August 10, 2022

Breeders’ Cup implications from Travers Day

Catholic Boy and jockey Javier Castellano win the Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga on August 25, 2018 (c) NYRA/Chelsea Durand/Adam Coglianese Photography

Travers Day is the centerpiece of the Saratoga meet and a slew of Breeders’ Cup prospects competed in seven graded stakes. Here are my thoughts in the aftermath:

TRAVERS

Catholic Boy returned to dirt with a vengeance in the 149th running of the “Mid-Summer Derby,” parlaying a forwardly-placed trip into a four-length decision. And considering the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) will be run at the same 1 1/4-mile distance, Catholic Boy rates as the top three-year-old Classic prospect presently in my estimation.

You know he’s going to give all he’s got. Other than a Florida Derby (G1) effort in which he bled, Catholic Boy has either won or finished close in every start. He moved forward Saturday off a pair of stellar turf wins, the Belmont Derby Invitational (G1) and Pennine Ridge (G2), and trainer Jonathon Thomas summed it up well when saying, “We’ve always believed he’s a top talent despite the surface. He’s a much stronger, mature horse (than earlier this year) and this really shows that patience helps.”

Haskell (G1) winner Good Magic, who checked in ninth as the 7-5 favorite, doesn’t appear to want any distance past 1 1/8 miles.

Detractors will point out Catholic Boy’s front-running trip on a speed-friendly track – pacesetter Mendelssohn held for second after showing little in his first two dirt attempts – and credit Javier Castellano, who stretched his record with a sixth Travers victory. But I’m not taking anything away from the winner, who certainly should be in any Classic discussion presently.

Catholic Boy possesses excellent tactical speed and can settle if necessary. The Classic will be held in Kentucky this year (Churchill Downs) and the top two older horses in training, Accelerate and Diversify, are huge question marks outside of California and New York, respectively.

PERSONAL ENSIGN

The Distaff (G1) looks like the most compelling race of Breeders’ Cup weekend. The three-year-old filly division is loaded but Monomoy Girl and others will have their hands full with elders Abel Tasman and Elate, who delivered a thrilling rendition of the Personal Ensign (G1) on Saturday.

Abel Tasman prevailed by a neck over Elate but had to survive an objection after drifting out into Elate in deep stretch, arguably costing her rival momentum at a key stage. Little separated these rivals on this occasion, but Abel Tasman rates an advantage when it comes to the overall Distaff perspective; the Bob Baffert-trained miss won the 2017 Kentucky Oaks (G1) at Churchill Downs and has compiled Grade 1 wins at four different tracks.

Elate has posted both of her Grade 1 wins in New York and is winless from five starts in Kentucky, Florida and Arkansas, her only tallies outside the Empire State coming against overmatched foes in Delaware.

Named champion three-year-old filly following an excellent second in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff, Abel Tasman received high praise from Baffert in the aftermath of her game Personal Ensign win.

“She’s an incredible mare,” the Hall of Fame conditioner said. “She was champion and she’s one of the best I’ve ever trained, and she just keeps showing it.”

H. ALLEN JERKENS MEMORIAL

Promises Fulfilled could have a serious say in this year’s Breeders’ Cup TwinSpires Sprint (G1). Now four-for-five at sprint distances, the three-year-old colt followed an outstanding win in the July 28 Amsterdam (G3) with an authoritative 1 1/4-length decision in Saturday’s H. Allen Jerkens Memorial, leading wire-to-wire for his first Grade 1 triumph.

He has plenty of early speed – trainer Dale Romans said he wasn’t worried about the opening half-mile in :44.34 because “he’s been going 43 (seconds) in his last two races” – but what I like about Promises Fulfilled is the versatility he displayed in his previous outing, settling in second before powering his way to the lead off the far turn. That could come in handy for the improving sophomore this fall.

And I’m looking forward to seeing what BRIS Speed rating Promises Fulfilled earns; he’s already posted 106 and 104 figures this year, numbers that clearly put the son of Shackleford among the fastest sprinters in the nation.

BALLERINA

Transferred to Bob Baffert this spring, Marley’s Freedom took her game on the road and crushed rivals in the Ballerina (G1), stamping her Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) ticket with the 3 1/4-length decision. The four-year-old has now won four straight and is clearly getting good at the right time in a division that lacks a standout.

“Winning her last two races was pretty impressive,” Baffert said. “The quality is there and you have to come to Saratoga if you are looking for a championship. That’s why I brought her, to see how she fits (and) this is a pretty good field.”

Marley’s Freedom established herself as the leading contender for the Filly & Mare Sprint in the Ballerina.

FOREGO

Whitmore earned an expenses-paid berth to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1) with an 8-1 upset in the Forego (G1), rallying up the inside to score by 1 1/2 lengths. The Forego was contested at seven-furlongs, so it had appeal for Sprint and Dirt Mile candidates and I’m not sure the Dirt Mile will be a better fit for Whitmore, who recorded his first six stakes wins at six furlongs and earned his first win past three-quarters of a mile today.

He is coming on for Ron Moquett and the Dirt Mile may come up as much easier spot with the recent retirement of Bee Jersey, who was a clear leader of the division following his Met Mile (G1) tally. But the stretch out in distance is a challenge facing Whitmore this fall.

SWORD DANCER

Credit Julien Leparoux for an excellent ride aboard Glorious Empire – the 1 1/2-mile turf event appeared to have plenty of speed and Glorious Empire was forced to complete the opening quarter-mile in :23.16 before Leparoux slowed the pace down on an unopposed lead. But it’s impossible to get excited about the winner’s Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) chances.

Glorious Empire raced for a claiming tag earlier this year and loves the Saratoga turf, improving his record to three-for-four. The European import stole this race at 15-1 but is winless from four stakes attempts on other courses.

“Our big goal before was just to win a race at Saratoga with him, so he’s exceeded our expectations,” trainer Chuck Lawrence said of the seven-year-old gelding.

BALLSTON SPA

Quidura just missed in last year’s Diana (G1) at Saratoga, coming up a head short after setting the pace, but there was no catching the five-year-old mare in the Ballston Spa (G2) as she led all the way for a 1 3/4-length decision.

A $3.6 million purchase at last November’s Keeneland sale, the five-year-old mare relished Saturday’s 1 1/16-mile distance and the 1 3/8-mile distance of this year’s Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) may not be a good fit.