Brown in search of first G1 Runhappy Travers score with a trio of top contenders
by NYRA Press Office
· Brown in search of first G1 Runhappy Travers score with a trio of top contenders
· Cox relying on Geroux to find right trip for Cyberknife in G1 Runhappy Travers
· Hall of Famer Mott seeking first Travers victory with long shot Gilded Age
· Conagher aims to give trainer Tomlinson first G1 in H. Allen Jerkens Memorial
· Drafted seeking G1 Forego upset
· Howling Time cuts back for G1 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial
Growing up in the Capital Region of upstate New York, four-time Saratoga Race Course meet-leading trainer Chad Brown holds the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers in high regard. While yet to saddle a winner for the Spa’s marquee race, Brown appears to hold his strongest hand yet in the 153rd renewal of the oldest race for 3-year-olds in North America.
Brown has saddled a dozen contenders for the Runhappy Travers with his best result taking place last year with third-place finisher Miles D. This year, he will send out Grade 1-winners Zandon and Early Voting as well as up-and-coming stakes-winner Artorius.
A native of Mechanicville, New York, just 13 miles southeast of Saratoga Springs, Brown expressed his appreciation for the Spa.
“In general, the history not only surrounding the meet, but the Travers was a huge part of my upbringing,” Brown said. “I still have many people in my life that remember me from when I was a kid running around the picnic area that are still here as fans and as friends and as family. To win the race for them, for my hometown, would mean a lot to me, personally. It would be a lifetime worth of hard work and sacrifices. The only reason I’m in this profession is from coming to Saratoga with my family as a kid. It doesn’t get any bigger than that - to win the jewel of their meet and the history surrounding the race. Coming to the Travers with my parents when I was knee-high is the only reason I’m here in the first place.”
The last time Brown had as many as three horses in the Travers was in 2016, when he sent out Gift Box [fourth], Connect [sixth] and My Man Sam [eighth], none of which came close to touching 13 1/2-length winner Arrogate, whose 1:59.36 time for the 10 furlongs still stands as record time.
One of Brown’s three Runhappy Travers contenders is Arrogate’s first offspring to compete in the historic race in Juddmonte’s Kentucky homebred Artorius. The dark bay colt arrives at the Travers as the most lightly raced contender with only three starts under his belt. He was a last-out winner of his two-turn debut in the restricted Curlin on July 29 at Saratoga. Following a second in his career debut in April going six furlongs at Keeneland, he graduated in a one-turn mile maiden special weight on June 10 at Belmont Park.
“The horse has always showed a lot of class and a lot of ability,” said Brown, who also campaigned Artorius’ dam Paulassilverlining during her final year of training. “He did get started a little late, but we played the hand we were dealt and didn’t do anything to compromise the horse’s development by pushing him.
“The horse brought himself here since we got him to his debut at Keeneland. Moving forward, he’s always worked right on schedule, and he’s done everything that we’ve asked him to do,” Brown added. “He’s been stretching out nicely and his first two-turn race was impressive, his best race. I have a lot of optimism that horse will be able to carry another eighth of a mile.”
Artorius will exit post 5 under Irad Ortiz, Jr.
Jeff Drown’s Zandon captured the Grade 1 Blue Grass on April 9 at Keeneland en route to finishing third in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby behind fellow Runhappy Travers aspirants Rich Strike and Epicenter.
Zandon, who enters off a hard-fought second to Epicenter in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy, drew the outermost post 8 for the Travers, which Brown said could be tricky.
“He’s going to have to save some ground into the first turn,” Brown said. “He might be in a race that lacks pace, which goes against him. Zandon will have to find a way to turn the tables on Epicenter. He’s had dead aim on him twice now and couldn’t get by him. Now he has to do it going a mile and a quarter, so he has his work cut out for him.”
However, Brown expressed delight in watching Zandon breeze over the main track. Last Saturday, he went five-eighths in 1:00.65 in his final Travers tune-up.
