The run up to Saturday's $1 million Travers was overshadowed by the early retirement of two stars of this year's Triple Crown.
Meanwhile, racing's "star of stars," Frankel, cruised to his 13th win without a loss Wednesday and likely has one more race to go before retiring sire new generations of Euro stars.
And the upcoming weekend also brings the $1 million Pacific Classic, some sprint races and the second round of Calder's Florida Stallion Stakes.
Overseas, the Ebor Meeting at York continues through Friday.
The attrition among 3-year-olds reached new heights early this week with the retirement of Bodemeister, winner of the Arkansas Derby and runner-up in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, and the likely retirement of last year's 2-year-old champion Hansen.
Trainer Bob Baffert said Bodemeister, a brilliant Empire Maker colt, apparently injured himself when he stumbled during training a few weeks ago.
"He was never right after that and we couldn't figure out what was wrong," Baffert said. "It's unfortunate. We wanted to win the Breeders' Cup with him. A full recovery is expected and Bodemeister will enter stud at WinStar Farm.
Hansen was found to have a partially torn tendon and removed from consideration for Saturday's Travers only hours before the draw.
"This is the day I have always dreaded," owner Kendall Hansen told The Blood-Horse. "Hansen has a tendon injury and will likely not race again ... I am in shock, and with tears and heartbroken." The light gray colt was undefeated last year, winding up his campaign by winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and the Eclipse Award. He won the Gotham Stakes and the Iowa Derby this year.
Earlier in the string of woe, Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another was retired with an injury the day of the Belmont Stakes draw and will be standing in Japan. Union Rags, beset with physical problems since his 2-year-old season, also has been retired. In addition, Paynter, winner of the Haskell Invitational, is bypassing the Travers after spiking a fever and is penciled in for the Sept. 22 Pennsylvania Derby.
After all that, the 11 starters for Saturday's $1 million, Grade I Travers, the "Mid-Summer Derby," include only two who contested the Kentucky Derby -- Alpha, who finished 12th in the Run for the Roses, and Liaison, who got home sixth at Louisville. Alpha, the 5-2 morning-line favorite for the Travers, drew gate No. 6. Liaison, listed at 8-1, will break from the No. 9 hole.
Only two of the 11 starters, Alpha and Street Life, won their last start. Alpha won the Grade II Jim Dandy and Street Life won a restricted stakes earlier in the Saratoga meeting.
Alpha's trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin, voiced the upside of the situation.
"People always say the 3-year-old crop is weak and then you look up and it's Nov. 7 [actually, Nov. 3 this year] and they're winning the Breeders' Cup," he said. And, as for an Eclipse Award, he added, it would be "tough to overtake I'll Have Another. But if you happened to win the Travers and the Breeders' Cup Classic, you would have a good chance."
Wouldn't it be odd if Sheik Mohammed, who has never come close to winning the Kentucky Derby with a 3-year-old trained in Dubai, could win the 3-year-old Eclipse Award with a colt trained in America?
It would be no upset to see a 3-year-old win the Classic. The sophomores have given a good account of themselves in the race. But whoever gets home first in the Travers probably will cast an eye to the West Coast on Sunday to see what happens in the $1 million, Grade I Pacific Classic at Del Mar. That race is likely to produce some of the older competition for the Breeders' Cup.
Game On Dude drew post position No. 9 in a field of 10 for the 1 1/4-mile Pacific Classic and was installed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite. The Bob Baffert trainee will be partnered by his regular rider, Chantal Sutherland.
Baffert also will saddle longshot Jaycito but not Richard's Kid. Richard's Kid was sold privately a week ago and sent to trainer Leandro Mora. He drew the No. 3 gate with Victor Espinoza named to ride and will try to win the race for the third time -- with an unsuccessful year in Dubai interrupting the string.
Dullahan will represent the 3-year-old class and red-hot trainer Dale Romans. He finished third in the Kentucky Derby but has done his best work on synthetic tracks and could be a handful if he runs his race. Rail Trip drew the rail. Suggestive Boy and Amani also are intriguing.
