For the first time since 1982 and only the second time ever, the three individual winners of the U.S. Triple Crown series will face off against one another in the weekend's racing feature, Saturday's $1.25 million Travers Stakes at Saratoga -- the "Midsummer Derby."
While the Travers is the focus, it's far from the only big deal brewing during the weekend. Also in action are the likes of Songbird, Defrong, Lady Eli, Mind Your Biscuits and Irish invader Idaho.
There are five Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" races -- three at Saratoga and one at Del Mar, the site of this fall's Breeders' Cup World Championships. Two of those are sprint races. Woodbine has graded stakes on the turf and the all-weather course. Monmouth graces the Jersey Shore with the Philip H. Islin.
On the international front, Elate romped in Thursday's Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks and Ulysses whipped some of the best 3-year-olds in Wednesday's Group 1 Juddmonte International -- both earning Breeders' Cup berths. Friday, Lady Aurelia goes after the Group 1 Nunthorpe, which also offers a spot in the November World Championships at Del Mar.
Keep track of the busy weekend with coverage by Horse Racing Radio Network (www.horseracingradio.net) and learn even more about the contenders from HRRN's Jude Feld at www.popejude.com.
Meamwhile, like Ulysses, we're off on a voyage:
With year-end honors up for grabs and November's Breeders' Cup Classic suddenly seeming a lot more competitive, Saturday's Travers has even more than its usual grand luster as Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming, Preakness victor Cloud Computing and Belmont winner Tapwrit prepare to face the starter.
In similar circumstances in 1982, Runaway Groom ran from last to win the 1 1/4-mile classic over all three Triple Crown winners. The only other time these reels came up on the machine, in 1918, Sun Briar was the Travers winner with all three Triple Crown winners in his wake.
There's no guarantee this year's version won't be a repeat.
Tapwrit finished sixth in the Derby and hasn't raced since his Belmont Stakes triumph. Trainer Todd Pletcher said at this week's post-position draw he passed up the Grade II Jim Dandy at the Spa and the Grade II Haskell at Monmouth Park to keep the Tapit colt fresh for the Travers. "Everyone was in agreement that the Travers was the race for him," Pletcher said.
Pletcher, of course, also will saddle Derby winner Always Dreaming. The Bodemeister colt has disappointed since the Run for the Roses, finishing eighth in the Preakness, then third in the Jim Dandy. "We've done a better job with him coming into this race," Pletcher said of Always Dreaming. "Honestly, I think we left him probably a little bit short for the Jim Dandy."
Cloud Computing, a Maclean's Music colt, returned from his Preakness triumph to run a dull fifth in the Jim Dandy. Trainer Chad Brown said the track on Jim Dandy day "was very demanding ... This horse has never let us down in a workout or a race except that one day. Just didn't come out of that race like we've normally seen." Since then, he said, Cloud Computing has worked well and he is ready to shine again.
The competition in the Travers includes Jim Dandy winner Good Samaritan; Haskell winner Girvin; Kentucky Derby runner-up Lookin at Lee; early Triple Crown contenders McCraken, Irap, and Gunnevera; Rachel Alexandra's half-brother Fayeq; and West Coast invader West Coast, who won the Grade III Los Alamitos Derby in his last outing and will try to give trainer Bob Baffert back-to-back Travers wins following last year's tour de force by Arrogate.
All in all, not a bad little race.
Battle of Midway, the third-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby, runs in Saturday's $100,000 Shared Belief Stakes at 1 mile on the Del Mar main track. The Jerry Hollendorfer trainee won the Grade III Affirmed at Santa Anita in June, then traveled back east to finish sixth in the Grade I Haskell at Monmouth after a troubled start. This field also includes Santa Anita Derby winner Gormley, who finished ninth in the Kentucky Derby and fourth in the Belmont Stakes. Klimt comes to this after a runner-up finish behind West Coast in the Los Alamitos Derby.
The other weekend race featuring in the Classic division is Saturday's $100,000, Grade III Philip H. Iselin Stakes at Monmouth Park. Eagle, Conquest Big E, Mr. Jordan and Just Call Kenny all seem well matched with only Discreet Lover listed at double digits on the morning line in a field of five.
Already in the books: Cupid tracked the early pace in Wednesday's $75,000 Harry F. Brubaker Stakes at Del Mar, came three-wide around the turn and built enough of a lead that he could hold off the late charge of Curlin Rules by 3/4 length. Soi Phet finished third. Cupid, a 4-year-old Tapit colt, ran 1 mile on a fast track in 1:36.41 with Rafael Bejarano up for trainer Bob Baffert. It was his first start since winning the Grade I Gold Cup at Santa Anita nearly three months earlier, going 10 furlongs. Baffert said he will move on to either the $750,000 Grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park on Oct. 7 or the $300,000 Grade I Awesome Again at Santa Anita Sept. 30.
