rear.
“There are a few horses in there in this field that if they run their race of their life, they can win. I’m just focused on my own horses, and they’ll be positioned at different parts of this field early. I think either one of them is good enough to get it done.”
Meanwhile, this year’s Travers filly Wonder Gadot jogged a mile over the main track Friday morning in her final training session before Saturday’s race for trainer Mark Casse.
“It’s pretty standard for us the day before a race,” said Casse. “She didn’t back up or gallop or anything, just an easy jog. She’s ready.”
Casse said he had plans on Friday to meet with jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr., who picked up the mount on the Ontario-bred Medgalia d'Oro filly, to watch replays and discuss the race. Installed at 5-1 on the morning line, Wonder Gadot, named for “Wonder Woman” actress Gal Gadot, drew post 2 in the field of 11.
“If there was no pace, we could be on the lead, but I think there will be some pace and I think we’ll try to stay right behind it,” Casse said of the Travers. “She doesn’t have a real big turn of foot, so you don’t want to give her too much to do.”
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Travers victory would ‘check all the boxes’ for Tenfold owner Winchell
Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Gun Runner came to Saratoga last summer and firmly established his Horse of the Year credentials with back-to-back Grade 1 victories in the Whitney and Woodward, two of racing’s most prestigious races for older horses.
On Saturday, Ron Winchell will take aim at Saratoga’s premiere prize for 3-year-olds, the Grade 1 Travers, with homebred Tenfold. It will be Winchell’s third try at the Mid-Summer Derby; he was third with another homebred, Pyro, in 2008 and Gun Runner in 2016.
Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen trained both Pyro and Gun Runner, his best finishes in four Travers tries. Tenfold will break from post 10 in a field of 11 under regular rider Ricardo Santana, Jr.
“For me right now, after winning the Whitney and the Woodward, the Travers is right up there as far as Saratoga goes. It’s something I’d really like to check off. It’s a race everybody chases. It’s the Mid-Summer Derby,” Winchell said. “Talking with Steve, I get his reaction after every work and he’s gotten a little happier and a little more excited with every work since his last race. I’m excited to see what that equates to in a race.”
Tenfold enters the Travers having won its traditional local prep, the Grade 2, 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy, on July 28. Co-fourth choice on the morning line at 8-1 with Grade 1 winner Catholic Boy, he is attempting to become the 11th horse to complete the Jim Dandy-Travers double and first since Alpha dead-heated for the win with Golden Ticket in 2012.
“He’s definitely completely overlooked, but sometimes that’s good. I’m not going to complain about that,” Winchell said. “He’s the opposite of Gun Runner at this point.”
Gun Runner had won five of eight starts, three of them in graded-stakes, entering the Travers. Sent off at 9-1, he ran into Arrogate’s record-setting performance that day but went on to win seven of his final eight races, six of them Grade 1, including the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic and the world’s richest race, the $16 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational, January 27 at Gulfstream Park before being retired to stud.
“They’re a little different story, but at this stage of Gun Runner’s 3-year-old career people thought he was not the best of the crop. Some others had done a little more at that point,” Winchell said. “It took a little while for him to come into himself, and I feel like that’s where you can draw a similarity. [Tenfold] has taken a little longer to come into himself and hopefully he continues on. You never know how far that continuation will be, but it’s a good position to be in.”
A Travers victory by Tenfold would also be special given his bloodlines. He is one of four horses in the Travers sired by Curlin, a two-time Horse of the Year and 2014 Hall of Famer trained by Asmussen. So, too, was Tenfold’s dam, the Tapit mare Temptress, a winner of two of 10 starts from 2012-14 for Winchell.
The Winchell family also campaigned and retains a 50 percent ownership in Tapit, winner of the Grade 1 Wood Memorial in 2004 and Grade 3 Laurel Futurity in 2003 who has gone on to become one of the world’s most influential sires, standing at Gainesway for a $300,000 fee.
“My connection with Tapit and his being out of a Tapit mare, and Steve’s connection with Curlin … it kind of checks all the boxes, if you will,” Winchell said. “Homebred, Tapit written all over him, we raced the mare – it’s a feel-good type of thing for the whole operation.”
Added Asmussen: “It would be huge, because of who this horse is. He’s a first foal out of a homebred of Winchell’s out of a good Tapit mare by Curlin – it would be more than significant to win this caliber of a race. It would be the perfect storm.”
Unraced at 2, Tenfold won his first two starts over the winter at Oaklawn Park, where he was fifth in his stakes debut, the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, April 14. From there he finished third by less than a length in the Grade 1 Preakness at odds of 26-1 – beaten a neck for second by Bravazo and a neck ahead of Good Magic, both of whom return in the Travers – and was fifth in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes prior to the Jim Dandy.
“Last year before he’d ever run, physically, pedigree-wise, ability-wise [we knew] he’s capable and I thought, we were off track or just not there yet,” Asmussen said. “I think the part about the Preakness that made me so happy is that I still know he’s going to get better and he’s not that far off. I think he’ll run well Saturday and I still think he’ll be a better older horse. It’s just who he is physically. He’s got an elite talent level, and [hopefully] he can turn that into something.”