This race is a Breeders' Cup "win and you're in." Game On Dude is already in, however, by virtue of his victory in the Hollywood Gold Cup.
Around the turn and into the stretch:
Frankel's dominating victory over a field of top rivals Wednesday in the Group I Juddmonte International was only the first race in a stellar Ebor Meeting at York.
Thursday featured the Darley Yorkshire Oaks, with last year's runner-up in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, Shareta, holding on to defeat Nassau Stakes winner The Fugue by a neck. Was finished third. Shareta has been competitive in top company around the world but Thursday's victory was her first in more than a year. The Aga Khan homebred daughter of Sinndar, trained by Alain De Royer-Dupre, got the 1 1/2 miles on good to firm going in 2:33.87. The trainer said another try at the Arc may be in the cards if the Longchamp ground is solid.
Friday's races include an expected 19-horse field in the Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes. While it's tough to sort these out, Ortensia rates as one of the ones to beat off her victory in the Al Quoz Sprint in Dubai and a recent good run at Goodwood. Also look to Bated Breath and Sole Power and good luck with this one.
Meanwhile, back in North America, with just a little more than two months until the Breeders' Cup World Championships, eyes are firmly fixed on that prize. Here's how:
Sunday's $600,000, Grade I Personal Ensign at Saratoga is a "win and you're in" for the BC Ladies Classic. But the logical favorite, Royal Delta, doesn't need the invitation, having already earned a berth in the big race by winning the Delaware Handicap in her last outing a month ago. Tiz Miz Sue, who finished only a neck in arrears at Delaware, is back for another try. If Alpha wins the Travers, Godolphin Stable and trainer Kiaran McLaughlin will be officially "hot" and It's Tricky will merit even more consideration. It's Tricky and Royal Delta have met three times and Royal Delta has won two of those matchups, including last year's Ladies' Classic. R Gypsy Gold, Brushed By a Star and Love and Pride complete the lineup for the 9-furlong contest.
Saturday's $500,000, Grade I Foxwoods King's Bishop for 3-year-olds at Saratoga is one of the top sprints in the East every year. The 10-horse field includes the top six finishers from the Grade II Amsterdam: Currency Swap, Doctor Chit, Unbridled's Note, Laurie's Rocket, Fort Loudon and Gun Boat. Joining them are the likes of Trinniberg, already a three-time graded stakes winner this year; Willy Beamin, winner of four straight at Aqueduct and Belmont; and Ever So Lucky, who could be ever so dangerous in the third start of his form cycle.
Sunday at Del Mar, a half dozen speed merchants will tackle the 7 furlongs of the $250,000, Grade II Pat O'Brien Stakes. Of particular interest is Coil, who ran long last year for trainer Bob Baffert, including a victory in the Grade I Haskell Invitational at Monmouth. In his 2012 debut last month, Coil defeated a righteous field in a 7-furlong optional claimer so the 4-year-old Point Given colt gets another try at the long sprint. Baffert won this race last year with The Factor. The second-place horse then, Camp Victory, is back for another try and comes off a win in the Grade I Triple Bend, which was run at 7 furlongs around one bend at Hollywood Park. Another Baffert charge, Capital Account, returns after running third in the Bing Crosby earlier in this meet -- behind champion Amazombie and The Factor.
Filly & Mare Sprint
It's Tricky and Turbulent Descent head a talented field of seven going 7 furlongs in Friday's $500,000, Grade I Ballerina Stakes at Saratoga. It's Tricky, a Godolphin 4-year-old daughter of Mineshaft, hasn't been worse than second in her last eight starts, going back a year and a half. She has won three in a row, culminating in the Grade I Ogden Phipps at Belmont, going 1 1/16 miles. Turbulent Descent won last year's Test Stakes at the Spa and returns from California where she won the Desert Stormer in her last start. Nicole H and Derwin's Star also have stellar credentials. The race is a Breeders' Cup "win and you're in."
