Loaded Travers has a little bit of everything
SARATOGA SPRINGS You have the “holy trinity”: Verrazano, Palace Malice and Orb.
You have thickening agents, and sausage and meat falling off the bone, waiting to be discovered and ladeled from somewhere deep within the big pot.
There will be some late kick.
And this stew would not be completely satisfying without a few shots of hot sauce, so Moreno should provide that extra zap.
The nine-horse 144th Travers Stakes has all the makings of a rich gumbo for racing fans on what promises to be another spectacular day at Saratoga Race Course today.
The Kentucky Derby winner, Orb, and Belmont Stakes winner, Palace Malice, and are here.
This Travers lost an opportunity to be the first to pit three distinct Triple Crown race winners in 31 years when Oxbow injured his ankle.
However, Haskell winner Verrazano, one poor run in the Kentucky Derby away from being undefeated, is such a suitable substitute for the Preakness winner that he was named the 2-1 morning-line favorite over his stablemate Palace Malice (5-2) and Orb (4-1).
“I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s a great race,” Shug McGaughey, Orb’s trainer, said. “With Palace Malice, you’ve got very much a ‘now’ horse that’s always dangerous. Verrazano, ever since he broke his maiden, has been a top horse, and the only blemish on his record is the Kentucky Derby. And he sure bounced out of that pretty well.
“With Palace Malice and Verrazano, their running style, Orb is going to have to have them in his sights; Moreno, he’ll be in front . . .”
Post time for the mile-and-a-quarter $1 million Travers is 5:46 p.m.; it will be part of a live broadcast on NBC from 4:30-6.
Following a third in the Belmont, the Derby winner convalesced at Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland and by all accounts is back on form and enjoying his job again.
The powerhouse duo of Verrazano and Palace Malice will be saddled by Todd Pletcher, who is on the way to his fourth straight meet title.
There are two from Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin Racing — Transparent and Romansh — a year after Godolphin’s Alpha won the Travers in a dead heat with Golden Ticket.
The field also includes Jim Dandy runner-up Will Take Charge, who ran in all three Triple Crown races, Derby runner-up Golden Soul and Virginia Derby winner War Dancer shifting from turf to dirt.
The presence of Moreno, meanwhile, spices up this Travers not only because he is the only admitted front-runner, but because his trainer, Eric Guillot, has been dispensing Cajun wisdom and witticism like a short order cook in the weeds all week.
He also dispensed a giant vat of genuine Louisiana gumbo to anyone who showed up at barn 34 for lunchtime on Friday, while a five-piece band pumped out a tasty blend of zydeco. Another party is promised for tonight, win or lose.
“I’ll tell you, those that know my trainer, Eric, well, know that he’s a very confident person to begin with . . . God help this place if we win [today],” said owner Mike Moreno of Southern Equine Stable. “It’ll never be the same for years to come.”
Moreno, a son of Ghostzapper, is a late-developing bay colt who needed 10 races to break his maiden, then ran away with the mile-and-a-sixteenth Grade II Dwyer by seven lengths with Jose Ortiz in the saddle at Belmont Park.
He was the controlling speed in the nine-furlong Jim Dandy through a half-mile in 47.48 and for 1:11.13 six furlongs.
Asked if the tactics will be the same, Guillot said, “Exactly. They still got holes in doughnuts.
“It’s the same deal. No sub-24’s. Every quarter [mile] has to be 24-and-change [seconds]. If they let me get off with that, this horse has a high, high cruising speed. He’s more efficient than Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.”
That means they’ll have Moreno to catch.
As close stalkers, Verrazano and Palace Malice have almost identical running styles.
Dogwood Stable’s Palace Malice and Mike Smith will break from post No. 8, and Verrazano and John Velazquez are tucked down in the 3 hole.
“I respect that horse,” Pletcher said of Moreno. “He ran a pretty good race in the Jim Dandy, and he was doing it off three weeks’ rest. But it’s pretty clear that he’ll be the target, and I think both of our horses, hopefully, will be in a good stalking position.”
“It figures to be a bit of a jockey’s race, I think,” Dogwood president and founder Cot Campbell said. “Orb’s going to be ready to run, and he could be salty.”
Pletcher is supremely confident in both of his horses.
Palace Malice has done nothing wrong since taking off the blinkers he wore in a 12th-place finish in the Derby.
The question raised about Verrazano, who is co-owned by Let’s Go Stable and the Coolmore connections, is whether he can put together a winning race going a mile and a quarter, but Pletcher said he was convinced by the Haskell performance because the track “was playing slower than I’ve ever seen it.”
“I think any horse who can handle a mile and an eighth and can finish up as strongly as he did that day can handle a mile and quarter at Saratoga,” Pletcher said. “That was a very deep, demanding track at Monmouth that day.”
Orb, meanwhile, has been off since the Belmont on June 8, but appears to have regained the form he exhibited prior to his Florida Derby win and a Kentucky Derby win that had murmurs of the first Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978.
He had a monster breeze on Monday and has lengthened his stride, according to exercise rider Jenn Patterson.
“He’s put on a lot of muscle weight, he’s bigger and stronger now,” she said. “Then he came up here, and now he’s gotten his head back to work. He knows what’s going on now.”
“People ask, ‘Why didn’t you run him [in the Jim Dandy]?’ ” McGaughey said. “Because I thought he was going forward all the time, and I didn’t want to take a step backwards.
“I wanted to come with a loaded gun. I didn’t think I’d have any problem getting him fit enough, and I think he’ll be sharp enough.”
A pace melt-down likely would benefit Orb, as well as Golden Soul, who came from 15th place to finish within 2 1⁄2 lengths of Orb in the Derby, and Will Take Charge, who was a length behind Palace Malice in the Jim Dandy.
War Dancer, owned by Magdalena Racing and Diamond M. Racing, will run in the silks of Diamond M.’s Tony Malatino for the first time. Malatino, who walked hots at Saratoga Raceway as a teenager, is a senior vice president with Morgan Stanley who plans to build an 80-acre horse farm near the track.