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Massive weekend of racing at Saratoga features Essential Quality in Travers

By Robert Kieckhefer, UPI Racing Writer
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Massive weekend of racing at Saratoga features Essential Quality in Travers
Essential Quality edges Keepmeinmind in the Jim Dandy at Saratoga, setting up Saturday's rematch in the $1.25 million Grade I Travers. Photo by Susie Raisher, courtesy of New York Racing Association.

Aug. 27 (UPI) -- The spotlight shines on Saratoga this weekend as the Spa hosts its big weekend with Essential Quality looking to dominate the Travers Stakes and Japan, the horse from Ireland, taking on local turf specialists in the Sword Dancer.

Three of last year's Breeders' Cup winners will be running at Saratoga and three "Win and You're In" spots are on offer in Saturday's racing. Another is up for grabs on the other end of the continent at Del Mar.

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Besides Essential Quality, such recognizable names as Gamine, Life Is Good, Letruska, Jackie's Warrior and Swiss Skydiver are set to take the track Saturday in Saratoga Springs.

While the spotlight shines on the historic track, the sun might not as the weather guessers are calling for cloudy skies and a chance of a stray shower. Sounds like nothing serious, right? Mmm hmmm. Bring the umbrella.

RELATED 3-year-old fillies Malathaat, Sodashi star a world apart

But wait! There's more. The second tier of 3-year-olds, who of course are eligible to improve, will tackle the $800,000 Charles Town Classic in West Virginia.

And the track that used to be called Fairmount Park, now partnered by and renamed for FanDuel, on Saturday reinstates the St. Louis Derby with a purse of $250,000.

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Does ace industry analyst Jude Feld think Essential Quality is beatable in the Travers? We doubt it but find the answer to that, plus lots of other useful analysis and insider stuff at www.popejude.com.

RELATED The final Arlington 'Million,' one for the ages in France top weekend horse racing

Meanwhile, let's have a look of our own:

Classic

Let's just lay it out there: If Essential Quality wins Saturday's $1.25 million Runhappy Travers Stakes (the "Midsummer Derby") at Saratoga, he will just about sew up the 3-year-old championship. Even if some other 3-year-old jumps up and wins the Breeders' Cup Classic, a victory here would be pretty decisive.

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After all, the Tapit colt won last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile and was crowned 2-year-old champ and this year has won the Southwest at Oaklawn, Blue Grass at Keeneland the Belmont Stakes and the Jim Dandy. If he hadn't been third in the Kentucky Derby, this all would be moot already.

"I feel like he's as good as he's ever been," trainer Brad Cox said of Essential Quality after Wednesday's post-position draw. "I feel like if we run our race, we'll be tough. There's six other good colts in there and we still have to play our game. If we do, I think we'll be a big factor."

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The main rival for 4-5 morning-line favorite Essential Quality looks to be Keepmeinmind. That Laoban colt dueled with Essential Quality down the stretch in the Jim Dandy, never giving up and failing by just 1/2 length.

On the other hand, he was seventh in the Kentucky Derby and third in the Grade III Ohio Derby, behind Masqueparade and King Fury, both of whom also are in the Travers field. Masqueparade also contested the Jim Dandy, leading before fading through the stretch to finish third.

"It's strictly that one horse to beat, and Essential Quality is going to be a legitimate two- or three-to-five shot," said Masqueparade's trainer, Al Stall Jr. "If he runs his 'A' race and gets the right trip, he'll be virtually impossible to beat, but this is horse racing."

And Saratoga still is the "graveyard of champions."

Friday's $800,000 Grade II Charles Town Classic has a nice field of 10 to tackle 1 1/8 miles.

The oddsmaker likes Art Collector, the 2020 Blue Grass Stakes winner and recent victor in the Alyadar Stakes at Saratoga; Warrior's Charge, second in the Grade II Stephen Foster in his last start; and Rushie, who ships in from Del Mar.

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Longer odds attach to the likes of proven graded stakes performers Ny Traffic, Sleepy Eyes Todd.

