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This weekend's race, Saturday August 23
The 145th renewal of the Midsummer Derby -- as some still call it -- will not feature Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome, but it will include Belmont winner Tonalist and solid Derby finishers Commanding Curve and Wicked Strong.Joining the fray is Preakness starter and Haskell winner Bayern who has speed to burn -- something that is always a good weapon to have at the Spa. The race also attracts one of the country's better 3-year-old turf horses in Mr Speaker. That might be a bit of a head scratcher until you realize his trainer is Shug McGaughey who would not enter a race like the Travers if he thought he had no chance. In the end the Travers will come down to speed and distance. Specifically, how the challengers combat the speed of Bayern and whether he -- or any of his early challengers -- can get the 1 ¼ miles in distance. Trained by Bob Baffert, 2-Bayern is obviously the controlling speed in the race and he has won 4 of his 7 lifetime starts while on the lead or just off it for all four of those races. Saratoga is often a track that can favor speed, especially on big stakes days. And remember last year's race when Moreno, a less talented colt than Bayern, nearly stole the Travers on a front-end dream. Many don't think Bayern can get the 1 ¼ miles, but he owns the fastest speed figures in the race. If he gets away to an easy lead as he did in the Haskell, then his top rivals may never catch him. Problem is there isn't much early speed in the race to run with Bayern unless you think 7-Wicked Strong will go since he did add blinkers last race and was up closer to the lead than he had ever been when he won the Jim Dandy four weeks ago. If a duel develops between those two favorites, 6-Toanlist will stand to benefit as he figures to stalk several lengths behind the leaders and then just wear them down with his stamina, which he obviously possesses as evidenced by the Belmont Stakes win. Trainer Christophe Clement has said the Jim Dandy was just a steppingstone to the Travers and this colt should be ready to roll. Much will be heard about the closing ability of 1-Commanding Curve and 8-Kid Cruz, but they just don't seem fast enough to stay with the big three in here early and give themselves a chance to run them down in deep stretch. The predicted order of finish looks like this: 1. Tonalist
Last weekend's race, Saturday August 16
After watching the 134th running of the Alabama it is safe to conclude two things. First, the winner, Stopchargingmaria is a good horse. Second, Untapable is clearly still at the top of the division until another filly knocks her off head-to-head. While Stopchargingmaria ran a very good race to earn her second straight Grade I win at Saratoga, the Alabama featured a slow pace and a slow finish coming back at 2:05.14 for the 1 ¼ miles.
The Repole/Pletcher filly was bumped leaving the gate and was caught 3-wide around the first turn. From there she rated while wide and kept a steady eye on the leaders. She then began to advance around the far turn, taking over at the 3/16th pole and never looking back. Stopchargingmaria has 6 wins now in 10 career starts and is a clear No. 2 in her division behind Untapable. However, the slow time and fact that she will be a short price going forward prevents us from giving her a letter for this race. No horses earned letters as a result of late betting, but there were two late runners that did enough to earn a 'B' for the race.
Joint Return was sent off at 24-1 and after lagging behind for the first mile she began to rally on the rail and slipped through an opening at top of the stretch only to have to alter course into the three path. She did run on from there to finish just ¾ of a length behind the winner. She did get lucky when the rail opened up, but was the only horse that was making up any ground while closing into the dawdling pace.
Going into the race, Unbridled Forever was given a chance by some to upset the favorite. But after a slow start she had to move progressively wider off the rail down the backside until she was 6-wide at the ¼ pole. She had a mild kick as they straightened away in the lane, but then flattened out. She is a talented horse, but may need to try and duck the top two fillies if she wants to win.
Joint Return (B)
Unbridled Forever (B)
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A List: A preferred horse to watch
B List: Secondary horse to watch
*C List: Went down 2 or more betting notches and finished 1st through 3rd
*D List: Went down 2 or more betting notches and finished 4th or worse
* minus-4 or more betting notches if 11-1 or more.
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