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Aug 26, 2011



It takes a big man to be so brutally honest in the racing game, but trainer Dale Romans is such a man.

At the Wednesday draw for Saturday's 142nd running of the Travers at Saratoga, the plus-size Romans laid down the proverbial gauntlet to rival trainers and jockeys when he said that Shackleford will go right to the top from his outside post (10 of 10), open early daylight, and pity the poor soul who tries to run with him.

How refreshing!

In all my years as a turf writer, I just wish that I had a deuce for every time a trainer of a speed horse said "my horse doesn't need the lead. He can rate."

Of course, this can be a case of Romans playing the old cat-and-mouse game, but I believe him. I do believe that Shackleford will get a loose lead in the 10-furlong Travers, and therefore be very tough to catch over a strip that has been kind to speed at two-turns.

Of course, in the nine-furlong Haskell a month back at Monmouth Park, Coil, despite a stumbling start, did catch Shackleford in the final yards.

As regular readers of this venue well know, Coil has been a personal favorite of mine for months, and indeed, his Haskell victory stamped him the early favorite in Vegas for the Breeders' Cup Classic.

Obviously, I'm thinking the Travers will be very much a re-run of the Haskell. Coil caught Shackleford at nine furlongs (despite the stumbling start), so surely he will catch him at 10.

And, just as surely, handicapping should be so simple.

Despite the fact that, for the first time since 1996, the Travers field includes the Preakness winner (Shackleford) and the Belmont
winner (Ruler On Ice), the Saratoga linemaker makes those two the third and fourth choices behind Stay Thirsty and Coil.

Where's the respect for the Triple Crown?

Yes, I understand Stay Thirsty is the horse for the course, and his connections are Pletcher and Repole, but I can't see him as a
Travers winner.

Of course, one public handicapper the other day wrote: "bet against Pletcher, and they'll take you out in a stretcher."

The guy has a point. I wish I had another deuce for every time I got beat by the Toddster through the years.

And what's so maddening is how blase he is about winning.

Toward the end of a lengthy New York Times piece last Sunday, Pletcher, after watching his Savvy Supreme win the Monmouth Oaks at double digits on TV in his Saratoga tack room, was quoted as follows:


Obviously...this is one fellow who is accustomed to winning.

Stay Thirsty isn't even the best 3-year-old in the barn, yet he's the morning line favorite (and likely post-time favorite) for the Travers.

But that doesn't mean Stay Thirsty will win. Indeed, I'll be shocked if he does.

I still think think the race will be a replay of the Haskell. Perhaps with the same ending. Perhaps not.

The Travers will go as race 12 on a 13-race program that kicks off at 11:35 a.m. For the sake of man and beast, hopefully Hurricane Irene won't get in from the also-eligibles.

The Travers will be the fifth and final stake, to be run consecutively, starting with the $200,000 Ballston Spa (race eight).

A Grade 2 for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on the grass, the Ballston Spa looks like a tossup among Miss Keller, who gets to save all the ground from the one-hole; Romacaca, Daveron, and Aviate, a Mott mare who has been chasing the best in the division.

Hot Summer, another personal favorite, should return running in the Victory Ride (race nine), a $100,000 Grade 3 for 3-year-old fillies at six furlongs.

The Toddster has a shot with Magic Forest from the one-hole in the 10-filly field, and Roman Treasure and Moon Buzz will show speed from their outside posts.

Hilda's Passion heads a field of seven fillies and mares in the $250,000 Ballerina, the first of three straight Grade Ones.

The Pletcher-trained filly will be tested early and often in the seven-furlong race, and then will be all out to hold off the late-running Sassy's Image, who gets the best of the draw (post seven).

Tar Heel Mom, a last-out winner who loves Saratoga, will get a great deal of support, but she might be a bit short of Grade One quality.

That brings us to the King's Bishop (race11), a Grade One for 3-year-olds at seven furlongs.

Uncle Mo figures to be a short price for the Toddster and Repole in his first start since his Wood Memorial flop, but this won't be a stroll in the park.

Despite drawing the one-hole, Flashpoint will be a major threat, as will the uncoupled entry of Dominus and Justin Phillip from the Asmussen barn.

If the speed comes back, Ohio Derby and Amsterdam winner Caleb's Posse can blow 'em away for trainer Donnie K. Von Hemel, a high-percentage trainer from the Arkansas-Oklahoma circuit.

It was hoped that Sunday's $300,000 Personal Ensign Stakes would feature another matchup of Havre De Grace and Blind Luck, but neither mare will make the race.

Blind Luck is staying in California for the Pacific Classic, and Havre de Grace will wait a week for the Woodward, where her connections hope to score some Horse of the Year support by beating the boys, much like Rachel Alexandra did in 2009.

Havre de Grace prepped for the Woodward the other day with five-furlongs in a bullet :58 at Delaware Park for trainer Jones.

The media is calling the Blind Luck-Havre de Grace rivalry the best filly and mare rivalry in the history of thoroughbred racing and indeed it is. Perhaps we'll see them hook up again in the BC Classic in a race no doubt that will settle Horse of the Year.

But first there's the Travers, which could settle the 3-year-old championship.

For my selection, you need to check the John Piesen Hot Line either here online, or at 888 612 2283.

Thanks for tuning in. Enjoy the racing weekend, batten down the hatches, and make sure to join me for a profitable Travers weekend at The Spa.

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