The advent of sponsorship, opening of sports wagering and the prospect of a casino have brought long-denied, long-deserved prosperity onto the horizon for long-suffering downstate Illinois horsemen.

Thus, the renewal after several year's hiatus of Saturday's $250,000 St. Louis Derby at FanDuel Sports Book and Horse Racing (nee Fairmount Park). Unless we've missed one, this will be the fourth-richest stakes race in Illinois this year and next year probably will be No. 1.

A field of seven includes the second- and third-place finishers from the Iowa Derby, Flash of Mischief from Karl Broberg's operation and Brad Cox trainee Gagetown; Steve Asmussen-trained Irish Unity, in from Ellis Park; Grade II Rebel Stakes runner-up Hozier; and long shot local hope Ekatimorningstrike.

Forgive a bit of a linger on Fairmount Park, the site of a good bit of our misspent college years, and the St. Louis Derby. It was last run in 2006, when the accomplished Lawyer Ron won.

A checkered history since its 1926 inception (the year before Arlington Park opened) incudes many oddities. Among them: Whiskery finished second in the 1927 renewal -- the year he won the Kentucky Derby.

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Honestly, now! Anyone who knew, without looking at the back of a Derby glass, that a horse named Whiskery ever had won the Kentucky Derby, raise your hand.

Already in the books: Fulsome, a Brad Cox trainee, took back to last of six in Tuesday's $300,000 Grade III Smarty Jones for 3-year-olds at Parx Racing, circled all the way out to the center of the track turning for home and passed 'em all to win by 2 lengths as the odds-on favorite. Alonzo and The King Cheek were second and third.

Fulsome, an Into Mischief colt, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:45.57 with Florent Geroux in to ride the Juddmonte Farms homebred. The win was his fourth from his last five starts.

Distaff

Saturday's $600,000 Grade I Personal Ensign is a "Win and You're In" for the Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff and the field certainly justifies that honor.

The 1 1/8-mile affair features Letruska, a Super Saver mare who has won three in a row -- the Grade I Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park, the Grade I Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park and the Grade II Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs.

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But for a head loss to Shedaresthedevil in the Grade II Azeri at Oaklawn, she would be riding a five-race win streak. Letruska is the 6-5 morning-line favorite here.

Swiss Skydiver was second in last year's Kentucky Oaks and won the Preakness Stakes. She has been off her feed in her last few starts coming into the Personal Ensign, but trainer Kenny McPeek reported Thursday she's looking great now.

Miss Marissa comes to this off a win in the Grade II Delaware Handicap. Graceful Princess exits a victory in the Grade III Molly Pitcher at Monmouth Park. Royal Flag won the Grade III Shuvee at the Spa in her last start.

All the others in this field -- Harvey's Lil Goil, Bonny South, As Time Goes By and Dunbar Road -- have graded stakes wins to their credit.

Already in the books: Lovely Ride was on the lead but under pressure all the way in Tuesday's $150,000 Cathryn Sophia Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at Parx Racing, then held on to win by 1/2 length over Leader of the Band.

Lovely Ride, a Candy Ride filly, got 1 mile and 70 yards on a fast track in 1:42.66 with Reylu Gutierrez in the irons.

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Sprint

Saturday's $600,000 Grade I Forego at Saratoga has a top-drawer field of eight including Whitmore, looking for his first win since last year's Breeders' Cup; Lexitonian, winner of the Grade I A.G. Vanderbilt in his last start; Grade I Carter Handicap winner Mischevious Alex; veterans Firenze Fire and Mind Control.

A few others are counting on all of them have been inconsistent of late, so hold all tickets. In fact, Yaupon is the lukewarm 5-2 favorite on the morning line off a win at Pimlico in his first start since finishing eighth in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen in March.

Saturday's $500,000 Grade I H. Allen Jerkens Memorial for 3-year-olds at Saratoga has Jackie's Warrior in a field of six. Take away his only two losses, which came in his only starts beyond 1 mile, and he's undefeated.

