It’s been 35 years since the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont winners met in the Travers, and neither Gato Del Sol nor Aloma’s Ruler nor Conquistador Cielo won. From far back came 12-1 shot Runaway Groom, who passed them all in a typical Saratoga shocker.
Trend alert: The last winner of a Triple Crown race to take the Midsummer Derby was 2009 Belmont champ Summer Bird, so respect the late bloomers. Saturday’s 148th Travers is the most wide open in many years, with Tapwrit the 7-2 morning-line favorite in a field of 12 despite not having run since his Belmont breakthrough June 10.
Besides the other classics winners, Always Dreaming (Derby) and Cloud Computing (Preakness), the 1 1⁄4-mile, $1.25-million scramble drew the winners of the Haskell (Girvin, 10-1 odds) and Jim Dandy (Good Samaritan, 5-1). Throw in Bob Baffert’s improving West Coast (4-1), three-time graded-stakes winner Irap (8-1) and Haskell runner-up McCraken (12-1) and it’s a maddeningly intriguing betting race. You can tout anybody, but you can’t feel overconfident.
Two-time Kentucky Derby winner Doug O’Neill trains Irap, coming off victories on the back roads in the Indiana and Ohio Derbys. “I think any one of them can win,” O’Neill said. “I wouldn’t be shocked.”
Neither would anybody else. Pick the straight trifecta and you’ll be an instant genius.
Except for Irish War Cry and Classic Empire, second in the Belmont and Preakness, respectively, every name 3-year-old has shown up, and the winner likely will become the division leader. “You’ve got horses from everywhere, all the best,” said Hall of Famer Bill Mott, who trains Good Samaritan. “You’ve got everybody.”
Like Mott, trainer Chad Brown lacks a Travers trophy, but his rider, Javier Castellano, has a record five. After taking the Preakness by a head with a perfect trip, Cloud Computing was last of five in the Jim Dandy.
“The track was pretty demanding [deep],’’ Brown said. “Except for that one day, this horse has never let us down. Since then, he’s worked great twice. Since I began training, if someone asked me which race I really want to win, I said this one.”
Derby and Belmont scores made it Todd Pletcher’s best spring ever. If Tapwrit and likely pacesetter Always Dreaming run well, it will be another milestone for Saratoga’s all-time leading trainer. Always Dreaming flopped in the Preakness and Jim Dandy, and Tapwrit is going 10 furlongs off an 11-week layoff.
“I think we left Always Dreaming a little bit short for the Jim Dandy,’’ Pletcher said. “Hopefully, that race brings him forward, plus he’s had two good works. Tapwrit has been training exceptionally well, and I feel good that we have him fresh enough and fit enough to fire his ‘A’ race.”