What a race Saturday's $600,000 Grade I Forego promises to be, and with an unusual international flair at that. The 7-furlongs test at Saratoga, a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In", has last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Defrong, who unseated Mike Smith at the start of his only 2017 race, resulting in only his second career loss. It also has the winner of this year's Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen, Mind Your Biscuits, who returned to the track July 8 with a win in the Grade II Belmont Sprint. Then there's Ross, a German-trained internationalist who finished second in the Group 2 Godolphin Mile, only a nose behind Second Summer and won over the Deauville all-weather course on Aug. 4. Stallwalkin Dude hasn't been quite himself so far in his 7-year-old campaign but won the restricted Tale of the Cat at Saratoga Aug. 11 and will be a very square price. Also not to be dismissed are Awesome Slew and Divining Rod. If he's nicer to Smith this time, it could be Defrong's race to lose.
Danzig Candy, Giant Expectations and Silent Bird are among the most likely in Saturday's $200,000 Grade II Pat O'Brien at Del Mar, a 7-furlongs Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In". Danzig Candy has won all three of his starts this season, including the Grade II San Carlos at Santa Anita in July. Giant Expectations lives up to his name in this after winning twice at Belmont Park before a runner-up showing in an optional claimer at Del Mar July 19. Silent Bird comes off a five-month vacation.
American Anthem is the morning-line pick in Saturday's $500,000 Grade I H. Allen Jerkens Memorial for 3-year-olds at Saratoga. The Bodemeister colt, trained by Baffert and ridden by Smith, has won both his starts since being cut back to Saturday's 7-furlong distance after proving he isn't a two-turn type. Competition likely will come from Practical Joke, who won the Grade I Hopeful over the course and distance a year ago but has been running longer. Coal Front is undefeated in three starts for trainer Todd Pletcher, most recently winning the Grade II Amsterdam going 6 1/2 furlongs with a 105 Beyer Speed Figure. Takaful got a four-months rest after retiring from the Triple Crown trail and also earned a 105 Beyer in his comeback, an allowance victory July 21 at the Spa.
Filly & Mare Sprint
Saturday's $500,000 Grade I Ballerina at Saratoga drew a tough field of seven fillies and mares chasing a Breeders' Cup spot through the "Win and You're In" program. Paulassilverlining is the narrow 2-1 morning-line favorite after winning her last four starts, three of them by narrow margins. By the Moon, Curlin's Approval and Carina Mia all have claims based on their recent form.
Nine are in for Saturday's $125,000 (Canadian) Grade III Seaway at Woodbine, 7 furlongs on the all-weather course. The morning-line picks here are Ontario Matron winner Ami's Mesa, Sky My Sky and Tulsa Queen. Gliding By might be gliding under the radar after four straight exacta finishes.
Songbird flies again in Saturday's $700,000 Grade I Personal Ensign at Saratoga, another Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In". The 4-year-old Medaglia d'Oro filly is out to avenge her only loss -- that heart-stopping nose that Beholder put in front at the end of last year's Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff at Santa Anita. Since then, Songbird has won the Grade I Ogden Phipps and the Grade I Delaware Handicap. She has four rivals in the Personal Ensign including Forever Unbridled, who was third in the Breeders' Cup. Her only intervening race was a win in the Grade II Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs on June 17. If form holds, Songbird is the only speed and Forever Unbridled will be trying to run her down in the lane.
Idaho, Highland Reel's younger brother, invades from Ireland to contest Saturday's $1 million Grade I Sword Dancer at Saratoga. The 1 1/2-miles Sword Dancer is a "Win and You're In" event for the Nov. 4 Longines Breeders' Cup Turf, won last year by ... wait for it ... Highland Reel. Ryan Moore is set to take the mount on Idaho, who won the Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot, then finished third behind only Enable and Ulysses in the Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot July 29. Both Enable and Ulysses were impressive winners this week in Group 1 events at the Ebor Festival at York. Don't like Idaho? Have a look at Erupt, winner of the Grade I Canadian International at Woodbine in his last North American visit. The 5-year-old son of Dubawi was eased in his last start, the Group 1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and might be a place contender in this. Among the locals, Money Multiplier was sixth in last year's Breeders' Cup and won impressively first up this season in the Grade II Monmouth on the Jersey shore. Hunter O'Riley, Bigger Picture and Sadler's Joy were 1-2-3 at the end of the Grade II Bowling Green earlier in the Saratoga meeting but weren't facing Idaho.
Saturday's $200,000 Mystic Lake Derby at Canterbury Park in Minnesota drew a field of 11 headed by Ian Wilkes trainee Giant Payday. An intriguing entry is Hot Shot Kid, a Minnesota-bred owned and bred by Warren Bush. Hot Shot Kid has won five straight races but makes his first start on the green course. "We know we have a really nice horse going forward," Bush said. "If he can run on the grass it opens up a whole new realm of possibilities."
Bush decided to breed in Minnesota as a result of a 2012 cooperative marketing and purse enhancement agreement between Canterbury Park and the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community, owners and operators of Mystic Lake Casino Hotel. That pact provided a $70 million infusion of purse money over a 10-year-period and prompted the creation of the Mystic Lake Derby.
