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Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens surprised everyone yesterday when he entered Long Bay Stable’s Tizbig in the 1¼-mile Travers. The son of Tiznow was not expected to run after finishing second in an allowance race this last Sunday.
Of the prospect of running Tizbig back on only six days rest, Jerkens explained, “It’ll either make him run better or run worse - one or the other - maybe he’ll run real big by doing it. Sometimes that’s what happens, that’s why we’re running him.”
Tizbig has a career record of 1-3-2 from twelve starts for earnings of $89,467. His most notable performance was a second place finish behind Mint Lane in the Grade 2 Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park on July 6.
Jerkens, “The Chief,” has a career record of pulling off big upsets in big races against big horses. His most famous came in the 1973 Whitney, when he saddled Onion who defeated Triple Crown winner Secretariat and cemented Jerkens’ reputation as “The Giant Killer.”
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WinStar Farm’s Colonel John galloped over Saratoga’s main track for the first time around 9 o’clock Thursday morning after arriving from California the previous evening.
“He didn’t tell me, but he looked like he handled it,” said trainer Eoin Harty. “He looked like he liked it.”
The son of Tiznow out of the Turkoman mare Sweet Damsel has only run once on a dirt track, finishing sixth in the Kentucky Derby. The rest of his races have been run on synthetic tracks in California.
Colonel John drew post number two for Saturday’s Travers.
“I think it’s fine; I don’t see it being a problem,” said Harty. “I’d rather be inside rather than outside in a big field, don’t want to get caught up in any traffic. It is what it is, there’s nothing I can do about it, so wishing for something else is irrelevant.”
Garret Gomez, who rode regularly at Saratoga in past years before deciding to move his tack to Del Mar this summer, will ship back to his old stomping grounds to ride Colonel John. Harty says that he will leave strategy up to the rider.
“He’s a really good jockey and he’s ridden tons of winners at Saratoga, so there’s really nothing I can do,” Harty said. “He knows the horse, he’s ridden him in the past.”
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Harlem Rocker will break from post eight in the Travers for trainer Todd Pletcher and Stronach Stables.
“I don’t think the draw is really that important in this race,” said Pletcher, “but we’re happy with post eight.”
The gray son of Macho Again out of stakes-placed dam Freedom Come, by Lit De Justice, will be ridden by Eibar Coa for the sixth time in as many starts. Pletcher does not plan to give Coa any explicit instructions on how to ride the race.
“We’re going to kind of just let things unfold going into the first turn,” said Pletcher. “We will try to save a little ground and then just leave it up to him.”
Harlem Rocker is undefeated in four career starts on dirt, with his only defeat coming on Woodbine’s Polytrack surface in the Plate Trial Stakes. He is a two-time stakes winner, having won the Grade 3 Withers Stakes over King’s Bishop favorite J Be K in April and scoring in the $500,000 Prince of Wales Stakes - the second leg of the Canadian Triple Crown - last time out.
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2007 Horse of the Year Curlin, who is headed for the 55th running of the Grade 1, $500,000 Woodward on August 30, Travers morning-line favorite Pyro, and J Be K, the favorite for Saturday’s Grade 1 NetJets King’s Bishop, schooled in the gate this morning and were to school in the paddock prior to the start of the third race on the afternoon.
On Wednesday, Pyro drew post No. 11 in the 12-horse field drawn for the 1 ¼-mile Travers.
“It’s not the one I would have picked,” said Scott Blasi, assistant to trainer Steve Asmussen. “It’s not a great thing being 11 of 12. Hopefully, there’s some good pace in the race and we can get over and save some ground. When you have a bunch of horses with equal ability, the trip is the main thing. I don’t care where you are in a 12-horse field, you have to worry about your trip.”
Curlin will have his final breeze Monday over the Oklahoma training track in preparation for the Woodward.
“He’s doing great, his energy level is good, his appetite is good,” said Blasi. “The weather has picked all their heads up.”