“The horse breezed on Saturday just like he did before the Kentucky Derby. That’s as good as you can possibly work over this track,” Brown said. “He’s been so consistent and I’m so proud of the horse for always cooperating in the morning and showing his very best. Going into the Travers off a work like that, it does give you some hope that there’s a possibility to win the race.”
Zandon, a son of 2015 Travers fourth-place finisher Upstart, has never finished out of the money in six lifetime starts, boasting a 2-2-2 record. He will be ridden by Flavien Prat.
Klaravich Stables’ Early Voting gave Brown a special victory in this year’s Grade 1 Preakness on May 21 at Pimlico, fending off an inside rally from Epicenter in the final eighth of a mile. The son of Gun Runner finished last-of-4 in the Jim Dandy last out, where he set the pace and finished 3 3/4 lengths behind Epicenter.
Early Voting will exit post 7 under returning rider Jose Ortiz.
“I would surely prefer a target with this horse. He’s posted well,” Brown said. “We’ll just have to play the break and Jose ultimately will have to decide for himself what’s his best chance to win.”
Early Voting was on the fence for the Travers exiting the Jim Dandy, but the horse has convinced Brown enough in his training to give it a shot.
“He is working better now, or I wouldn’t run him,” Brown said. “I had the option not to run him from the owner. In fact, it appeared after the Jim Dandy that we weren’t going to run him. The horse brought himself into the race the way he worked and trained.”
Brown recalled Early Voting’s Jim Dandy effort and reiterated how deep the track was.
“He ended up on the lead, the fractions were very fair,” Brown said. “It seemed like he was on a deep, tiring rail and I probably didn’t have the horse fit enough either. He was off a 10-week break and he’s a different kind of horse. He’s a heavy horse that eats and sleeps all day. I think in hindsight, I could have tried to tighten that horse up a little more. So, he got a tough race out of that, he’s come back and worked twice.”
Brown will saddle 10 other contestants in pursuit of a graded stakes win on the blockbuster 13-race card at Saratoga, including multiple Grade 1-winner Jack Christopher. The talented Munnings sophomore suffered defeat for the first time in the last out Grade 1 Haskell on July 23 at Monmouth Park, which was his first start going two turns.
Jack Christopher, owned by Jim Bakke, Gerald Isbister, Coolmore Stud and Peter Brant, will cut back to one turn on Saturday for the Grade 1, $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial at seven furlongs.
“I thought the horse ran great in the Haskell. He ran a fast three-quarters in 1:09 and change and he fought on nicely,” Brown said. “He just didn’t have quite enough late, but I thought it was a really good race. The horse has never disappointed me in a race. I’m happy to cut him back on a track that I know he likes. I hope he gets a good, clean break.”
Brown said the key with Jack Christopher is getting a clean break. He will leave the gate from post 6 under Jose Ortiz, who has been aboard for all Jack Christopher’s five lifetime starts.
“It looks like there’s plenty of speed in there,” said Brown, who won the 2017 Allen Jerkens with Practical Joke. “The key is that he gets a clean break, gets forward in the race and Jose knows the horse so well, so maybe he can choose where he wants to place him.”
Jack Christopher is a two-time winner going a flat mile in the Grade 1 Champagne last October at Belmont Park and the Grade 2 Pat Day Mile in May at Churchill Downs, but earned his career-best 107 Beyer Speed Figure when capturing the seven-furlong Grade 1 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun on June 11 at Belmont Park.
“He ran a great race going a mile twice now,” Brown said. “He didn’t run a bad race in the Haskell, he got beat by two very good horses. In fact, the race came back very fast. Actually, if he could’ve got away a little easier, instead of 1:09 into the teeth of that internal quarter-mile there, I think the horse would have been very close. This horse has enough range going beyond seven [furlongs].”
Cox relying on Geroux to find right trip for Cyberknife in G1 Runhappy Travers
When it comes to the strategy for Cyberknife in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers, trainer Brad Cox knows the two-time Grade 1 winner is in good hands.