Asmussen has a second Travers contender in WinStar Farm, China Horse Club and SF Racing’s Meistermind, a maiden winner over older horses going the Travers distance of 1 ¼ miles June 30 at Churchill. Listed at 30-1 on the morning line, he will be ridden by Manny Franco from post 6.
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Catholic Boy goes through standard morning ritual for Travers
Catholic Boy completed his final preparations for the Grade 1, 1 ¼-mile Travers on Friday morning by schooling in the paddock with a rider, schooling at the gate, taking a short gallop and rolling in the round pen.
Some trainers school their horses regularly; others eschew the practice as conditions in the morning are often very different from those in the afternoons.
“Schooling is two-tiered for me,” said Jonathan Thomas, who trains the More Than Ready colt for Robert V. LaPenta, Madaket Stable, Siena Farm and Twin Creeks Racing Stable. “It’s as much a learning experience for us. If there’s something he doesn’t like or sets him off – it opens up weakness or flaws so you can correct them. Two, any time you’re changing scenery for a horse, after two or three times they relax. Some are easy, some are hard, some never get better, but at least you know how to prepare for the afternoon.
“Catholic Boy is well-behaved in the sense that he doesn’t do anything silly. He’s also a big, good-feeling horse, so he can be a little handful to saddle. It’s more a feel-good thing. He’s always been really good at the gate.”
The colt will be leaving from the outside post 11 in the Travers under Hall of Famer Javier Castellano, who holds the record for most wins by a jockey in the race with five.
“We have the utmost confidence in Javier,” said Thomas. “Having him aboard is a big plus.”
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Mendelssohn commands attention as he and Seahenge gallop on main track in preparation for Travers Day
Grade 1 Travers entrant Mendelssohn and Grade 1 Sword Dancer competitor Seahenge continued their preparations for their Saturday engagements, jogging and galloping over the main track Friday morning.
The Coolmore contingent left the quarantine barn in the Oklahoma annex around 7:15 a.m. to begin their lengthy walk across Union Avenue, stepping onto the main track's backstretch 15 minutes later. They trotted 1 ¼ circuits around the oval before turning around and breaking into their gallop on the first turn.
“We’ve done the same as yesterday,” said T.J. Comerford, assistant to trainer Aidan O’Brien. “We did our 10-minute walk at the barn and it took, 10, 15 minutes to walk across. We generally do a 25-minute walk, anyway. They went to the main track and trotted the opposite direction, one lap, and then turned around at the 1,500, or the 7 ½ [furlong marker]. Today they went steady around there and pulled up just past the winning post. They came off the track, walked back home, had a good wash off, and walked around here for 20, 25 minutes.”
Although Mendelssohn and Seahenge cleared quarantine at 6 a.m. yesterday, they are remaining in the quarantine barn by preference. The quarantine facility is the barn that’s farthest from the main track, but Comerford said the distance helps Mendelssohn and Seahenge maintain their routine of having long walks before their gallops.
“It’s still the same time as at home, but it’s actually better here," said Comerford. "Rather than walking around the barn all the time, making doughnuts, they can have a nice walk on the way over and they get to see plenty.”
Mendelssohn and Seahenge are Scat Daddy colts owned by Michael Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier, and Derrick Smith. Mendelssohn dominated the Group 2 UAE Derby in March, while Seahenge’s top victory came in the Group 2 Champagne in England last September. They are exiting the same race, the Grade 3 Dwyer on July 7 at Belmont Park. Mendelssohn finished third after setting the pace while Seahenge was a non-threatening fifth.
Mendelssohn loudly announced his presence throughout his entire trip to and from the main track, providing intermittent neighs while on the horse path and the racing surface.
“He makes plenty of noise,” said Comerford. “He did this at Belmont, but the only time he got noisy was when he got to the start. He was a lot better than he was the times before. He just does his own thing.”
Although Mendelssohn and Seahenge have different temperaments, Comerford said the bay colts have similar physical profiles.
“They are fine, big horses,” said Comerford. “Scat Daddy stamps them well. He has plenty of Grade 1 winners. The ground doesn’t matter. They just get on with it. They are not hard to train. We had Caravaggio, who was a very good sprinter and 2-year-old. They’ve had all kinds of conditions at home, good-to-firm, good ground, soft tracks. They are very nice horses.”
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Lukas-trained Bravazo to become the Hall of Famer’s 20th Travers starter
Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas will hit a milestone on Saturday when Bravazo becomes his 20th horse to compete in the Grade 1 Travers.
Through the Triple Crown trail and beyond, Bravazo has remained sound through his 12 career starts. The Awesome Again colt – the only active 3-year-old to have started in all three legs of the Triple Crown – will make his sixth Grade 1 appearance on Saturday.
The 82-year-old Lukas has been impressed with his colt’s physical and mental demeanor.
