It’s time for the premiere 3-year-old race of the summer, yet once again, the best 3-year-old in the country is not entered to run in it. This leaves us looking for the second or maybe third best 3-year-old in the land, but you won’t have to look far if you were watching the Grade I Haskell Invitational on August 1st. While Lucky was finally able to shake his bad fortune and prove once and for all his status on the totem pole, the runner-up in the Haskell was making a break-out performance that ranked him as a notch below the winner of that race. Now he will use that prestige to make his mark against a tested group of graded stakes winners and some hungry wanna-bes in the historic Travers this Saturday at Saratoga.
Never in my wildest dreams would I have been expecting to write an article touting a horse I’d never once written about to win the Grade I Travers Stakes. But here he is, learn his name now; Trappe Shot is a skyrocketing star worth betting the farm on in this wide-open field. While the morning-line favorite is tepid on the aptly-named A Little Warm, Trappe Shot will likely take over that role once the windows open and common sense snaps into place. Yes, A Little Warm won the Grade II Jim Dandy convincingly, and there’s nothing wrong with his record to signal he will lose the Travers, but comparatively, running second to Lookin at Lucky is more impressive than running against the field in which A Little Warm conquered.
If you take a look at past Haskell runners-up, some extremely formidable horses have come out of this race and gone on to win bigger battles. Most recently, after finishing 6 lengths behind winner Rachel Alexandra last year, Summer Bird went on to rack up victories in the Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup; in 2007, Hard Spun finished second, and eventual Horse of the Year Curlin finished third to Any Given Saturday—that pair later ran 1-2 in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. While Trappe Shot doesn’t yet have the resume of a classic victory under his belt like Curlin and Summer Bird at that stage, he has one stakes victory to his credit in his short career, the $175,000 Longbranch Stakes at Monmouth Park. Prior to that, Trappe Shot was beating up on allowance company at Belmont and Gulfstream Park. In his last allowance race before the Longbranch, Trappe Shot beat a nice horse in Tahitian Warrior, who went on to win back-to-back allowance races by impressive margins.
In contrast, A Little Warm started the year off running with Derby dreams, only to have them dashed by Mission Impazible when he finished second to the Pletcher trainee in the Louisiana Derby. Ever since freshening up from that loss, A Little Warm has won both of his starts off the bench, an optional claimer at Gulfstream and then the Grade II Jim Dandy, both of which he was shadowed in second place by Miner’s Reserve. If you judge A Little Warm by Miner’s Reserve, there’s not much to be impressed by; though Miner’s Reserve is an honest horse, he has not been dominant in his previous races and has only won twice in his life. In summary, A Little Warm is a very good horse, but stacked up against what he’s faced, he’s definitely not to be considered great.
There are several other contenders who have a legitimate shot in the Travers. Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver is entered, after finishing a disappointing fourth in the Grade I Haskell, and Kentucky Derby runner-up Ice Box is also in after an off-the-board finish in the same Monmouth fray. The second-place finisher in the Preakness, First Dude, is also coming from the Haskell into this mid-summer Derby with dreams of a rebound, while Afleet Express and Fly Down are looking to avenge their losses in the Jim Dandy. Oh, and naturally, A Little Warm’s shadow, Miner’s Reserve, is back to breathe down the Jim Dandy winner’s neck once again. What would it take for any of these horses to step up and win Saratoga’s most prestigious race for 3-year-olds? Unfortunately, it seems the four of these who have participated in the Triple Crown are on a steady decline instead of an improve; they’d need a big jolt to shake them out of their doldrums. Meanwhile, Afleet Express and Friend or Foe are looking to crack higher into the 3-year-old contingent when they both take their second outing in graded stakes company. Afleet Express is entering the Travers after a third-place finish in the Jim Dandy, while Friend or Foe surrendered behind this late-closer to end up fourth. Don’t let all the Afleet Alex babies confuse you in the Travers (Afleet Again and Admiral Alex being the other two); if you’re looking for Alex’s most talented son in this race, watch for the locomotive finishing furiously in the stretch. With a better trip, he may very well step up Saturday and take the big enchilada.
Sunday, the reigning Horse of the Year will hit a career milestone when she stretches out to a 1 1/4 –miles in the Grade I Personal Ensign at Saratoga. It would be enough to test the endurance of Rachel Alexandra with the extra distance, as she has never run greater than 1 3/16-miles, but this is only half of the task—challenging the champ will be the rising star, Life at Ten.
Entering the Personal Ensign off a six-race win streak, including the Grade I Odgen Phipps and Grade II Delaware Handicap, Life at Ten has won at distances from 6 furlongs to 1 ¼-miles. As her first Grade I start of the year, Rachel will have all that she can handle when she is put to the test at the site of her most harrowing victory. But there is more on the line for the Horse of the Year than winning her first Grade I of 2010 and conquering a new frontier; should she not be able to handle the 1 ¼-mile distance, there is a strong chance Rachel Alexandra would not run in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and thus, the meeting with her and the undefeated Zenyatta would probably never happen.
Though the outcry for these two champions to face-off has diminished since Rachel started her 2010 campaign with two losses, and the showdown in the Apple Blossom Invitational was called off, Rachel Alexandra has slowly come back to form. As proven by a romp in the Grade II Fleur de Lis at Churchill Downs and a victory last time out in the Lady’s Secret Stakes at a boiling-hot Monmouth Park, the champ is working on a lighter campaign than last year’s historic romp into the record books. But if Zenyatta has taught us anything in the past couple years, it’s that a light campaign pays off with a fresh horse come Breeders’ Cup time, and that looks to be exactly the road the Rachel bandwagon is taking this year.
But what will Rachel take out of the Personal Ensign? Will Life at Ten steal the race and cast off the champion in a gate-to-wire victory, or will the old Rachel step up to the task and run her out of town? If it would be an easy victory for the Horse of the Year, a race against the males could be the next step on the road to the Breeders’ Cup, and should she run in the Classic come November, we would be witnessing the biggest assembly of stars as ever has been seen. The pressure is on.
Whether you’re a fan of Rachel or Zenyatta, you should be cheering on the champion in the Personal Ensign; a victory for Rachel only means a better race come Breeders’ Cup. And if you’re a fan of horse racing, you cannot deny a meeting between the two giants would ever be anything less than the race of the decade.
The Grade I Travers will run this Saturday at Saratoga. Post time is scheduled for approximately 5:46pm ET. The race will air live on TVG and HRTV.
The Grade I Personal Ensign will run this Sunday at Saratoga. Post time is scheduled for approxmiately 5:56pm ET. The race will air life on TVG and HRTV.