Already in the books: Infinite Wisdom led all the way to a 1-length win over Nessy in Wednesday's $100,000 John's Call Stakes at Saratoga. The 6-year-old Smart Strike gelding ran 1 5/8 miles on firm turf in 2:40.52 with Irad Ortiz Jr. up. St. Louie was third and Red Rifle fourth.
Filly & Mare Turf
Lady Eli returns to the fray in Saturday's $400,000 Grade II Woodford Reserve Ballston Spa at Saratoga. The plucky 5-year-old daughter of Divine Park has never finished worse than second in 12 career starts and survived a near-fatal bout of laminitis. She was second by a nose in last year's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf behind Queen's Trust, who ran well to finish third in Thursday's Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks, setting up a rematch in November. She is a solid favorite against just five rivals in the Ballston Spa.
Sunday's $125,000 (Canadian) Grade III Ontario Colleen is run at 1 mile for 3-year-old fillies.
Friday's $200,000 Funny Cide at Saratoga is for New York-bred 2-year-olds. Eight are engaged with What a Catch, a Justin Phillip colt trained by Todd Pletcher, the morning-line favorite. He won both previous starts against fellow state-breds at Belmont Park and John Velazquez keeps the mount. Aveenu Malcainu, an Into Mischief colt trained by Jeremiah Englehart, won at first asking earlier in the meeting.
Friday's $200,000 Seeking the Ante at Saratoga is for state-bred juvenile fillies and got a cast of nine. I Still Miss You is the favorite after two wins and a second in her first three starts for trainer Jeremiah Englehart. Her loss was to Pure Silver, who returned to win the Grade II Adirondack at the Spa Aug. 12.
On the international front:
Ulysses rolled by two of Europe's top 3-year-olds, Churchill and Barney Roy, in deep stretch to take Wednesday's Group 1 Juddmonte International at York by 2 lengths. The 4-year-old Galileo colt, trained by Sir Michael Stoute and ridden by Jim Crowley, tracked the leading pair through most of the 1 1/2-miles plus, then easily seized the lead in the final 200 yards and was drawing away at the end. The Flaxman Stables homebred now has won three of five starts this year, finishing third to Highland Reel and Decorated Knight in the Group Prince of Wales's Stakes at Royal Ascot and second behind Enable in the Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth over the same course. Sir Michael said owner Maria Niarchos is "keen" to send Ulysses to the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf at Del Mar Nov. 4. "What we have to do is work backwards from that," he said.
On Thursday at the Knavesmire, it was Enable's turn. The super filly already was judged at least Europe's top 3-year-old after winning the Epsom Oaks, Irish Oaks and the King George -- beating the aforementioned Ulysses by 4 1/2 lengths. She did nothing to spoil that impression in the Group 1 Yorkshire Oaks, leading all the way under Frankie Dettori and winning by 5 lengths. Coronet was up with a late effort to land second over Queen's Trust, who defeated Lady Eli by a nose in last year's Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Turf. Enable's unchallenged romp only lowered her odds further for the Group 1 Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe Oct. 1 at Chantilly.
Friday, trainer Wesley Ward sends out Lady Aurelia to tackle 11 rivals, most of them older, in the Group 1 Coolmore Nunthorpe Stakes at York. The Scat Daddy filly is the favorite on the basis of her impressive victory in the Group 1 King's Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot. But she faces an improving Bataash, a 3-year-old colt by Dark Angel who rides a 3-race winning streak. Profitable and Marsha have been chasing those two earlier in the season. The others would be a big surprise. A Breeders' Cup spot is up for grabs here, too.
Frankel's progeny joined the honor role in their 10th country as Lady Frankel got the job done in her second start Wednesday at Scottsville. With Anton Marcus up, the 3-year-old filly out of Val De Ra reported a comfortable 4 1/2 lengths ahead of runner-up Flo Joyner. Miss Frankel is the first of her sire's progeny to race in quarantine-challenged South Africa, which joined England, France, Japan, Ireland, Germany, the United States, Chile, Argentina and Australia in Frankel's win column.
Around the ovals:
Joyous Lady worked her way to the lead in the stretch run in Wednesday's $100,000 Shelby County Stakes for state-bred fillies and mare and inched away to win by 1 1/2 lengths over Hay Little Bit. The odds-on favorite, She Mabee Wild, settled for third. Joyous Lady, a 5-year-old daughter of Kela, ran 6 furlongs on a fast track in 1:10.75 with Thomas Pompell up.
Supreme Justice came six-wide into the stretch, passed the early speed and went on to win Wednesday's $100,000 William Henry Harrison Stakes for Indiana-breds by 1 length from Double Tuff. Zoned In got show money. Supreme Justice, a 5-year-old Lantana Mob gelding, got 6 furlongs in 1:09.85 under Marcelino Pedroza.