A crowd of 40,723 cheered on as a field of 12, the largest Travers field since 13 went to post in 1990, faced the starter.
Jockey Garrett Gomez managed to save ground with Colonel John, but as the Travers field turned for home, Harty said he was nervous after seeing Colonel John stumble slightly. The Tiznow colt was trying to get past Wood Memorial winner Tale of Ekati on his inside and Tizbig to his outside, while Jim Dandy winner Macho Again and Pyro were rallying behind him.
“Coming for home, someone rammed up from behind,” Harty said. “It was all Garrett could do just to hang on. Things got pretty scary at the top of the stretch. There were some scary moments for a lot of horses. Horses were bouncing off each other like a pinball machine.
“But today, he doesn’t seem worse for wear. Right now, he’s in good shape. It was such a roughly-run race. It was a miracle that he survived the way he had to run. He had a little scrape on the hind leg, but it is nothing serious. He won on heart. It was a courageous effort. He had every reason to get beat.”
Harty said Colonel John will leave Saratoga and return back to Southern California. From there, Harty will huddle with the WinStar connections and discuss Colonel John’s plans leading up to the $5 million, Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic for three-year-olds and up at a mile and a quarter at Santa Anita on October 25. Saturday, Harty mentioned the possibility of training Colonel John up to the race.
At the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Colonel John could again meet Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown. In his only other start on dirt, Colonel John ran sixth to Big Brown in the May 3 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
“Right now, Colonel John has got to be among the top tier,” Harty said. “He has to be right up there with Big Brown., but that’s for the experts to decide. I still think we’ll meet each other in the Breeders’ Cup. I’ll think about a spot for him before the Breeders’ Cup. I’ll talk to team WinStar and come up with a game plan.”
Harty will try to win another $1 million race this afternoon at Del Mar when he saddles WinStar’s Well Armed in the Pacific Classic.
* * *
Trainer Neil Howard said he could not be unhappy with the effort he got from William S. Farish’s Mambo in Seattle after losing the close photo to Colonel John in the Travers. It was the second straight time Howard lost a close finish in the Travers. Last year, Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense defeated Grasshopper, also owned by Farish and trained by Howard, by a half-length.
“You are always disappointed to get beat; I think about it, but I don’t dwell on it,” Howard said. “I was emotional for a minute or so. From that point, you have to turn it off and go to the next part of the equation. He ran a hell of a race. There were two quality colts on the wire. That’s all you can say, really.”
Mambo in Seattle, a son of Kingmambo, was one of the horses that stayed clear from traffic after jockey Robby Albarado kept him near the back of the Travers field for nearly a mile before making a six-wide move coming for home and continued that momentum in the stretch.
“Robby rode him perfectly,” Howard said. “We thought the fractions were good going a mile and a quarter. I thought the key was staying where he was because he had the nine-hole to begin, he had a deep field of 12 horses in the Travers, and he (Robby) gave the horse every chance.”
More importantly, Howard has been pleased with the way Mambo in Seattle has developed since April. Coming into the Travers, Mambo in Seattle had won three straight races, including the Henry Walton Stakes, which convinced Howard to take a shot in the Travers.
“He has developed unbelievably since April,” Howard said. “He has gained weight and his hip has spread out. According to Robby, he was strong at the end. He still thinks he’s getting better. >From a trainer’s standpoint, I think there’s room for him to develop more.”
Howard has never compared any of his horses to Mineshaft, a horse he trained to win seven stakes races that earned him Horse of the Year honors and the Eclipse Award as champion older horse in 2003. However, he does see similar qualities.
“To me and my career, Mineshaft made my life,” Howard said. “I never compare any horse to him. In that specific degree, there are a lot of similarities here. It’s what they do in the holding barn. It’s how they shake off races. It’s what they do in shipping. Like Mineshaft, he was at home five minutes after he got there. That’s what you need.”
Howard was also impressed how Harty brought Colonel John into the Travers.
“Eoin Harty is a hell of a teacher,” he said. “You have to listen to him. He felt a certain way about a couple his horse’s races. If you’re around him, he doesn’t talk just to hear himself talk. That’s why I was worried about him. I knew they weren’t coming here for the weather.”
Howard has not planned a specific schedule for Mambo in Seattle. However, one of the races he may consider is the Grade 2, $500,000 Super Derby at nine furlongs at Louisiana Downs on September 20.
“We’ll keep him eligible for everything, but we didn’t settle on anything yet,” Howard said. “It can be a little complicated in the fall for a good three-year-old. There’s not much. Other than the Super Derby, everything else is pretty much with older horses. It’s an obvious spot because it has a good purse and it’s a mile and an eighth, but we’ll have to see.”
* * *
Pyro, who finished third as the beaten favorite in the Travers, exited the race in good order, as did J Be K, sixth as the choice in the Grade 1 NetJets King’s Bishop Stakes, assistant trainer Scott Blasi reported Sunday morning.
“They looked like they came out of their races good,” said Blasi.
Pyro found himself in tight quarters at the top of the stretch, but rallied from eighth to gain a share under Shaun Bridgmohan.
