West Coast won the 148th Travers, and Bob Baffert repeats as winning trainer in the Mid-Summer Derby. West Coast certainly seems like the real deal, he’s been first or second in seven career starts, and won the Travers pretty convincingly. You’d have to say he’s the leader of the three-year-old division right now, as he defeated the winners of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont, Haskell, Jim Dandy, and Indiana Derby on Saturday, and right now it doesn’t look like there’s anyone out there to challenge him. In light of these most recent two Travers winners, it will be interesting to see how next year’s three-year-old crop will be managed. It just doesn’t seem like many three-year-olds can sustain campaigns that begin in the summer or fall of their two-year-old years, run in Grade 1’s and ship around the country, and keep up a level of performance and health that allows them to be competitive once late August of their three-year-old year comes around. West Coast and Arrogate were both later developing colts, and their trainer had the luxury of having patient owners who are able to wait for races like the Travers, and who also has a deep bench of fellow three-year-olds who did go after the Triple Crown races. Most trainers don’t have that sort of roster. If they have a good three-year-old, they’re trying for the Triple Crown. Maybe West Coast and Arrogate are just exceptions, as Keen Ice, Will Take Charge, Alpha, Stay Thirsty and Summer Bird are all recent Travers winners who ran in, or even won, a Triple Crown race. But, it is looking more like it will take a special runner to compete in the classics, and then have enough left in the tank to be competitive for the second half of the year.
Lady Eli won her eighth graded stakes race, and third straight graded event, taking the Ballston Spa at Saratoga. In a day filled with awesome performances at Saratoga, hers was maybe the best. The crowd cheered her after the winner’s circle presentation Saturday. She’s going up for sale in the fall, and probably won’t be back at the Spa, but she left quite an impression. This photo with jockey Irad Ortiz sums it up. Lady Eli and Irad Ortiz She will be missed in Saratoga Springs.
So, one three-year-old who has gone through the grind of the Triple Crown this year, and come out pretty successful on the other end is Allen Jerkens winner Practical Joke. He was a two-time Grade 1 winner at two, and has hit the board in the Fountain of Youth, Blue Grass and Haskell and won the Dwyer and the Allen Jerkens. And his Kentucky Derby was OK, he ran an even fifth (which is still a check in that race!) The argument against Practical Joke is that he hasn’t won going two turns, and I understand that, but I also consider his consistency in a year when no else has been able to string together several good races. He’s probably best at seven furlongs, true, but if he wins say, the Pennsylvania Derby, or even the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile taking on older horses? It would depend on what other horses do in the fall but you’d have to make the case for Practical Joke as three-year-old of the year. And, could we interest Chad Brown and the team in a run in the Malibu on Dec. 26?
The Personal Ensign was a thrilling race. Replay here Jockey Joel Rosario on Forever Unbridled kept his mare wide in the stretch so that Songbird and Mike Smith wouldn’t see him until it was too late. Great race riding, and it worked. With the win, Forever Unbridled will meet up with Stellar Wind, Vale Dori, Abel Tasman and others in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. That was Songbird’s second career loss and on Thursday, owner Rick Porter decided to retire her (AND OFFER HER AT FASIG TIPTON IN NOVEMBER, SO LET’S START THE KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN NOW) Songbird retires as the one of the best fillies of this generation. A NINE time Grade 1 winner, she was champion two-year-old and three-year-old filly, and her only losses came to eventual Hall of Famer Beholder by a nose, and three time grade one winner (and possible Breeders’ Cup champ?) Forever Unbridled. She was a special talent. Her 2016 Alabama win, here, was maybe my favorite of her wins
This Drefong is some horse. (OK, we knew that already, right, look at his King’s Bishop and BC Sprint from last year.) But in his first race in nine months, he loses the jockey, then comes back a month later (in a grade 1 at Saratoga) and says “we’re all good here.” There are a few other sprinters that maybe could make a case against Drefong, but his cruising speed is just so much faster than other horses, and Mike Smith rides him so confidently, it’s hard to see how he doesn’t go into the BC Sprint this year as the heavy favorite.
It’s closing weekend at both Saratoga and Del Mar. Yep, just like that, summer’s over. It always goes by too fast, right? There’s still some great racing over the holiday weekend, and Gun Runner looks to win his third straight grade 1 in the Woodward. He’s in great form right now, and should win, though Rally Cry for Todd Pletcher may make him work for it a bit. Labor Day Monday has two of my favorite races on the year, the Hopeful at Saratoga and the Del Mar Futurity, both for two-year-old colts. Dreams of Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May often begin in the winner’s circle of those races. (It’s then the racing and training in the months that follow that’s the tough part.)
Thanks for reading, and if you have subscribed via e-mail, thank you VERY much, that’s really appreciated. I’m going to be taking a little break from the newsletter over the next couple of weeks as the racing calendar takes a bit of a break also, and as the Keeneland September yearling sale kicks off. I’ll have a recap of the sale, and a preview of some big racing weekends as we get ready for the Breeders’ Cup, on Friday, September 22. See you then, and thanks again. Enjoy the holiday weekend, and don’t labor too much.