This Saturday is the 150th Travers Stakes, the “Midsummer Derby.” It’s actually older than all of the other big three-year-old races on the calendar; Kentucky won the first Travers in 1864, eleven years before Churchill Downs ran the first Kentucky Derby. Being as how I grew up in Indiana, and spent a lot of time in Kentucky, I’m more familiar with the Run for the Roses on the first Saturday in May, and a bit of a tourist when it comes to Saratoga and the Travers, so I asked fellow Arizona RTIP’er and son of New York, Matthew O’Connor, to tell me about his favorite Travers. This Saturday’s race will be Matt’s 21st Travers.
Matt wanted to talk about the 2004 edition of the Travers, won by Birdstone. Give it a watch if it’s been a while (Birdstone’s Travers.) I watched the race on ESPN that day, and the upstate New York sky just got progressively darker as the horses approached the starting gate, until it was pouring after the race. It added another layer of drama to a race that already lots from its long and storied history. When I asked what Matt enjoyed most about that Travers, he said “the complete downpour and how dark it got. It looked like nighttime and there’s something exciting about those finish line lights coming on.” I’m sure it was pretty surreal being there that day, it certainly seemed like it from TV. Have fun on Saturday Matt.
My Travers pick? Oh, you know, you’ve got the favorites like Tacitus, Tax, Mucho Gusto, Owendale, who are all looking pretty good, and coming into the race well, but Saratoga’s known as the House of Upsets, so why not Chess Chief, with 2016 Travers winning jockey Mike Smith? Or Everfast, with Dale Romans, who beat American Pharoah in 2015. It’s always a fun race, and they’ll paint the canoe a new set of colors that night. It’s a HUGE day of racing Saturday at Saratoga, as you probably know if you’re reading. A recap to come next week.
Chad Brown won Grade 1’s in New York and California last weekend, with Cambier Parc in the Del Mark Oaks and Dunbar Road in the Alabama. Not really much to say on that, Chad has won three consecutive Eclipse Trainer awards, and is looking pretty good for a 4th straight. But Cambier Parc winning did make me think about…
Medaglia D’ Oro, Cambier Parc’s sire. He’s a world-class leading sire, 120 graded-stakes wins and career progeny earnings over $100 million. He’s had some of the most successful racing fillies and mares of the last 25 years: Rachel Alexandra, Songbird, Marketing Mix, Plum Pretty, Elate, just to name a few. Fairly or not, he’s been “typed” as a filly sire, which is understandable when you look at that list. I bring this up because Medaglia D’ Oro also sired Higher Power, the winner of the 29th Pacific Classic at Del Mar. MDO has had good males in the past, like Grade 1 2yo winners Violence and Bolt D’ Oro, Breeders’ Cup Turf winner Talismanic, two-time grade 1 winner Mshawish, and many others. But, is it going too far to say that Higher Power’s Pacific Classic win was Medaglia D’ Oro’s biggest win by a male on dirt? I don’t think it is.
Another stallion who had a good weekend was 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom. Animal Kingdom had three winners on the card Saturday at Saratoga, and what was interesting to me about those winners was that they were from a 3yo filly, 4yo gelding and 5yo mare, going five and a half furlongs, a mile and a sixteenth and a mile and three-eighths. It’s been a bit of a slow launch for Animal Kingdom at stud, but his runners have shown versatility and this 3yo crop looks like his best yet. What’s also interesting about Animal Kingdom is the type of mares he seems to cross well with, from families like More than Ready, Danzig and Dixieland Band, and not the traditional American dirt pedigree lines we’re familiar with.
I mentioned on Twitter how I thought there was a lot of similarity between New Year’s Day, sire of Maximum Security, and Can the Man. Both were good 2yos (New Year’s Day was really good, winning the BC Juvenile, but anyway), both are by prominent stallions, and both come from successful female families. New Year’s Day never really caught on, in the auction ring or with breeders, but had reasonable success on the track, ranking tenth as a first-crop stallion, and now ninth in his third-crop. He’s since been sold to stand stud in Japan (where I think he’ll be pretty interesting). Can the Man has moved up to #13 for this years 2nd-crop stallions, and last week ran 1-2 in a maiden special weight at Saratoga and got his first stakes winner. I don’t know whether any of these 2yo’s will be a Florida Derby or Haskell winner, but you can see Can the Man’s stock rising some.
That’s about it for this week, have a great Travers Saturday, and see you next week. Oh, and happy retirement to Warrior’s Club, he took a lot of people on an amazing ride and helped earn a good amount of money for Thoroughbred aftercare.