Look out, though, because this race also marks the return of Life Is Good, an Into Mischief colt who won his first three starts with ease before being sidelined after taking the Grade II San Felipe by 8 lengths March 6.

He easily could have been the Kentucky Derby favorite. After a switch from the Bob Baffert barn to Todd Pletcher's care, he has been working steadily for this return and a good effort could have a big impact on the 3-year-old picture no matter what happens in the Travers.

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Jackie's Warrior is the even-money favorite on the morning line, but Life Is Good is second at 8-5 with Mike Smith keeping the mount.

C Z Rocket and Flagstaff stand out in a classy field of 10 for Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Pat O'Brien at Del Mar, a "Win and You're In" for the Big Ass Fans Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile.

C Z Rocket, a 7-year-old City Zip gelding, won this last year as he built a five-racing winning streak that took him from the claiming ranks and ended with a second in the Breeders' Cup Sprint. He comes off a third in the Grade I Bing Crosby July 31.

Flagstaff, another 7-year-old, was second in the 2020 Pat O'Brien, then embarked on a national tour that included wins in the Grade III Commonwealth at Keeneland and the Grade I Churchill Downs Stakes.

The Pat O'Brien also has two Bob Baffert charges -- Eight Rings and Classier -- as well as some promising 4-year-olds eager to show up their elders.

Already in the books: Beren was, as they say, much the best in Tuesday's $100,000 Parx Summer Sprint Stakes for 3-year-olds, leading all the way to a 6 1/2-lengths victory.

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Marvalous Mike was second with Privet Moon and Three Two Zone completing the order of finish. Beren, a Weigelia colt, traveled 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.19 with Frankie Pennington aboard. He now has won six of his last eight starts.

Filly & Mare Sprint

Gamine looms large against six rivals in Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Ketel One Ballerina Handicap at Saratoga, a "Win and You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint.

The 4-year-old Into Mischief filly has lost only once in nine starts -- that when she couldn't handle the 1 1/8 miles of the Kentucky Oaks. She has dominated in four subsequent starts, including last year's Breeders' Cup.

This is a tough field, but the past performances show most of the really good ones already have lost to Gamine, who is the 3-5 morning-line favorite.

Friday's $400,000 Grade III Charles Town Oaks drew an overflow field of 11 with Caramel Swirl and Pauline's Pearl the morning-line favorites.

Caramel Swirl, a Union Rags filly, has missed a top-three finish only once in seven starts and won last time out at Saratoga for trainer Bill Mott and her Godolphin owner-breeder.

Pauline's Pearl, a daughter of Tapit, won the Grade III Fantasy at Oaklawn Park, and then was eighth in the Kentucky Oaks and third in the Grade III Iowa Oaks. Steve Asmussen trains the Stonestreet homebred.

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Turf

The Coolmore "lads" and trainer Aidan O'Brien just keep throwing talented horses at the rich American grass races. And why not, given their striking strike rate?

The Coomore challenger for Saturday's $750,000 Grade I Resorts World Casino Sword Dancer, a "Win and You're In" for the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf, is Japan, a Galileo colt who has not lived up to his promise as a 3-year-old.

That year, he finished a close third in the Derby at Epsom, then won the Group 1 Juddmonte Grand Prix de Paris and the Group 1 Juddmonte International at York before finishing fourth in the Group 1 Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe.

He has won only twice since, both in Group 3 events, and needs a change of scenery. The wide-open morning line has him at 9-2 odds.

The locals certainly look beatable if Japan returns to anything like top form. Tribhuvan, the 2-1 favorite, exits a victory in the Grade I United Nations at Monmouth Park.

Cross Border and Rockemperor return after finishing 1-2 in the local Grade II Bowling Green. Channel Maker won last year's Sword Dancer but was a dull seventh in the Bowling Green in his first start since returning from big-money races in Saudi Arabia and Dubai early this year.

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We note with sadness that, in its heyday, the Arlington Million competed with the Sword Dancer for the country's top turf horses.

