The absence of the undefeated Triple Crown champion will be felt for the rest of the year. While the retired Justify hangs out at WinStar Farm in Kentucky before starting his stud career next winter, Saratoga will stage its marquee event, the $1.25-million Travers Stakes. Even without the 13th thoroughbred immortal, Saturday’s 149th Mid-Summer Derby has star quality, and a fun subplot featuring a battle of the sexes.
The most intriguing runner in the field of 11 is the filly Wonder Gadot (say ga-DOT), named for Gal Gadot, who played the title role in “Wonder Woman.” Like the superheroine, Wonder Gadot is an Amazon who conquers males. She beat the boys in the first two legs of the Canadian Triple Crown, the 1¼-mile Queen’s Plate and the 1 3/16-mile Prince of Wales Stakes, and she’ll be the first filly in the Travers since 1979.
Beating males with females is a habit for trainer Mark Casse, who did it with superstar Tepin in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Mile and the 2016 Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot. Casse and owner Gary Barber don’t think they’re taking a wild stab with Wonder Gadot.
“We feel 1¼ miles is her game, and we get a five-pound weight break, which means something going that far,” Casse said. “Gary always has been one to step outside the box, and we thought this was a good year to try the Travers. It’s a very competitive race, but we think we have as good a shot as anybody.
“We’re trying to make history here, and we think she has a good chance to do it.”
No filly has won the Travers since Lady Rotha in 1915, and Wonder Gadot must overcome a class jump and a deep field. Saratoga’s leading trainer, Chad Brown, will run the 2-1 morning-line favorite, Good Magic, the Haskell winner and Kentucky Derby runner-up, and 4-1 second choice Gronkowski, second in the Belmont. Wonder Gadot, with rider Irad Ortiz Jr., is at 5-1. The others are grass standout Catholic Boy (8-1); Preakness runner-up Bravazo (12-1); Irish shipper Mendelssohn (12-1); Preakness third Tenfold (8-1); Wood Memorial winner Vino Rosso (10-1); King Zachary (15-1) and 30-1 shots Meistermind and Trigger Warning.
Wonder Gadot is no delicate young lady, because she’s raced 13 times since debuting last August. She’s won on dirt, turf and synthetic and been worse than third only once. She looks tough, too.
“She’s a big, strong filly,” Casse said, “and on Saturday she may be the biggest horse in the paddock. She doesn’t have a big turn of foot, she just keeps going in a continuous motion. She has no quit in her.
”We think she’s special, and we’re going to try to prove it.”