SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — The Travers day scene is a cross between gridlock on the LIE and an anthill, so the New York Racing Association has capped the crowd at 50,000 for Saturday’s 147th Midsummer Derby. The congestion will extend to the starting gate.
A maximum field of 14 3-year-olds was entered Tuesday, but long shot Majesto was scratched Friday because of a fever. The last time 13 ran was in 1990, and only once, in 1977, did 14 go.
If Exaggerator, the 3-1 morning-line favorite, wins, he’ll be odds-on for the divisional Eclipse Award. The Travers would be his fourth Grade I victory of the season, along with the Santa Anita Derby, Preakness and Haskell. All were run over sloppy tracks, and the forecast is not for Exaggerator weather (10-percent chance of rain). Trainer Keith Desormeaux said he’s not concerned.
“I’ve said it before. His success is not dependent on a sloppy track,” Desormeaux said, “but his success is dependent on a pace to run at.”
That shouldn’t be a problem, because American Freedom and Laoban are quick from the gate and Destin and Gun Runner have tactical speed.
“There should be pace with a 13-horse field,” Desormeaux said. “Exaggerator doesn’t have anything to prove, he’s a dominant horse, and again, it’ll be fun to prove his dominance on a dry track.”
A year ago, the Spa became Pharoahtoga during Travers week, when an estimated 18,000 Pharoahites showed up to watch Triple Crown winner American Pharoah gallop Friday morning. The next afternoon, an extended speed duel with Frosted softened up racing’s 12th immortal, and late closer Keen Ice handed him his only loss of the year.
Bob Baffert trained the Pharoah, and the Hall of Famer is back with Haskell runner-up American Freedom and late bloomer Arrogate. “Totally different scene,” Baffert said. “The race is coming up with the 3-year-old championship on the line. It’s a huge deal.”
The Travers is one of the few seven-figure stakes that has given Baffert problems. He’s only 1-for-6, winning in 2001 with Horse of the Year Point Given.
“You have to bring your best and that’s why I’m here,’’ he said. “I’m high on American Freedom, and I feel pretty good about Arrogate’s chances.”
Besides Baffert, the country’s other dominant trainers, Chad Brown, Todd Pletcher and Steve Asmussen, will be involved. Brown has ruled this Saratoga meeting and will send out 4-1 second choice Connect and long shots Gift Box and My Man Sam. Pletcher entered Belmont Stakes runner-up Destin, and Asmussen has Belmont winner Creator and Gun Runner.
“I feel this is a wide-open race,” Brown said. “There are a bunch of horses in here who could win if they run their best race.”