September 18, 2021

Travers Day Takeaways: Midnight Bisou clinches title but not a serious HOY candidate

Elate (inside) exits a nose second to Midnight Bisou in the Personal Ensign Stakes (G1) at Saratoga on Saturday, August 24, 2019 (c) Chelsea Durand/Adam Coglianese Photography

Travers Day this past weekend yielded a lot to chew on, especially in regards to the championship picture in several divisions. Here are takeaways from what we watched on Saturday:

Midnight Bisou virtually clinched the Eclipse Award for champion older dirt female following her sensational run-down of Elate in the Personal Ensign (G1). Not only did she remain undefeated on the season, but she handed that rival a third loss in as many confrontations between the two in 2019.

At this point in the season, there’s simply not enough time or races left to depose Midnight Bisou from the top spot in this divisional race, much like the case with Bricks and Mortar in the turf male division.

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Is Midnight Bisou a firm Horse of the Year candidate? Yes. Should she be? No.

I’ve long since accepted that the wider Eclipse Award electorate tends to think a lot differently than I do. Whereas I’m a stickler for historic (read: older) convention, the majority has shown time and again that it doesn’t matter to them if their preferred Horse of the Year selection is a filly or mare that hasn’t beaten males, a three-year-old that hasn’t beaten older horses, or, in the case of California Chrome (2016) to take one example, proven in the most significant showdown of the year to not be the best horse.

With no standout in the marquee divisions of the three-year-old male and older dirt male, it’s no surprise that horses like Bricks and Mortar and Midnight Bisou have filled the vacuum and are currently in the Horse of the Year discussion at this time. However, there’s really no comparison between the two as Midnight Bisou has run exclusively in restricted company and has no plans to step outside of it with trainer Steve Asmussen looking ahead to the Beldame (G2) and Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1).

Bricks and Mortar is still the leader in this race, and from this view there is virtually no race at all right now. Especially not from Midnight Bisou.

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Speaking of the Beldame, it’s hard to wrap my head around the idea that such an historic and meaningful event was demoted this past year to a Grade 2 by the American Graded Stakes Committee, but beefs with the committee’s output over the past several decades sound like a broken record.

Perhaps Midnight Bisou’s intended presence will keep rivals away, but trainer Chad Brown did mention the Beldame as a possible next start for his Alabama (G1) winner Dunbar Road. If both Midnight Bisou and Dunbar Road happen to show up in the Beldame starting gate, it will be yet another piece of evidence, if it even needs repeating, to never take the grade of any race seriously or at face value.

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Code of Honor and jockey John Velazquez capture the Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga on Saturday, August 24, 2019 (c) Adam Coglianese Photography

With the defections of Maximum Security and Game Winner more than a week before the Travers (G1), we knew ahead of time the three-year-old championship picture would not be clarified in the “Midsummer Derby.” It might not fully be after the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) in several weeks either.

What we do know is that Code of Honor has firmly staked a claim to title consideration, and Tacitus less so after yet another defeat. Both appear likely to prudently say “no thanks” to a Philadelphia field trip and instead wait for the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) in late September.

Based on comments made to various outlets after the Travers, owner Will Farish and trainer Shug McGaughey seem less than warm to the idea of trying Code of Honor in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Santa Anita. In the case of Farish, this is no surprise. Recall the similar feelings he had about his champion older horse Mineshaft in 2003, who ultimately missed the Classic at Santa Anita anyway due to a reported ankle injury.

The Code of Honor folks will obviously see how the Pennsylvania Derby plays out and then hope for Gold Cup success. A victory by Maximum Security at Parx would deal a serious setback to Code of Honor’s championship aspirations, but any other result would be favorable if he also happens to land the Gold Cup.

Code of Honor controls his own destiny, but he also needs both a form reversal by Maximum Security and any potential resurgence from Game Winner and Omaha Beach nipped through the Breeders’ Cup. If the results of the Pennsylvania Derby prove murky and Code of Honor wins the Gold Cup, I could envision Code of Honor’s connections take their chances by not running in the Breeders’ Cup. And if the Classic results suggest he needs any sort of résumé boost to further solidify a championship claim, there’s always the option of the Cigar Mile (G1) at Aqueduct in early December.

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Mitole and Ricardo Santana Jr. win the Forego Stakes (G1) at Saratoga on Saturday, August 24, 2019 (c) Adam Coglianese Photography/Taylor Ejdys

He might have been beaten like a drum by Imperial Hint in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt (G1) last month, but Mitole was surely back on his game with a stakes-record performance in the Forego (G1) on Saturday.

The quality and depth of his 2019 record thus far easily surpasses what Imperial Hint has accomplished to date, and there’s no question Mitole would be much more deserving of the divisional championship if the ballot closed today.

However, it isn’t, and there’s still a potentially amazing Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) to look forward to. Not only are we talking about Mitole and Imperial Hint, but Amsterdam (G2) winner Shancelot will surely appreciate a cut back to six furlongs after getting caught late in the seven-furlong H. Allen Jerkens (G1).

This has certainly been a vintage year for sprint specialists.

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As I wrote on Twitter following the Ballerina (G1) on Saturday, I sincerely wish trainer Carlos Martin good vibes with Come Dancing in the upcoming Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) this fall.

Martin’s grandfather, Frank “Pancho” Martin, enjoyed success on the very first Breeders’ Cup day in 1984 when Outstandingly was elevated to first via disqualification in the inaugural Juvenile Fillies (G1). However, Carlos’ late father, Jose, twice endured stinging, odds-on defeats in the Sprint (1986-87) with his brilliantly fast Groovy, still one of the most capable sprinters I’ve ever watched.

Breeders’ Cups in California have not generally been kind to the Martin family. I hope that might change in a couple months.

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