Last weekend's race, Saturday August 23
The $1.25 million Travers at Saratoga
The Travers Stakes is positioned as a race that can shine a light on a 3-year-old poised to blossom and become a star in the fall.
Unfortunately, the 145th edition of Saratoga's renowned Mid-Summer Derby might have only revealed how ordinary some of the division's stars really are.
The buzz around the Travers came from a trio of Grade 1 winners, Bayern, Wicked Strong and Tonalist. Each had an impressive resume. Bayern was coming off a 7 ¼-length victory in the $1 million Haskell; Wicked Strong won the Wood Memorial in April and the Grade 2 Jim Dandy last month at the Spa; and Tonalist won the Belmont Stakes.
One seemed likely to capture the Travers and vault into Eclipse Award consideration. None did.
V.E. Day, at 19-1 odds, won the Travers by a nose over Wicked Strong in a fabulous finish for trainer Jimmy Jerkens, who saddled the 1-2 finishers.
It was certainly a breakthrough effort by V.E. Day, but one has to wonder if he benefitted from the top three being too preoccupied with each other. Next time out, which may come against older horses in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, he'll face a tougher test on a racing surface different than the one at Saratoga that he appears to relish. Figuring he'll be nowhere near the 19-1 he was in the Travers, we'll pass on including him on the Hot List.
Wicked Strong also ran well, but aside from racing wide on the first turn, he had an ideal trip. He was content to track in third as Tonalist chased Bayern. When he surged past those two at the top of the stretch, he seemed home free. Seeing him collared in the final stride after that dream trip takes some of the shine off his effort. Perhaps he's at his best at a mile and an eighth, the distance he was victorious at in the Wood and Jim Dandy. Since he may also run next in the mile and a quarter JC Gold Cup and will be no doubt be well-bet, there's little incentive to include him on the Hot List.
Bayern was exposed as a miler as he faded to last and might need a lengthy rest off such a taxing race.
If there was one to follow from Big 3 in the Travers, it was Tonalist. In a surprising move, he rushed out and challenged Bayern for the lead, actually taking a brief lead before tracking in second the rest of the way.
Given his staying power, Tonalist might have turned in a better effort if he could have settled in third or fourth instead of using up so much energy in the early stages. The JC Gold Cup is also on his agenda and with a better trip and the prospect of better odds than the 5-2 he was sent off at in the Travers, we'll include him on the Hot List with a "B" as a secondary horse to watch.
While no one took a major dip on the toteboard in the final minutes of wagering, we'll also assign a "B" to Mr Speaker. The dirt experiment did not work out as well as trainer Shug McGaughey envisioned, but he should bounce back from that fifth-place finish when he's reunited with turf. Plans call for him to run next against 3-year-olds in the Hill Prince on Belmont Park's turf course and unless the Travers delivered a knockout punch to him, he should be far more formidable in that spot.
Hot List Horses
1. Tonalist (B)
2. Mr Speaker (B)
For daily Hot List selections, click here.
Hot List Key
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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