Among the 3-year-olds, everybody knows that it's American Pharoah first and the rest nowhere close. A potential challenger for the Triple Crown hero emerged Saturday at Belmont Park, even though he didn't win.
After making a powerful, five-wide move on the turn under Kent Desormeaux, Texas Red fell 21/2 lengths short of catching the 3-for-3 Speightster in the Grade III, $500,000 Dwyer Stakes as the 3-year-olds' second season began. Speightster paid $6.50 after a mile in 1:35.13.
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Bill Mott said he may point Speightster for the 7-furlong King's Bishop on Aug. 29 at Saratoga. Trainer Keith Desormeaux, Kent's older brother, has a more ambitious goal for that day: the 1 1/4-mile Travers.
When American Pharoah missed the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last Nov. 1 with a foot problem, Texas Red capitalized with a 5 1/2-length runaway. Although Pharaoh was voted 2-year-old champion, there also were serious Derby dreams for Texas Red before a foot abscess kept him out of the Triple Crown.
The 9-5 favorite's performance felt like a win to the Desormeauxs. "I was going faster under the wire than I was at the quarter pole," Kent said. "And at the quarter pole, I thought I was a stone winner."
Keith said the son of 2005 Belmont Stakes winner Afleet Alex "is bred for a mile and a quarter, and the Travers is such a historic, prestigious race."
Next for Texas Red is Saratoga's 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy on Aug. 1, the day before Pharoah is to run in the Haskell at Monmouth Park. Pharoah's owner, Ahmed Zayat, said Thursday he hasn't ruled out going to the Haskell and the Travers. In their only meeting, Texas Red was third, 4 3/4 lengths behind Pharoah, Sept. 27 at Santa Anita.
"To face American Pharoah in the Travers would be an awesome challenge," Keith Desormeaux said. "I'm not looking to go after him. If he'd been running here today, no way I would've faced him off a five-month layoff. But the Travers is our ultimate goal."
Keith Desormeaux called the Dwyer "the perfect setup" for the Jim Dandy. "He was running strong through the wire, so it's beautiful."
Christophe Clement, trainer of the nation's leading older horse, Tonalist, felt the opposite about his 2-5 favorite's loss by a head to Effinex ($15.60) in the Grade II, $500,000, 1 1/4-mile Suburban Handicap. While watching the replay, Clement was visibly upset by John Velazquez's ride. The Hall of Famer moved from last to second after 6 furlongs, then gradually dropped back to third before asking last year's Belmont winner to rally late.
"We got in between horses," Velazquez said. "A horse hit him on the side a little bit and I got him forward, but he just didn't have enough."
Notes & quotes: Lady Eli ($3.60) is 6-for-6, all on turf, for trainer Chad Brown after taking the Grade I, $1-million Belmont Oaks by 2 3/4 lengths . . . Trainer Alan Goldberg's Force the Pass ($20.20) dominated the Grade I, $1.25-million Belmont Derby by 3 3/4 lengths at 1 1/4 miles on grass.