“Steve (Asmussen) and I talked about it afterward,” said Blasi. “Usually, in 1 ¼-mile races, they’re spread out more. But they were pretty bunched up on the turn. Breaking from post No. 11, Shaun did the right thing in getting to the rail, saving ground, and taking our chances. We took a little bit of it, but there were horses to the outside who took a lot worse than we did.”
Since his eighth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, Pyro has won the Grade 3 Northern Dancer, finished second in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy here earlier in the meet and gained third in the “Mid-summer Derby.”
“They were all good races,” said Blasi. “I’ll take one just like him every year.”
* * *
Trainer Todd Pletcher said Sunday morning that Harlem Rocker came back well from his fourth-place effort in the Travers. The gray colt, who started from post No. 8, came six-wide on the turn to move into contention, but weakened through the final eighth.
“He’s OK at first blush,” said Pletcher. “It was a difficult trip for a number of horses. The field size and the post position had more of an effect than I would have anticipated. We lost ground on the far turn and that affected us at the sixteenth pole.”
Pletcher said he would wait a few days before looking ahead to a fall campaign for the Stronach Stables’ colt.
* * *
Grade 2 Jim Dandy winner Macho Again was “pretty banged up” after a rough trip in the Travers, in which he finished eighth after clipping heels and stumbling at the quarter-pole, said trainer Dallas Stewart.
“He almost fell down,” said Stewart Sunday morning. “Thank goodness he’s OK, Julien (Leparoux) is OK, I’m OK, the owners are OK.”
Stewart said Macho Again hit a nerve at the back of his ankle and was limping after the race.
“It stung him pretty good,” said Stewart. “We had it X-rayed and the bones are fine. This morning he’s fine, ate up good. We’ll live to fight another day.”
Although based at Fair Hill, Md. with trainer Michael Matz,Visionaire again proved on Saturday that he loves New York, as he rallied from far back to win the Grade 1, $250,000 NetJets King’s Bishop for three-year-olds at seven furlongs by two and a quarter lengths over Desert Key. It was the fifth winner of the day for jockey Alan Garcia.
“He came back perfect,” said Team Valor International’s Barry Irwin of Visionaire. “He’ll go back home tomorrow, and then we’ll figure out his next start.”
Irwin said that Belmont Park’s Grade 1, $400,000 Vosburgh for three-year-olds and up at six furlongs on Jockey Club Gold Cup Day, Saturday, September 27, would be a likely consideration.
A son of Grand Slam, Visionaire rallied in the slop to win Aqueduct’s Grade 3 Gotham back in March. He also won in the slop here at Saratoga on July 24, the day after the Spa meet opened.
“We were lucky that he trained down in Maryland and avoided all the rain that was up here earlier this meet,” Irwn said. “Had he been here all along, he might not have been able to train and maybe he wouldn’t have made the King’s Bishop.”
According to the National Weather Service, today marked the fourth straight day without rain, the longest such streak in the Saratoga Springs area since July 4-7.
* * *
Shadwell Stable’s Shakis, repeat winner of the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch Handicap yesterday from out of the clouds, was no worse for wear Sunday morning, according to trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.
“He’s great,” McLaughlin said. “He came out of the race well. We have to look at the Shadwell Mile [next] (Grade 1 at Keeneland on October 4th) because of the owner and the day. So, we’ll try and do that. Although, September 13th might be a little quick back to go hook Big Brown (in the Monmouth Stakes), but that’s going to be a big purse and it’s a mile and an eighth.”
McLaughlin’s three wins on yesterday’s card have moved him into second place in the trainer standings with 12 wins, one fewer than Todd Pletcher. Both Pletcher and McLaughlin were former assistants to Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas.
“We have a lot of nice horses and we’ve had a great meet,” McLaughlin said. “It’s not something that we were ever setting our goals to do, but when you get there it’s obviously nice. You want it a little bit - that fire in your belly says ‘Oh, let’s try and do this.’ But, we can’t do much differently than we’re doing. We have some live horses. Most horses we run are live. It would be nice to win a few more, but this is the most we’ve ever won. If we don’t win anymore it has still been a great meet.”
McLaughlin says he has ten or twelve more horses set to race before the meet is over, including Lucky Island in next Saturday’s Grade 1 Forego Handicap and Divine Park in the Grade 1 Woodward against reigning horse of the year Curlin on the same day. Alan Garcia, McLaughlin’s first call rider, won five races yesterday to take a one win lead over John Velazquez for leading jockey.
Johanna Murphy-Leopoldsberger’s Porte Bonheur is recovering nicely after upsetting heavily favored Indyanne in yesterday’s Grade 3 Victory Ride Stakes.
“The winner’s good, but the trainer’s a little rough this morning,” joked trainer David Duggan. “The filly’s good.”
The three-year-old daughter of Hennessy out of Sous Entendu, by Shadeed was coming off of a win last time out in the restricted Flanders Stakes on August 2nd, and Duggan was happy with how she stepped up in class. He plans to continue to put her in harder races to see how she performs.
“The Gallant Bloom (G2 at Belmont on September 20th) is kind of what we’re looking at - taking on older fillies,” said Duggan. “She stepped up to the plate yesterday and she proved she’s a legitimate horse. So, we’ll take it step by step.”
Porte Bonheur now has four wins and a third place finish from seven career starts. She has earned $203,366.