Florent Geroux gets the riding assignment for the eighth straight race aboard Cyberknife, who drew the rail in a field of eight for the 1 1/4-mile Travers and was made the 7-2 second choice on the morning line behind 7-5 program favorite Epicenter, runner-up in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby and Grade 1 Preakness and winner of Saratoga’s Grade 2 Jim Dandy July 30.
Geroux broke Cyberknife’s maiden in his 2-year-old finale last December at Fair Grounds, and was also in the irons for wins this year in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby, Grade 3 Matt Winn and Grade 1 Haskell, the latter July 23 at Monmouth Park in his Travers prep.
“Just break and go forward is our plan. We’re going to let the field kind of sort themselves out going into the first turn,” Cox said. “Florent obviously knows him really well. He’s very capable of running from down on the inside. He did it in the Arkansas Derby, he did it in the Haskell. It’s nothing that he can’t do.
“I think the most important thing is seeing how the track’s playing, seeing how quick it is, and if the rail’s the place to be,” he added. “That’s probably the main concern, as opposed to where we are in regard to where we land in the race.”
Cyberknife is by 2017 Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Gun Runner and out of the Flower Alley mare Awesome Flower. While Gun Runner was third in the 2016 Travers, Flower Alley won the Travers in 2005 and sired 2012 Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another.
In his only previous try at the Travers distance, Cyberknife raced up close to a wicked pace for a half-mile before dropping back and fading to be 18th in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby behind Rich Strike, the 80-1 upset winner who also returns in the Travers.
“I don’t really think [distance] is [a question]. Gun Runner was able to handle a mile and a quarter in the Classic. The broodmare sire sired a Derby winner. He seems to stay on in his races well enough, so I don’t think it’s about the distance as much as it is getting the right trip on the right part of the racetrack,” Cox said.
“We just watched how he came out of the Derby. We knew we wanted to make a run at the Haskell and we thought the Matt Winn made the most sense getting there, as far as a race or a prep. The Kentucky Derby itself was a complete throw out. They could run that race 100 more times and it would be tough to get a similar result,” he added. “We were part of the pace presence unfortunately with two of my horses in Zozos and Cyberknife. I wish we weren’t, but it is what it is. We regrouped, and it’s worked out really well for Cyberknife ever since.”
Cox said Cyberknife’s versatility should serve him well in the Travers. He raced just off the lead before getting up by a nose in the 1 1/16-mile Matt Winn June 12 at Churchill Downs before a patient Geroux unleashed his run with a quarter-mile left in the 1 1/8-mile Haskell to win by a head, earning a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 102.
“I don’t think this horse has to necessarily sit off of horses. He’s pretty honest; he can be right where he needs to be. I wouldn’t even be opposed to him being on the lead if the right opportunity presented itself,” Cox said. “I don’t want to take away anything that comes easy. If they just break with their natural speed, you can’t fight with them. [At a] mile and a quarter, I don’t know how aggressive these other guys are going to be. We’ll see how it goes.”
Geroux is riding in the Travers for the second time, having finished fifth on the Cox-trained Owendale in 2019. The two-time defending Eclipse Award winner as leading trainer, Cox won last year’s Travers with Essential Quality, the Champion 2-Year-Old Male of 2020 and 3-Year-Old Male of 2021.
Hall of Famer Mott seeking first Travers victory with long shot Gilded Age
Grandview Equine and Don Alberto Stable’s Gilded Age, runner-up in the 1 1/8-mile Curlin here last month, will get more distance to work with as he attempts to give Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott his first victory in the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers.
Gilded Age drew post position 4 and is the longest shot on the morning line at 30-1 for the 153rd Travers topped by 7-5 program favorite Epicenter, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness runner-up and winner of Saratoga’s Grade 2 Jim Dandy July 30.
Among the competition in the 1 1/4-mile Travers for 3-year-olds are the winners of the first two legs of the Triple Crown – Rich Strike, who captured the Kentucky Derby at odds of 80-1, and Preakness winner Early Voting – as well as Cyberknife, winner of the Grade 1 Haskell July 23 at Monmouth Park and Zandon, who took the Grade 1 Blue Grass April 9 at Keeneland.