“Well, if you go back in history books and look at Sunny [Jim] Fitzsimmons, and Max Hirsch, and those people, what I do with my horses, and what [trainer Bob] Baffert does with his, it’s common practice,” Lukas said. “These things are bred to run. I mean the soundness issue is one thing, they have to be [sound]. Another really little-known fact is that we did a complete 100 percent ear-to-tail physical on [Bravazo] after the Triple Crown, and he was perfect. So, we were able to push right on to these next [races].”
Of the 4,807 lifetime victories that Lukas has enjoyed, nine of those were tallied by 1995 Travers winner and Eclipse Award Champion 3-Year-Old Colt Thunder Gulch, who rattled off seven wins from 10 starts at three.
Although Bravazo’s lone graded stakes victory came in the Grade 2 Risen Star on February 17 at Fair Grounds Race Course, his ability to make it to the gate impresses Lukas, and reminds him of his former champ.
“The last one I did with that with was Thunder Gulch,” he said. “That was an amazing run. The Fountain of Youth, the Florida Derby, win both, then run in the Blue Grass, [he] didn’t win it, but won the Derby, then third in the Preakness, won the Belmont, goes to California, wins the Swaps, wins the Travers. Nobody even thinks about doing that.
“[Bravazo] had two or three strong preps then the Triple Crown, Haskell and now this. All bases go like planned here, he’ll be in the Pennsylvania Derby, too. go to Kentucky, and then I’ll follow him up myself.”
Bravazo is a dark horse among the field of 11 set to run in the 149th running of the Travers. At 12-1 on the morning line, Bravazo has the chance to pull off an upset at Saratoga, known as the Graveyard of Favorites.
The Wisconsin-born Lukas thrives at the challenge, playing the spoiler twice before. He won with Corporate Report ($16.60) in 1991, beating Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner and eventual Champion 3-Year-Old Colt Hansel by a neck. Twenty-two years later, Lukas sent out Will Take Charge ($21.20) to a nose victory over Moreno in the 2013 Travers.
Jockey Luis Saez, who rode Will Take Charge to that closing finish, will be aboard Bravazo.
“Luis, I think is getting a little better feel for what he can do with him, and what he can’t do with him, that’s probably a better way to put it,” said Lukas. “Like [retired NCAA basketball coach] Bob Knight said, ‘It’s always more important knowing what you can’t do than knowing what you can do.’
“In the Haskell we shouldn’t have let [Good Magic] get the first run. I’m not being overly critical, I just told Luis, you have one horse you had to worry about. In this race you’ve got to worry about five or six or seven. In the Haskell I felt comfortable that it was going to get down to [Bravazo and Good Magic]. [Good Magic] got the first run off the turn, and you’ve got to work for position. I’d rather go head to head with him at the eighth pole and let him beat us.”
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Trigger Warning hoping Spa debut is safe space as long shot in Travers
Trigger Warning shipped in well to Saratoga and is ready to make an upset bid in Saturday’s Grade 1 Travers, trainer Mike Rone said Friday morning.
Walking Trigger Warning outside of Barn 14 on Saratoga’s backside, Rone said the Candy Ride colt, who drew post 1 in the 11-horse field, shipped in well from Thistledown, Ohio to the Spa. At 30-1 on the morning-line, Trigger Warning is the co-longest shot on the board alongside Meistermind.
“You have to make every step count; he drew the 1 hole, but you don’t want to get in trouble and get covered up down there on the fence,” Rone said. “I don’t want to get covered up by the half the field, but I don’t want to be left out to dry, either. But this horse has done what we’ve asked of him. He’ll rate; he’ll do anything we ask. He can go to the front or he can come from off of it.”
Trigger Warning won his first stakes in the six-furlong Tom Ridge on May 21. Rone then stretched out the Kentucky-bred, owned by Brinley Enterprises, and he responded by running third in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby at 1 1/8 miles on June 23 at Thistledown and second by a head to Axelrod in the Grade 3 Indiana Derby last out on July 14 at Indiana Grand Race Course, earning a personal-best 94 Beyer Speed Figure for the 1 1/16-mile race.
The Travers will mark the first time Trigger Warning has run at 1 ¼ miles. Should Trigger Warning win at odds of 30-1 or higher, he would be the highest payoff in a Travers field since the advent of pari-mutuel wagering in New York in 1940. Adonis ($53.50) in 1945 was the highest Travers payout under that format, while Jim Dandy’s 1930 Travers win at 100-1 represents the Mid-Summer Derby’s most stunning upset in 148 previous editions.
But Saratoga is known as the “Graveyard of Favorites” where favorites have historically struggled. Can that play into Trigger Warning’s favor?
“You bet,” Rone said with a laugh.
The Travers is also a milestone for Rone, a former blacksmith who won his first race as a trainer in 2006 and will now be saddling his first-ever horse at historic Saratoga Race Course.
“This is the greatest show on earth as far as I’m concerned; it’s very inspirational,” Rone said. “Everyone has treated us great. This is why you go into the business.”