Already in the books: Serve the King stalked the pace in Wednesday's $120,000 John's Call Stakes at Saratoga, challenged pacesetting Ry's the Guy in the lane and got by to win by 1/2 length over that one. It was 2 more lengths to Fantasioso in third with the favorite, Shamrocket, fourth.

Serve the King, a 5-year-old, British-bred son of Kingman, ran 1 5/8 miles on firm turf in 2:43.49 with Irad Ortiz Jr. in the irons. He was last seen finishing fourth in the Grade I United Nations.

Winning trainer Chad Brown said with Domestic Spending likely to train up to the Breeders' Cup, Serve the King might be a prospect for the Grade I Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont Park on Oct. 9.

"This is a horse that we're just seeing the best of," he said, crediting his staff at Monmouth Park and owner Peter Brant.

Filly & Mare Turf

Chad Brown saddles half the six-horse field in Saturday's $400,000 Grade II Ballston Spa at Saratoga with all three looking to bounce back from losses.

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Tamahere comes off a second in an optional claimer and Viadera was fourth in the De La Rose, both earlier in the Saratoga meeting. Kalifornia Queen was second in the Grade III Matchmaker at Monmouth Park.

Brown has had the winner in the Ballston Spa in three of the last four runnings, and none of the other three inspires confidence he can be stopped this year. Viadora is the 8-5 favorite on the morning line.

Turf Sprint

Tuesday's $200,000 Grade III Parx Dash was canceled because of track conditions.

Juvenile

Cajun's Magic tops a field of 11 for Saturday's $200,000 Affirmed Division of the Florida Sire Stakes at Gulfstream Park. The Cajun Breeze gelding has won two in a row, most recently taking the Dr. Fager Division by a neck.

Saturday's $75,000 Arlington-Washington Futurity, along with the companion Lassie (see below) likely are the final stakes races ever at the legendary Chicago-area track, which is up for sale for demolition and redevelopment.

Ten are entered for the Futurity with One Timer, a Trappe Shot gelding from Larry Rivelli's barn the 4-5 morning-line favorite.

There's other 2-year-old action, mostly for state-breds. Tune into the weekend roundup to catch up with anything notable.

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Juvenile Fillies

Saturday's $200,000 Susan's Girl Division of the Florida Sire Stakes at Gulfstream Park also drew 11 and the winner of the previous Desert Vixen Division, My Sassenach, is the favorite. The Uncaptured filly broke her maiden in that one, winning by 8 1/4 lengths.

Saturday's $75,000 Arlington-Washington Lassie drew 11 2-year-old fillies. Purr Sea, an Illinois-bred daughter of Midshipman trained by Michelle Boyce, is the 8-5 favorite on the morning line.

As with the previous division, check back to see other weekend racing results, mostly for state-bred fillies.

Already in the books: Cashing Big Checks led, dueled for the lead and led again at the wire in Wednesday's $50,000 Blue Hen Stakes for Delaware-breds at Delaware Park, winning by a nose over Mama G's Wish. The Mr. Big filly won for the first time after finishing second in her debut.

Around the world, around the clock:

It's a slow week on the international front, but there is a bit of good news.

Starting in October, purses at Jockey Club racecourses will return to prepandemic levels. The Jockey Club, whose 15 tracks include Aintree, Cheltenham, Epsom and Sandown, will boost its prize-money contribution by almost 1.5 million pounds to more than 12.5 million pounds for the final three months of the year.

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At the start of June, the Jockey Club announced prize-money levels for the remainder of the year would be within 9% of pre-pandemic rates. The quicker return is laid to improved financial outlook.

Meanwhile, back in the States:

Colonial Downs

The Virginia track is noted for its turf racing, but all four of Monday's stakes were on the dirt and all four produced track records. Hmmm.

Cordmaker stalked early leader Rock On Luke in the $100,000 Victory Gallop Stakes, took the lead heading down the stretch and won by 2 1/4 lengths. McElmore Avenue was up for second with Rock On Lute third and Caramel Chip fourth and last.

Cordmaker, a 6-year-old Curlin gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in course-record time of 1:40.45.