Contested and Book Review head the list of 11 entered for Saturday's $500,000, Grade I Test Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Saratoga. The 7-furlong event is an opportunity for Contested to show trainer Bob Baffert he took temporary leave of his senses in asking her to go 1 1/16 miles in the Mother Goose in her last outing. She faded from the lead in that over a tiring track and finished last. Before that, she had won four in a row at distances up to a mile. Book Review, a Chad Brown trainee, has two wins, two seconds and a third from five starts but steps up to stakes company for the first time. Amie's Dini and Aubby K have been competitive.
Last week's extensive turf program didn't exhaust the ranks of contenders as Saturday's $200,000, Grade II Del Mar Handicap at 1 3/8 miles drew a field of nine. This is another race notable for who's not there. Acclamation, 2011 champion older male and nemesis of many in this field, suffered a mild ligament strain and is expected to be back in training soon. But he was pointed for the Pacific Classic anyway, not this race. As with the Travers, the absence of one opens the door for others. Dhaamer enters off two straight wins, including the last-out Grade III Sunset Handicap at Hollywood Park. Interaction was second to Acclamation in the Grade I Eddie Read earlier in the Del Mar meeting and, with Acclamation sitting this one out, should be tough in his third start of 2012. Casino Host and Hog's Hollow were third and fourth in the Eddie Read. Brushburn finished third in the Charlie Whittingham -- behind Acclamation. This is a "win and you're in" for the Breeders' Cup Turf.
Filly & Mare Turf
Zagora, Hungry Island, Summer Soiree and Tapitsfly all figure among eight signed on for Saturday's $250,000, Grade II Ballston Spa at Saratoga. Zagora, the 5-2 morning-line favorite, has won three of her last five and finished third in her last outing, the Grade I Diana. Tapitsfly and Hungry Island were fourth and fifth in that race, won by Winter Memories -- yet another recently and prematurely retired runner. Winter Memories was found to have a degenerative bone condition after the Diana win. Summer Soiree hasn't visited the track in the afternoon since finishing second in the Grade I Matriarch at Hollywood Park last November. The Ballston Spa is run at 1 1/16 miles on the lawn.
Six are set to go in Sunday's $200,000, Grade II Del Mar Mile on the seaside grass. Jeranimo, off his last-out win in the Grade I Shoemaker Mile at Hollywood Park, will tote 123 pounds, giving as much as 8 pounds to five rivals. Also in the field is Mr. Commons, who just missed winning this race last year as a 3-year-old. Tale of a Champion is in from Florida, where he has won four of five starts, including the Bob Umphrey Turf Sprint at Calder in his last race.
A field of 12 was drawn for Saturday's $150,000 (Canadian), Grade III Ontario Colleen for 3-year-old fillies at Woodbine. The favorites, Sky Dreamer and Colonial Flag, drew right in the middle at gates No. 5 and No. 6. Sky Dreamer, a consistent Sky Mesa filly, finished second in the Grade III Arlington Oaks in Chicago in her last outing. Colonial Flag, a daughter of Pleasant Tap, was second in the Grade III Regret Stakes at Churchill Downs two races back but finished up the track at Hollywood Park in her last outing.
On Sunday at Woodbine, last year's winner, Smokey Fire, returns to defend his crown against 10 rivals in the $200,000 (Canadian), Grade II Play the King Stakes at 7 furlongs on the grass.
Two Ts At Two B puts his unbeaten record on the line in Saturday's $125,000 Affirmed Division of the Florida Stallion Stakes at Calder Race Course. He drew post position No. 6 in a field of seven and will meet many of the same foes he dismissed in the Dr. Fager division last time out. The 2-year-olds stretch out to 7 furlongs in his race.
Candy Coded Kisses comes into Saturday's $125,000 Susan's Girl Division of the FSS at Calder off a win in the earlier Desert Vixen -- her second straight win and at odds of 24-1. The Omega Code filly also starts from gate No. 6 but in a field of nine.