Travers foes will stay on the same path
SARATOGA SPRINGS You could call it a blanket finish.
On Sunday morning, one half of the Travers blanket of red carnations was hanging from a railing along the shedrow at the Greentree stables on Nelson Avenue.
The other half was draped over Kenny McPeek’s desk all the way on the other side of Union and 5th avenues.
The distance separating the two pieces was in stark contrast to the distance separating Alpha and Golden Ticket — none — at the finish of the 143rd Travers Stakes on Saturday.
They dead-heated for the second time in the history of the race and shared the spoils of victory; They will likely share the starting gate for the Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 22, as well.
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said there was a chance that Alpha could wind up in the Jockey Club Gold Cup the following weekend, but the much more likely scenario is for him to stay with 3-year-olds and run at Parx.
For now, both camps were still basking in the afterglow of the Travers.
McPeek got to the barn late Sunday morning after staying out late with friends, and McLaughlin said he set his alarm clock 20 minutes later, to 5:20, and actually needed it for a change. He had a quiet dinner with his family and didn’t stay out late, but he said the stress of the day was exhausting.
“I probably put my head down at 10:30,” he said. “It went off, and I was like, ‘Wowww.’ It’s just the adrenaline. Usually, I put it at 5:00, but I put it a little bit later, because I knew I was going to be tired.”
“We have to split the trophy,” McPeek said. “Wild. Just to be part of all of it. We work hard. This is a humbling game. You work hard, you get beat a lot and you try to figure out why.”
Both horses were doing fine the morning after the Travers.
Both trainers were quick to point to the fact that the dead heat, which had not happened for first place in the Travers since 1874, likely would not have happened had not Fast Falcon closed so hard on the outside of Alpha.
Golden Ticket, ridden by David Cohen, looked like he was on his way to victory at the eighth pole, but Alpha and Ramon Dominguez kept battling.
Still, he nearly ran out of racetrack, until Fast Falcon, trained by Hall of Famer Nick Zito, woke him up in the final strides.
Alpha was able to find just enough more of a gear to get his nose in front by inches, only to tie Golden Ticket on the head bob.
“No, I did not think we were going to get there,” McLaughlin said. “And I think Zito’s horses coming helped us spurt on a little bit, just being competitive. That helped. He [Ramon] said that horse helped him.
“When he made the hole at the head of the lane and cut the corner, by the eighth pole, he was like three lengths ahead, and I thought, ‘Wow, he is going to draw away. This is huge,’ ” McPeek said. “And then, of course, Alpha kept fighting back. Nick’s horse engaging with Alpha might have got that horse going.
“It would have been a gut-wrenching loss for Kiaran or me if either one of us had lost. I know I was dreading if I got beat by the slimmest of margins, and I am sure Kiaran felt the same way.”
McLaughlin said Alpha will stay in Saratoga at the Greentree stable next to the race course after the meet is over.
Mechanicville native Chad Brown’s Travers ended in disappointment and concern for his colt, Street Life, who finished last and was pulled up just past the wire by Jose Lezcano before being vanned off.
Brown said on Sunday that Street Life suffered an unusual soft tissue injury to his left front pastern that may be career-threatening, but he won’t know for sure until after an ultrasound is performed on the leg.
“He is really comfortable in his stall, happy,” Brown said.
“I knew something was wrong on the final turn, when he lost his position. That’s when Jose said he felt not quite right when he went to a left lead on the turn, and then when he came off the turn into the stretch and went to his right lead, he felt better. But when he crossed the wire, he stumbled a couple of times and he thought it would be the safe thing to do to pull him up short after the wire and get off him just to be sure.”
Lezcano told Brown at the time that he didn’t believe the injury was serious, but he wanted to be extra-cautious, “because he, quote-unquote, took a couple funny steps,” Brown said.
Street Life was Brown’s second Travers starter.
Bowman’s Causeway was a non-factor and finished seventh last year.
Brown believed he had a much better chance with Street Life, reinforced by the fact that Fast Falcon was a menacing presence late and got up for third.
“It’s very disappointing because the horse who finished third was behind me, it was possible with the way the race unfolded for a closer to potentially win the race,” he said. “It was very disappointing. The horse was doing fabulous going into the race. He could not have looked any better or trained any better.”