The answer at the end of the past weekend in many circles was ânone of the above.â
It has been more than 30 years since three different winners of Triple Crown events met in the Travers, so anticipation ran high as the 2013 renewal loomed. Then Verrazano made a shambles of the Haskell, crushing, among others, Oxbow, who came out of the race with a wrenched ankle. The injury put his Travers status in doubt as well as compromising his chances for the 3-year-old championship, which is still up for grabs..
There hasnât been a more decisive win in a 3-year-old Grade 1 this season than Verrazanoâs almost 10-length Haskell romp, the largest margin in the storied raceâs history. Not to diminish in any way Palace Maliceâs performance in the Jim Dandy but Verrazano obliterated a better bunch in the Haskell. He not only buried Oxbow, who struggled home fourth, he ran past Bob Baffertâs latest ânowâ horse Power Broker, coming off a big win in the Easy Goer; Derby runnerup Golden Soul; Gotham and Jerome winner Vyjack and Long Branch winner Micromanage.
Todd Pletcher, whoâs as tight with superlatives as Jack Benny was with a dollar, said he felt Verrazano had made âa huge statement.â Pletcher said Verrazanoâs Haskell was as impressive a race as a 3-year-old has run this season. There arenât many who would argue. The 116 Beyer Fig he was given dwarfs Oxbowâs 106 in the Preakness and Orbâs 104 for the Derby.
So thereâs a new Big Three for the Travers and it wouldnât be surprising if Verrazano goes favored over the Derby and Belmont winners as well as Oxbow if he makes the race. Verrazanoâs Haskell was his sixth win in seven starts over four tracks. The only blemish was his no-show 14th in the Kentucky Derby over an off track.
However, the same question hangs over him that did going into the first Saturday in May. Can he win beyond nine furlongs? Orb and Palace Malice have already put that issue to rest.
Then again, they could have gone around Monmouthâs one-mile oval again Sunday and Verrazanoâs margin only would have been greater. It was the first time any colt of his generation displayed the potential to challenge elders Game on Dude and Fort Larned, among others, in the big fall races and the Breedersâ Cup.
Palace Malice used similar tactics in the Jim Dandy to those that carried the day in the Belmont. He forced the pace of Dwyer winner Moreno, took over at will, eased away and had plenty left to hold off late-running Will Take Charge. The rest were never in the race.
Palace Maliceâs time, 1:47.32, was the second fastest nine-furlong Jim Dandy ever, good for a 107 Beyer.
So who do you like in the Travers and for the division title?
Bill Mottâs plaque in the Hall of Fame across Union Avenue makes notes of his remarkable achievements, most notably training Cigar to 16 wins in a row. It might have to be revised to include another streak.
Mott, the second youngest person ever elected to the Hall of Fame in 1998 when he was only 45, has an uncanny ability to win a race on his birthday, July 29. He turned the trick for the seventh straight time (dark days not included) and 15th in 20 opportunities on Monday. Itâs not Woody Stephensâ five consecutive Belmonts but it has captured the fancy of the racing world.
Everyone has a birthday but, in its own way, Mottâs has become another event on the Saratoga calendar. The Racing Form made note of it in the leadup to the Spa season and it was mentioned prominently in the roundup in Mondayâs Form and again after Mott kept the streak going. Dave Litfin included it in his race-by-race analysis. Tom Durkin referenced it in his calls. In-house handicapper Andy Serling commented on it for each of Mottâs five starters.
Serling took a hard-bitten (but accurate) approach, pointing out that the streak has become so avidly followed that each of Mottâs starters was being egregiously overbet. Serling astutely saw this as an opportunity for the cold-of-heart, who pay no attention to such matters, to take advantage of inflated prices on non-Mott contenders.
Mottâs followers had to hang on to the bitter end when the last of his quintet, Revenue, got home in the ninth race and paid $5.50. This repeated the 2012 pattern when Mott didn't win until the last of his three starters, Alaura Michele, captured the Nani Rose overnight stakes.
The streak will get a rest in 2014 when July 29 falls on a dark Tuesday.