Adonis was the highest-priced Travers winner of the modern era at $53.50 in 1945, the last of three straight years when the race was run at Belmont Park due to travel restrictions during World War II. The richest Travers winner at Saratoga was Willow Hour ($50.20) in 1981.
“It’d be a huge upset if he won,” Mott said of Gilded Age. “The Travers is a tough race, tough competition in there. Our horse ran pretty well over the racetrack here. He was second and he was closing, and we’re hoping that a mile and a quarter suits him well and we can pick up some of the pieces.”
Gilded Age went off at 10-1 in the July 29 Curlin and raced near the back of the pack before closing with a run on the outside to get up for second, beaten 4 3/4 lengths by Artorius, the Chad Brown-trained stablemate of Early Voting and Zandon. In his eighth career start, Gilded Age will stretch out beyond nine furlongs for the first time.
“Had he not run well in the Curlin, we probably wouldn’t have given it a chance,” Mott said. “But, he did run well in the Curlin and the timing of the [Travers] was good. There’s really nowhere else to go so we thought, ‘Let’s give him a shot in the Travers.’”
Gilded Age is a son and a grandson of Travers winners. His sire, Medaglia d’Oro, swept the Jim Dandy and Travers in 2002 and returned to Saratoga to win the Grade 1 Whitney in 2003. Grandsire Bernardini is also a member of Jim Dandy-Travers club, and was named Champion 3-Year-Old Male of 2006. Gilded Age’s dam, Angela Renee, won the Grade 1 Chandelier going 1 1/16 miles in 2014.
“There’s certainly nothing in his pedigree to discourage you from trying, that’s for sure,” Mott said.
Mott has started horses in nine Travers since 1991, running second with Vision and Verse at odds of 14-1 in 1999, Hold Me Back (17-1) in 2009 and 2-1 favorite Tacitus in 2019. South Bend ran fourth at 32-1 in 2020, and Good Samaritan was fifth as the 7-2 favorite in 2017.
Conagher aims to give trainer Tomlinson first G1 in H. Allen Jerkens Memorial
Trainer Michael Tomlinson has come to Saratoga Race Course with a serious 3-year-old sprinter in the past, saddling graded stakes-winner Barbados to a game third-place finish in the 2015 Grade 2 Amsterdam. On Saturday, he returns to the Spa for the first time in four years with Patricia’s Hope and Mark Farrar’s Conagher in the Grade 1, $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial for sophomores sprinting seven furlongs.
“He’s doing very well. He got up here on Monday night and has trained well since,” said Tomlinson. “He’ll gallop tomorrow.”
Conagher, a chestnut son of Jimmy Creed, enters from a 2 1/4-length victory going the Allen Jerkens distance on August 1 in Colonial Downs’ Housebuster, going wire-to-wire and defeating Old Homestead, who won the Lafayette in impressive fashion in April at Keeneland. The effort came on the heels of a runner-up effort in the 1 1/16-mile Iowa Derby on July 9 at Prairie Meadows where he was defeated by Ain’t Life Grand, who will race later on Saturday’s card in the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers.
“The horse that ran second was quality,” Tomlinson said of the Housebuster effort. “He had won a stakes race at Keeneland, so he didn’t beat a slouch. We wanted that race as a prep to back up to sprinting after going two turns in Iowa. It was a good race with pressure all the way and he drew off.”
Conagher’s best effort to date was a dominating allowance optional claiming victory going seven furlongs on June 3 at Churchill Downs. He showed his usual frontrunning tactics and drew off to a 5 1/4-length win under returning rider Joe Rocco, Jr., earning a career-high 104 Beyer Speed Figure.
Of nine entrants in the Allen Jerkens, only multiple graded stakes-winner Jack Christopher owns a higher figure, boasting a 107 for his 10-length win in the Grade 1 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun at Belmont Park.
In that June 3 effort, Conagher soundly defeated returning rival and Grade 1-winner Gunite, who was making his first start back off an eight-month respite. Tomlinson said it gives him confidence that Conagher has already beaten one of the most formidable foes he will face on Saturday.
