Stay Thirsty, Shackleford, Coil Dream Big In Travers
By New York Racing Association
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – For Preakness winner Shackleford, Haskell Invitational hero Coil and Belmont Stakes victor Ruler On Ice, Saturday’s 142nd running of the $1 million Travers at Saratoga Race Course is a golden opportunity to grab control of the wide-open 3-year-old division with a second Grade 1 victory.
For six others, the 1 ¼-mile race offers the chance to become part of the mix for year-end championship honors.
First, however, they’ll have to get past Grade 2 Jim Dandy winner Stay Thirsty, who also is bidding for divisional control as he drew post position 9 and was made the narrow 5-2 morning-line favorite in the field of 10 drawn Wednesday for the “Mid-Summer Derby.”
With post time at 5:45 p.m., Eastern, the Travers will be telecast live on NBC from 5-6 p.m. as part of the continuing “Summer at Saratoga” series, which Saturday will also include the Grade 1 Foxwoods King’s Bishop, which features the return of Stay Thirsty’s stablemate, 2010 Juvenile champion Uncle Mo. Also on a stellar 13-race card are the Grade 1 Ballerina, the Grade 2 Ballston Spa, and the Grade 3 Victory Ride presented by Jose Cuervo.
Owned by Mike Repole and trained by Todd Pletcher, Stay Thirsty will seek to become the ninth colt to complete the Jim Dandy-Travers double, a feat most recently accomplished by Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense in 2007. Long overshadowed by Uncle Mo despite his victory in the Grade 3 Gotham, Stay Thirsty served notice he was a horse to be reckoned with when he finished second, just three-quarters of a length behind Ruler On Ice, in the 1 ½-mile Belmont. He then grabbed his share of the spotlight with a resounding four-length victory in the Jim Dandy on July 30.
“He’s had three starts [at Saratoga], two wins, and a second,” said Repole. “He loves this place. I think he loves it more than me and that’s hard to do. The second was to Boys At Tosconova in the Hopeful, which is no disgrace. You guys all saw what he did in the Jim Dandy, the fastest 3-year-old [route] number [106 Beyer Speed Figure] out there. He’s training just as good, if not better, than that race.”
Javier Castellano rides the son of 2006 Travers winner Bernardini.
“Obviously we’d like a similar trip to what we got in the Jim Dandy, but he’s a not a horse we have to worry too much about pace scenarios or a whole lot of tactics,” said Pletcher. “He’s versatile enough. He’s fine when he’s inside, outside, stalking … he can run on the lead if it happened that way. We’ll let Javier make those decisions. He’s having a great meet, and he’s riding in career form, so we’ll put him up there and let him do his thing.”
Since 1981, when the Haskell became an invitational race for 3-year-olds, five have strung together victories in the Haskell and Travers, most recently in 2001, when Coil’s sire, Point Given, won both races.
“Coil sort of reminds me of [Point Given] a little bit in the fact that he’s not as big, but he’s the kind of horse who puts on weight with every race,” said Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, who trains Coil for Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman. “I think this is a good spot for him, it’s a good race, and there is no better place to be than Saratoga.”
In the Haskell, Coil rocketed from last to first for his second graded stakes win. Having compiled a record of 3-1-1 from five starts, including the Grade 3 Affirmed, over artificial surfaces, the Haskell marked the striking chestnut’s first outing on conventional dirt, and Baffert was unsure how Coil was taking to the surface at the Spa. A recent scratch on the colt’s cornea further complicated matters, but Baffert’s doubts were allayed when Coil turned in a seemingly effortless bullet half-mile work of 46.12 on Tuesday under jockey Martin Garcia.
“It seems like we have [the eye] under control; he worked very well,” said Baffert. “When he works like that, he usually runs well. I was looking for something like that. He came out of the race great; he seems pretty happy after the work and today, so it’s good to be able to participate in the Travers.”
Garcia has the mount on Coil, the 3-1 second choice on the morning line, from post position 7.
Shackleford arrived at Saratoga on the heels of his narrow loss to Coil in the Haskell and the handsome son of Forestry has been training exceptionally well since, most recently working five furlongs in 1:00 4/5 on August 20. Owned by Mike Lauffer and Bill Cubbedge, the speedy Preakness winner brings a record of 3-2-0 from nine starts into the Travers along with a bankroll of more than $1.7 million, more than double his nearest competitor, Ruler On Ice ($866,500).
Jesus Castanon will ride Shackleford, 9-2 on the morning line, from post 10.
“I don’t think there is anybody quick enough to get in front of us if they want the lead,” said trainer Dale Romans. “From the 10-hole, we may have to go, open up a couple, and see what happens. He has a high cruising speed, and history shows that when you pull a lot of horses out of their race chasing you, they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If they let you just keep cruising they might not be able to catch you turning for home. That’s why speed is always dangerous.”
History could be on the side of Ruler On Ice. Since 1867, when Belmont winner Ruthless captured the Travers, 30 winners of the “Test of the Champion” have also won the Travers, compared to eight who have completed the Preakness-Travers double.
Most recently third behind Coil and Shackleford in the Haskell, Ruler On Ice brings a record of 3-2-2 from eight starts into the Travers, with the Belmont his lone stakes win for trainer Kelly Breen and owners George and Lori Hall.
Jose Valdivia, Jr. will ride the son of Roman Ruler, who is attempting to join Carley B. (1882), Roamer (1914), Loud (1970), Holding Pattern (1974) and Unshaded (2000) as the only geldings to win the Travers. Leaving from post 4, he was listed as the 6-1 fourth choice on the morning line.
“It’s a good post for me,” said Breen. “I just hope we’re in front at the wire. That’s all that matters.”
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin had the favorite for last year’s Travers in Trappe Shot, who entered the race off a runner-up finish in the Haskell and wound up ninth. This year, the trainer is taking a different tack with Mill House’s Rattlesnake Bridge, who has not run since his victory in the July 9 Long Branch at Monmouth Park.
“It’s hard to run horses back in three weeks or four weeks,” said McLaughlin. “[Rattlesnake Bridge and Trappe Shot] are both owned by the same person, bought by the same person, and by the same sire, but hopefully we’ll have more luck this year. He’s just improving all the time, and we feel like he wants the 1 ¼ miles. There’s plenty of pace to set it up for us, and we have [jockey] Johnny Velazquez, so all systems are go.”
Rattlesnake Bridge, 2-2-0 from five starts, including a second to Uncle Mo in the Timely Writer at Gulfstream Park on March 12, drew post position 2 and was listed at 8-1 on the morning line.
Raison d’Etat will be making just his fifth career start in the Travers and enters the race off a runner-up finish as the favorite in the Curlin Stakes on July 29. Trainer by Hall of Famer Bill Mott for Juddmonte Farms, the A. P. Indy colt drew post 6 and was listed at 10-1 on the morning line with Eddie Castro aboard.
“It’s right in the middle,” said Mott of the post. “If I could pick one, that might have been it.”
Rounding out the field, from the rail out, are Bowman’s Causeway (12-1), runner-up in the Prince of Wales at Fort Erie last time out; J W Blue (20-1), most recently second in the Barbaro at Delaware Park on July 9; recent allowance winner Malibu Glow (20-1), and Jim Dandy runner-up Moonshine Mullin (20-1).
In the winner’s circle following the race, Northeastern Fine Jewelry and Swiss watchmaker IWC Schaffhausen will present the winning owner of the Travers with a stainless steel IWC Aquatimer Automatic 2000 watch.