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When the overnight stakes he had picked out for Robert V. LaPenta’s Amped did not fill, Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito said it was “a no-brainer” to enter the son of Fusaichi Pegasus in the Travers along with Belmont Stakes winner Da’ Tara and Grade 2 Fountain of Youth winner Cool Coal Man.
Amped is coming off a third-place finish to fellow Travers contender Mambo in Seattle in the Henry Walton Stakes at Saratoga on July 27.
“Second and third (in the Travers) is the same amount of money that we would have won in that stake; plus, he’s a mile-and-a-quarter horse,” Zito said about Amped. “He ran third to Mambo in Seattle, who is one of the tough horses in the Travers, and he was closing ground. Why not take a shot?”
The Travers pace scenario changed dramatically when another Hall of Fame trainer, H. Allen Jerkens, entered Tizbig.
Da’Tara, with Alan Garcia, will break from post position No. 3. Tizbig, with Cornelio Velasquez, will start from post position No. 4.
“You never know,” Zito said. “I respect Allen in whatever he does, but Da’Tara is going to do what he has to do. Knowing Allen, he isn’t stupid. He doesn’t believe in that suicide stuff. It’s good for those other jockeys to figure it out. Let them guess on what we are going to do.
“I’d like for Da’ Tara to pretend Tizbig isn’t in there. I’d like to see him go to the lead and keep the engines going. It might be complicated. But I think it will work out good.”
Zito, who won the Grade 1 Whitney opening weekend with Tracey Farmer’s seven-year-old Commentator, is hoping to be only the third trainer in history and first in more than 60 years to take the Whitney and the Travers with different horses in the same year. In 1942, John M. Gaver Sr. saddled Swing and Sway to take the Whitney and Shut Out to win the Travers; in 1931 James Rowe Sr. took the Whitney with St. Brideux and the Travers with Twenty Grand.
Four trainers have completed the Whitney-Travers double with the same horse: Shug McGaughey with Easy Goer (1989); MacK Miller with Java Gold (1987); John Veitch with Alydar (1978) and Elliott Burch with Key to the Mint (1972).
“Not too many have done that, win the Whitney and the Travers the same year,” said Zito. “It’s history, and you know how we like history – Robin Hood, the Count of Monte Cristo, all that.”
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Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott is looking for his first Travers winner with IEAH Stables and WinStar Farm’s multiple graded stakes winner Court Vision, who will start from post position No. 12 with Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux.
“I wasn’t looking forward to getting the 12-hole; I don’t think that’s any help to us at all,” Mott said. “It’s one more obstacle he will need to overcome. It’s not that he can’t overcome it, but it is one more thing he has to beat. I would have preferred to be in the middle where Kent could get him to the inside and save some ground.”
Court Vision is still looking for his first win in five starts this year. In his last race, the Virginia Derby at Colonial Downs, he was beaten a nose to Gio Ponti.
This year, with the exception of the Kentucky Derby where he finished 13th after a rough trip and the Grade 3 Colonial Turf Cup where he finished fourth over an extremely soft course, Court Vision has been no worse than third, including the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth and the Grade 1 Wood Memorial.
“It has been frustrating; we would like to win with him every time,” Mott said. “He is doing well. It’s a matter of getting him to the track and see what happens.”
You and I Forever, who was just beaten a neck by Mambo in Seattle in the Henry Walton Stakes, was considered for the Travers, but Mott believes the Grade 2, $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at Philadelphia Park for three-year-olds at nine furlongs on September 1 is a better fit.
“I thought we were represented well in the Travers with Court Vision,” Mott said. “You and I Forever ran a good a good mile and an eighth in his last race and the Pennsylvania Derby is a mile and an eighth. He’s a lightly-raced horse. He doesn’t have a lot of seasoning in him. At this point in time, it’s best to keep him at a mile and an eighth. At some point, we may stretch him out, but it won’t be this weekend.”