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Led by the signature event of the meet, the $1.25 million Travers, Saratoga will serve up a loaded race card which includes seven graded stakes and six Grade 1s, offering $4.6 million in total purse money.
While division leader Essential Quality is the headliner in the Travers, other stars on the Spa’s big card include Letruska and Swiss Skydiver in the $600,000 Personal Ensign; Gamine topping the $500,000 Ballerina; Whitmore looking for a win in the $600,000 Forego; and Jackie’s Warrior and Life Is Good squaring off in the $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial.
This weekend we will look nowhere else but Saratoga, as we focus on all six of the Grade 1 races on the excellent Travers Day card, beginning with the 152nd edition of the Mid-Summer Derby.
The Godolphin homebred Essential Quality, a six-time graded stakes winner and only once beaten, stands over the rest as the odds-on favorite in a field of seven set for Saturday’s Grade 1 Travers Stakes at Saratoga. Trained by Brad Cox, the champion has won two straight since suffering his only career loss in the Kentucky Derby. Two starts back he scored one of his most important victories in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes. Last out, the son of Tapit got his first taste of the main track at Saratoga when defeating Keepmeinmind in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy.
Of the rest, Midnight Bourbon, second in the Preakness, could offer the toughest opposition. The graded stakes-winning son of Tiznow has the early speed to take the lead from the outset from his rail draw. Keepmeinmind, a solid second last time, but 0-for-5 against Essential Quality overall, and Dynamic One, a good-looking winner of Saratoga’s Curlin Stakes last out, look to be making strong late runs in the Travers.
Our Pick: Essential Quality (4/5) – The Champ looks primed and ready to add another big feather to his cap.
Multiple Eclipse Award-winning trainer and native Upstate New Yorker Chad Brown will look for another Grade 1 win on the turf when he sends out the pair of Tribhuvan and Rockemperor in the wide-open field for Saturday’s $750,000 Sword Dancer. The 12-furlong test is a “Win and You’re In” challenge race for the $4 million Breeders’ Cup Turf on November 6 at Del Mar. Coming in off a win in the Grade 1 United Nations, Tribhuvan looks like the preferred half of the duo
Chief among the challengers to Brown’s strong pair will be Japan, a multiple Group 1 winner from Europe for trainer Aiden O’Brien; Gufo, a consistent late-running Grade 1 winner; and Cross Border, who has won six times on the Saratoga turf, including the Grade 2 Bowling Green earlier this meet.
Our Pick: Gufo (4/1) – His powerful late run will be tough to hold off in this race he has been pointed for.
Coming in on quite a roll, Letruska is the headliner in a deep field of nine older fillies and mares set to battle it out for the top prize in Saratoga’s Grade 1 Personal Ensign on Saturday. Based in Mexico to start her career, the daughter of Super Saver has taken over the top spot in the division with consecutive impressive victories in the Grade 1 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park, the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park, and the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs.
Chief among her competition will be last year’s Preakness winner, Swiss Skydiver. Despite coming in off two straight defeats, the 4-year-old daughter of Daredevil has earned respect with six graded stakes wins. Besides beating the boys in the Preakness, she counts the Grade 1 Beholder Mile this year, and the Grade 1 Alabama last year among her victories, the latter coming over the Saratoga main track.
Our Pick: Swiss Skydiver (4/1) – With a tough race over the track under her belt, let’s see if she can stalk and pounce on the heavily favored Letruska.
A big winner of the Grade 2 Amsterdam to start the month, Jackie’s Warrior will seek to keep his record at Saratoga perfect and further his credentials as the top sprinter in the nation when he takes on a speed-laden field in Saturday’s Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial. Already a winner of three graded stakes at Saratoga, the son of Maclean’s Music should be tested from the outset in the 7 furlong test.
Chief among his competition will be the unbeaten Life Is Good. The son of Into Mischief arrives off a near 6-month break and will make his debut for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. Previously trained by Bob Baffert, he has never been headed in his three starts and romped in the Grade 2 San Felipe over Medina Spirit when last seen. This will be his first start outside of Southern California.
Our Pick: Jackie’s Warrior (1/1) – It will be interesting to see what he can do against Life Is Good and all this speed, but his Saratoga record is flawless.
Demonstrating just how difficult a handicapping puzzle Saturday’s Grade 1 Forego will be, five of the eight horses entered in the race are Grade 1 winners, yet it is another who has been named the morning line favorite. That honor goes to the speedy Yaupon, who won both of his starts at Saratoga last year impressively, including the Grade 2 Amsterdam. He returned to capture Pimlico’s Lite the Fuse July 4 in his most recent start.
The five Grade 1 winners in the field include Firenze Fire, Lexitonian, Mind Control, Mischevious Alex and Whitmore. Each of the five veterans has scored in graded sprint stakes this year, except for Whitmore, who ended last year with a decisive victory in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, which propelled to an Eclipse Award as America’s top male sprinter.
Our Pick: Whitmore (4/1) – The veteran has been knocking on the door this year, and looks well spotted in this wide open affair.
Gamine, a runaway winner of last year’s Grade 1 Test at Saratoga, makes her return to the Upstate New York oval on Saturday and will be a heavy favorite to add the Grade 1 Ballerina Handicap to her growing list of accomplishments. The Eclipse Award-winning female sprinter of 2020 has not been headed in three starts this year in graded stakes races at Santa Anita, Churchill Downs, and Los Alamitos.
Chief among her rivals is Ce Ce, the impressive winner of last month’s Grade 2 Princess Rooney at Gulfstream Park. A millionaire daughter of Elusive Quality, she counts both of her wins this year at the Ballerina’s 7 furlong distance, including a sharp season opening score at Santa Anita.
Our Pick: Gamine (3/5) – Impossible to look past the best sprinting female in the nation.
Taken to the races at a very young age, Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Professionally, his work has been published on several leading industry sites. Brian served as the Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, where he still writes a regular column and hosts the popular weekly webcast HorseCenter.
Email: [email protected]
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