“He handily beat Gunite and I realized that was Gunite’s first race back off the layoff,” said Tomlinson. “He did it the right way and well see what happens. His efforts have shown that a Grade 1 is within his grasp.”
Tomlinson said both speed and a smart ride from Rocco, Jr. will be key to success on Saturday.
“He’s obviously got a lot of speed and he can go quickly. He has a lot of ability and can carry at least a mile,” Tomlinson said. “It’s a very tactical jockeys’ race and there are several in there with speed, so it will be a test.”
A win with Conagher would mark the first Grade 1 triumph for Tomlinson, who has scored at the graded level with top trainees Kettleoneup, Sir Cherokee, Barbados and Jordan’s Henny. Tomlinson said winning a Grade 1, especially at Saratoga, would be very meaningful.
“This would be my first Grade 1, but we’ve won several Grade 2s and 3s with some other horses,” said Tomlinson. “It’s exciting; we’ll see.”
A $9,000 purchase at the 2020 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall Yearling Sale, Conagher has amassed total purse earnings of $312,353 through a record of 9-4-3-1. He is the second foal to race out of the Niagara Causeway mare You Should Be Here, a direct descendant of Grade 1-winning and producing mare Fall Aspen.
Drafted seeking G1 Forego upset
Dublin Fjord Stables, Racepoint Stables, Kevin Hilberth and Thomas O'Keefe's multiple graded-stakes winning millionaire Drafted will look to pull off a shock upset in Saturday's Grade 1, $600,000 Forego at Saratoga.
Trained by David Duggan, the 8-year-old Florida-bred son of Field Commission enters the seven-furlong sprint for older horses in the midst of a strong campaign, boasting a record of 5-3-1-0 this season.
Duggan said the Spa main track should suit the deep-closing Drafted as he takes on the reigning Champion Sprinter in Jackie’s Warrior.
"There's not a lot of options at the moment. We could have gone to Colonial or Pimlico but both are tracks that are not conducive to his sprinting style,” Duggan said. “The next option was there going seven-eighths and only that it's seven-eighths is the reason we're taking it on as his numbers have a tendency to elevate a little bit.
“We know we're taking on the best sprinter in the world, but if he stubs his toe or has a bad day, we'll see how it goes. We'll give it a good shot."
Drafted made his first two starts of the year sprinting seven furlongs at Aqueduct Racetrack, winning the Grade 3 Toboggan in February and finishing a distant fifth in the Grade 1 Carter Handicap in April. He returned to form with a one-length score in the six-furlong Grade 3 Runhappy in May at Belmont Park ahead of a last-to-first rally to win the six-furlong Mr. Prospector in June at Monmouth Park.
Last out, Drafted closed from last to finish second in the six-furlong Alapocas Run on July 2 at Delaware Park.
Drafted was unable to close into modest splits of 23.17 and 46.11 in the Carter, but Duggan said he is hopeful a more contentious pace can develop Saturday when the 30-1 morning-line chance exits post 2 under returning rider Luis Rodriguez Castro.
"He's tried Grade 1 form before and come up a little short, but there's speed and pressure in there and it sets up a lot better for me than it does for a lot of the other horses,” Duggan said. “Am I good enough? That's the question. He's an old pro and we felt if there was a time to do it, it was now. If it doesn't work, we'll dust ourselves off and go back to the real world."
Drafted has breezed back three times over the Belmont dirt training track, including back-to-back bullets led by a half-mile in 48 flat on August 21.
"He's as well as he's ever been and his confidence is high," Duggan said. "He always works sharp in the mornings, that's just his style."
Drafted, who has won at five different racetracks, boasts a ledger of 29-9-3-3 for purse earnings in excess of $1 million. In 2019, the world-traveling gelding captured the Group 3 Al Shindagha Sprint and Group 3 Mahab Al Shimaal for former conditioner Doug Watson at Meydan Racecourse.
He made his first start for Duggan in November 2020, posting a record of 3-2-2 in 13 starts since.
