Quite a bit riding on this year's Travers Stakes

Posted: August 26, 2011

IF ONE horse could ever win consecutive stakes, the 3-year-old championship would be all but decided. Perhaps, tomorrow's Travers Stakes (NBC10, 5:45 p.m.) at Saratoga is the time.

If the Preakness or Belmont Stakes winner could get the Travers, that horse would be the leader in the division.

Stay Thirsty and Coil won the Jim Dandy and Haskell, respectively, the first weekend of August. Stay Thirsty looked legit, running quite fast after a strong second in the Belmont. Coil caught the best part of the track when winning at Monmouth Park, so he is still a bit of a mystery.

Preakness winner Shackleford nearly won the Haskell. Belmont winner Ruler On Ice was a decent third in the Haskell.

Shackleford will have a huge tactical advantage, as he is absolutely lone speed. The colt was on the wrong part of the track at Monmouth, but the mile-and-a-quarter might be too far.

Stay Thirsty likely will go favored as all three of his races at Saratoga have been terrific.

"He's had three starts [at Saratoga], two wins and a second," said Stay Thirsty's owner, Mike 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."

Shackleford will have to be caught.

"I don't think there is anybody quick enough to get in front of us if they want the lead," said Shackleford's 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."

If the Travers wasn't enough, the 7-furlong King's Bishop (5:12 p.m.) marks the return of Uncle Mo, also owned by Repole. The 2-year-old champion hasn't run since April. He was scratched on the eve of the Kentucky Derby with what was eventually diagnosed as a rare liver disorder.

Uncle Mo made his debut on Travers Day 2010. He won by 14 1/4 lengths. Then, he won the Champagne and the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. He looked like the next superhorse. Then, he didn't. Now, we shall see what he has as we enter the final 10 weeks of the championship season.

If Uncle Mo wins or runs well, he is likely to appear at Parx Racing for the Sept. 24 Pennsylvania Derby. Given that there is a $50,000 bonus for the owner and trainer of any Triple Crown race winner as well as the winners of the Haskell and Travers, Shackleford, Ruler On Ice and Coil all could be in play for the Pa. Derby as well.

The King's Bishop is no easy spot, with sprint specialist Flashpoint and the very quick Caleb's Posse in the race. Poseidon's Warrior, trained at Parx by Butch Reid, has blown up in his last two races. The colt will be a big price, but is not without a chance.

Given how this year has gone, you may want to look beyond the Big Four in the Travers. And, if you do, J W Blue may be the horse. Tony Dutrow, who lives in Newtown and has a string at Parx, has started 12 horses at Saratoga. Only two have been worse than third. J W Blue was a late-running second in the Barbaro Stakes at Delaware Park on July 9. This, of course, is a huge jump into the unknown.

"About a month ago, I was trying to have the courage to be 20-1 in the Travers [and say], 'I know we can do this' and 'Let's go' and 'We can run as good as the rest of them,' " Dutrow said. "As the days have narrowed down, I've been trying to back out. When that earthquake hit, that was my sign. I said, 'I'm all in.' I'm not a big superstitious guy. When that earthquake hit, we have a chance. He's a big, strong horse. We want to get him out there and see if he can do himself some good."

The Travers is for $1 million, with leadership of the division on the line. The $250,000 King's Bishop and Uncle Mo is about this: Can the champ win this race, the Pa. Derby and the Breeders' Cup Classic to steal Horse of the Year?

Lots of questions for late August. Perhaps, some answers tomorrow at the Spa.


 Saturday, 12th Race (5:45 p.m.), Saratoga Race Track

TV: NBC10 (5 p.m.)

One-and-a-quarter miles; 3-year-olds; purse: $1 million; all carry 126 lbs.

1 Bowman's Causeway: jockey Ramon Dominguez, trainer Chad C. Brown; odds: 12-1

2 Rattlesnake Bridge: jockey John Velazquez, trainer Kiaran P. McLaughlin; odds: 8-1

3 Moonshine Mullin: jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson, trainer Reade Baker; odds: 20-1

4 Ruler On Ice: jockey Jose Valdivia Jr., trainer Kelly J. Breen; odds: 6-1

5 Malibu Glow: jockey Rajiv Maragh, trainer George Weaver; odds 20-1

6 Raison d'Etat: jockey Eddie Castro, trainer William I. Mott; odds: 10-1

7 Coil: jockey Martin Garcia, trainer Bob Baffert; odds: 3-1

8 J W Blue: jockey Cornelio Velasquez, trainer Anthony W. Dutrow; odds: 20-1

9 Stay Thirsty: jockey Javier Castellano, trainer Todd A. Pletcher; odds: 5-2

10 Shackleford: jockey Jesus Castanon, trainer Dale L. Romans; odds 9-2

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