It only lasts six weeks, but the best thoroughbred horse racing east of the Mississippi during the summer is showcased in historic Saratoga Springs, New York on the southern edge of the Adirondack Mountains. It is a boutique meet lasting from late July through the Labor Day weekend and it attracts the leading stables, trainers and jockeys annually.
Saratoga Race Course, owned by the New York Racing Association, is the oldest continually operating thoroughbred race track in America. Even non-fans of racing should visit it for a couple of days before they die, because the Saratoga meeting is more like a big county fair in upstate New York with some racing on the side than the grind-it-out race meets held downstate the rest of the year.
They allow 50,000 people on the grounds, but the place seats only 16,000. That means thousands of people sit at the hundred of available picnic tables, relax in lawn chairs or spread blankets on the grass outside the track. Laughing children run everywhere, but adults sitting outside don’t have to miss a thing. Multiple television sets hang from every tree and betting windows are available every few feet.
During the Victorian Era, people from New York City went up to Saratoga Springs to enjoy the cooler weather and to “take the cure” offered by several spas in the area. Modern visitors skip the cures, but on the grounds of the race course is the Big Red Spring, which spews out, shall we say, unusual-tasting water that everyone must sample at least once.
The Travers Stakes, scheduled for this Saturday, is one of the most important races on the Saratoga schedule. Limited to three-year-olds, it usually attracts horses that ran earlier in the Triple Crown races, the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes. It also draws horses forced to skip the earlier races because of bumps and bruises and those that were considered too immature to run in the spring but have grown up in the meantime.
Derby winner MINE THAT BIRD will not run after undergoing minor throat surgery last week, and Preakness winning filly RACHAEL ALEXANDRA has opted to wait and take on the boys in the Woodward Stakes on September 5. Belmont winner SUMMER BIRD will run, and he will have plenty of competition.
Experts at The Dew did not do all that well wagering on the Triple Crown races. We did not pick MINE THAT BIRD to finish first in the Kentucky Derby, but then few people did. He paid $103.20 to win on a $2 bet. We went against RACHAEL ALEXANDRA in the Preakness Stakes, pointing out that no filly had won the race since something like 1925. We were among the few to miss that one. She paid only $5.60 to win.
We also missed the Belmont Stakes, but with a caveat. Jockey Calvin Borel won the Derby on Bird but was committed to ride Rachael in the Preakness. He won both. Rachael did not run in the Belmont Stakes, so Boreal got back on Bird. Even Dew experts fall for the sentimental bet occasionally. With Borel going for his personal Triple Crown, we wrote, “bet against him at your own risk.”
But we also gave our readers a long-shot in SUMMER BIRD, who is by the same sire as MINE THAT BIRD. This is what we said:
SUMMER BIRD (12-1) Interesting horse. Trained by the inexperienced Tim Ice and ridden by the equally inexperienced Chris Rosier, this colt finished sixth in the Derby at odds of more than 43-1. His running line reads: “Good 7-wide run.” He skipped the Preakness. Fresh, he picks up the riding services of veteran Kent Desormeaux and puts on blinkers for more focus. Looks dangerous at 12-1.
SUMMER BIRD went off at exactly $11.90 to 1 and paid $25.80 to win the Belmont by almost three lengths.
So, we have eaten crow and patted ourselves on the back.
The Travers Stakes is run on the dirt at the Derby distance of 1-1/4 miles (10 furlongs), and all horses will carry 126 pounds. Here is the field in post position order with morning line odds:
HOLD ME BACK (15-1) Ran 12th in the Kentucky Derby on May 2, beaten 21 lengths. He was given a break until mid-July, when he came back on the grass in the Virginia Derby. He turned in a much better performance that day, losing by only 3-1/2 lengths. Trained by Bill Mott, he will be ridden by the nation’s second leading jockey by money earned, the ever-patient Frenchman, Julian Leparoux. Bettors who like the grass-to-dirt angle have their horse right here.
CHARITABLE MAN (6-1) Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and jockey Ramon Dominguez are both winning at a 17% clip. This colt last won the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park on May 9. He ran third over this track four weeks ago in the Jim Dandy Stakes, beaten only 2-1/2 lengths. However, the two horses that finished in front of him that day, Kensei and Warrior’s Reward, are both back in here.
WARRIOR’S REWARD (8-1) He won an allowance race on the Kentucky Derby undercard and finished second, third and second in his three races since. He is trained by the capable Ian Wilkes and ridden by Calvin Borel. He should be able to get the distance as he is by Medaglia D’oro out of a Seeking the Gold mare, but he lost his last two by a total of almost eight lengths to Kensei, who will be coming out of post position seven.
QUALITY ROAD (8-5) Colt would have been the favorite in the Kentucky Derby but was scratched the morning of the race with a hoof injury. He won the Fountain of Youth Stakes and the Florida Derby earlier this year. He didn’t race between March 28 and August 3, when he came back here to win the Amsterdam Stakes in track record time. However, that race was at 6-1/2 furlongs. With only one race under his belt, can he stretch out to 10 furlongs against this field? May be a bad bet at short odds.
OUR EDGE (15-1) Trainer Nick Zito brought this horse’s sire (The Cliff’s Edge) in here in 2004 and ran second, so the colt should be able to get the distance. (Zito also trained that year’s winner, Birdstone, the sire of Summer Bird.) This colt is on a three-race winning streak, culminating with a seven-length score in the Grade 3 Barbaro Stakes at Delaware Park on July 19. Colt has improved with every start against better and better company, and he has turned in two bullet works here at Saratoga. Zito knows what he’s doing and the colt retains the services of rider Alan Garcia. Dangerous longshot.
SUMMER BIRD (3-1) He won the Belmont Stakes at 1-1/2 miles and he is by 2004 Travers winner Birdstone, so the colt can get the distance. He took a couple of months off after his Belmont win and came back to run second in the Haskell Invitational behind the sensational Rachael Alexandra. But that race was in the slop at Monmouth Park. Trainer Tim Ice is smarter than he was earlier in the year and Bird will keep Kent Desormeaux in the saddle. If the track comes up fast, he’ll be right there.
KENSEI (7-2) Owned and trained by the connections of Rachael Alexandra, this stablemate of the fabulous filly is carving out a reputation of his own. He won the Grade 2 Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park on July 4, whipping the field by more than three lengths. He moved here to Saratoga and won the Jim Dandy Stakes, also Grade 2, on August 1. (Note: He beat both Charitable Man and Warrior’s Reward that day.) He keeps jockey Edgar Prado, but he has never run this far.
It’s a compact field with only seven scheduled starters, but they have won 11 graded stakes between them. The only starter to have not done so is Warrior’s Reward.
Remember our admonitions. In the State of Georgia Power, it is illegal to call a bookie or wager on-line with one of those off-shore sports books that take bets on American thoroughbred racing. That being said, let’s try to make a little money:
Let’s bet $20 to win on #6 SUMMER BIRD.
Then let’s do a $5 exacta box on #5 OUR EDGE and #6 SUMMER BIRD.
Finally, let’s do a $1 trifecta box with #5, #6 and #7 KENSEI.
That’s a total of $36, not a bank-breaker but enough to make it interesting.
The race will go off a little after 5:30 EST on ESPN Saturday.