“He's taken us on a magical ride,” Duggan said. “If he runs well and does well, that would be fantastic. If he doesn't, we're not going to cry about it. But he's well and he's happy and we're going to take a good swing at it.
"We’re all looking for signature horses and he's ours,” Duggan added. “He's kept us in the limelight and kept us relevant in this game, which is quite tough in New York. It's nice to have a horse of this quality. He's carried the banner for older horses and shown that they can compete at this level. He owes us nothing and he's just a cool horse to be around."
Duggan sports a perfect in-the-money record at the current Spa meet of 3-1-1-1, including a runner-up effort by Snicket in the Union Avenue on August 12.
“We're a small stable and you have to be a little more realistic when you go to Saratoga,” Duggan said. “In saying that, we had horses that were doing well at the time and we feel like we spotted them well and got a piece of the cake every time we went up there. It doesn't happen like that always, it will humble you fairly quickly Saratoga. I've been in that boat, too.”
The veteran conditioner has won three stakes at Saratoga, including an 11-1 upset in the 2008 Grade 3 Victory Ride when Porte Bonheur bested odds-on favorite Indyanne by a half-length in the six-furlong sprint for sophomore fillies.
“She was a quality filly and we knew we were going the right direction. She was a solid Grade 2/Grade 3 filly and we kept her at that level and she was great,” Duggan said. “The good ones you remember vividly and some of the hard-triers, too. But when you go to Saratoga, you like to be relevant. Some people go for the day out, but that's not what I want. I want to be competitive. It keeps it fun when they're running well.”
Howling Time cuts back for G1 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial
Multiple Grade 1-winner Jack Christopher isn’t the only horse in the Grade 1, $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial to cut back in distance from the Grade 1 Haskell. Albaugh Family Stables’ Howling Time will see one turn for the first time in 11 months when pursuing his first Grade 1 win in the seven-furlong test at Saratoga Race Course for trainer Dale Romans.
The aptly-named dark bay son of Not This Time, out of the Arch mare Werewolf, was fourth in the Haskell on July 23 at Monmouth Park – a race where returning rival Jack Christopher finished third as the favorite.
Howling Time was a debut winner going six furlongs at Churchill Downs in September before capturing the two-turn Street Sense going 1 1/16 miles at the Louisville oval. Off the board in his next three graded stakes efforts, respectively won by Kentucky Derby contestants Smile Happy, Simplification and Tawny Port, Howling Time returned to the winner’s circle at allowance optional claiming level on May 21 over a sloppy and sealed main track at Churchill Downs.
“He’s earned this. He’s run well and I think that cutting back will help him,” said
Romans, who won the 2018 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial with Promises Fulfilled. “We’re going to try it and see because he’s sitting over the top of being a really good horse. It’s a tough race.”
Romans also conditioned Howling Time’s sire Not This Time, who currently leads all North American third-crop sires this year.
“Not This Time was a little bit of a different horse. He was a special, special horse and he’s become a special sire,” Romans said. “Other than the color there aren’t too many similarities, but they’re both talented. Not This Time was a career horse. He had the mind, he had the body, he had it all.”
Through his eight lifetime starts, Howling Time has shown a variety of different tactics, but Romans is hopeful that he can stalk a fast pace.
“Hopefully they go 44 and he’s stalking right off of him,” Romans said. “He’s a good sound horse and he does a lot of things right. He’s going to get better and better.”
Romans was all smiles when reminded that his Saratoga barn is playing host to two Travers contenders, both sired by former trainees of his. Grade 1 Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike is a son of 2015 Travers winner Keen Ice, who provided Romans with his first Travers victory. The Kelly Von Hemel-trained Ain’t Life Grand, by Not This Time, also is stabled with Romans.
“There’s a lot more similarities between Not This Time and Ain’t Life Grand,” Romans said. “I think he looks as much like him as any horse that I’ve seen. He’s trained like him up here. He’s 20-1 but he’s a very live longshot. Kelly’s done a great job with him.”