Saracosa, the second-longest shot in the field, rallied from last of seven to win the $100,000 Love Sign Stakes for fillies and mares by 1 1/2 lengths over Dream Marie. Paris Lights was third.

Saracosa, a 6-year-old mare by Bernardini, reported in 1:39.72, eclipsing the record set two races earlier by Cordmaker.

Two races later, the record for 7 furlongs fell as Cheetara got home first by a neck over Never Enough Time in the $100,000 Seeking the Pearl Stakes for fillies and mares, clocked in 1:21.00 Cheetara is a Chilean-bred filly by Daddy Long Legs, trained by Ignacio Correas IV.

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One race after that, Just Might came out the better in hard-fought duel with Mucho in the $100,000 Chesapeake Stakes, winning by a head in 1:07.93 -- another record. Just Might is a 5-year-old Justin Phillip gelding.

Just to make it a clean sweep, the record for 6 1/2 furlongs also fell as Larimar won an optional claimer at that distance in 1:16.43.

Finger Lakes

This Cat Can Fly rolled from far back in the field to get by pacesetting Chowda and win Monday's $50,000 Genesee Valley Breeders' Stakes for New York-breds by 1/2 length. Chowda held second, 1 1/2 length in front of Run for Boston.

This Cat Can Fly, a 6-year-old Birdstone gelding, ran 1 1/16 miles on a fast track in 1:47.08 for jockey Jacqueline Davis.

Parx Racing

Monday's card had five $100,000 stakes events for Pennsylvania-breds.

Don't Call Me Mary was along late to deny odds-on favorite Chub Wagon by 1 1/4 lengths in the Dr. Teresa Garofolo Memorial for fillies and mares. Don't Call Me Mary, a 4-year-old El Padrino filly, ran 6 furlongs on a sloppy track in 1:09.57 with Paco Lopez riding.

The Mrs. Penny Stakes for fillies and mares came off the turf and, after five scratches, Precious dueled Vault into submission in the final furlong, splashing home first by 1 1/2 lengths in 1:45.16. Pennington had the mount.

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I Am Redeemed drew away in the late going to win the Storm Cat Stakes by 3 1/2 lengths from Lord Winsalot. I Am Redeemed, a 3-year-old colt by Redeemed, got 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.24 with Abner Adorno in the irons.

The Marshall Jenny Handicap was carded as a 5-fulong turf dash, but also run on the sloppy main oval with Admiral Abe sailing home first, 1 3/4 lengths to the good of Smooth B. Admiral Abe, a 5-year-old Midshipman gelding, ran 5 furlongs in 56.99 seconds for jockey Silvestre Gonzalez.

Fortheluvofbourbon pressed the pace in the Banjo Picker Stakes, rallied to the lead and held off a late bid by Golden Candy by a neck. Fortheluvofbourbon, a 4-year-old gelding by Bourbon Courage, got 6 sloppy furlongs in 1:10.51 with Lopez up.

Presque Isle Downs

Life Mission battled through the stretch with Mojo Man before drawing away in the closing yards to win Monday's $50,000 Karl Boyes Stakes by 1/2 length. Mojo Man was second, 3/4 length in front of More Than Good.

Life Mission, a 5-year-old Noble Mission gelding, ran 6 furlongs on the all-weather track in 1:09.31 with Pablo Morales riding.

Indiana Grand

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Bumble of Love made steady progress from a stalking spot and was along late to win Wednesday's $103,100 Peony Stakes for state-bred fillies and mares by 1 1/4 lengths over Timeless Rose. Bloody Mary Mornin was third.

Bumble of Love, a 4-year-old daughter of Hampton Court, covered 1 1/16 miles on firm turf in 1:45.33 with Marcellino Pedroza riding.

Leading the Charge didn't lead at the onset in Wednesday's $103,300 Bucchero Stakes for Indiana-breds. But the 4-year-old Suntracer gelding stuck close to those leading the charge, ran by them in the stretch and won by 1 length over Max Express, who closed from the clouds.

Leading the Charge, with Deshawn Parker in the irons, finished the grassy 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.62.

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