Coming from absolutely last and from as far back at 10 lengths between calls as the leaders entered the final turn, V. E. Day, making his first career start on dry dirt in his fifth lifetime run, rallied strongly down the center of the strip to win the restricted 9-furlong event by a head over Charge Now.
Protonico, making his second start this year and only fourth start in life, and a tepid 3-1 choice in a field reduced to nine with the program scratch of Commanding Curve, was a nose farther back in third, the mile and an eighth going in a solid, albeit unspectacular, 1:50.51.
Another lightly raced colt, Viva Majorca, finished even faster than the winner and was reaching the front three but ran out of racetrack.
A convincing case can be made that the Tiago colt, making his first start beyond 7 furlongs and around two turns, was the best horse given the race's dynamics.
It’s not often when you see runners come from absolutely last in a two turn dirt race that featured a legitimate pace that was somewhat on the moderate side. But after breaking slowly, Jose Lezcano, reaching a personal milestone with the victory, guided his mount to the inside, tipped wide gradually leaving the quarter-pole, then gamely prevailed over two rivals.
“He settled into a nice ground-saving trip,” said winning trainer Jimmy Jerkens, who will tack up Wicked Strong, the 2-1 early line second favorite, in tomorrow’s Jim Dandy.
“He’s bred top and bottom turf but he trained so well on the dirt I wanted to give him a chance,” Jerkens explained. “On paper it looked like there would be a ton of speed in there and we were tucked in behind, saving ourselves.”
“My horse did everything so easy to the quarter-pole,” added Lezcano. "He saw the horses and he kept running. I saved ground the whole way and when I asked him he gave me a kick.”
Bill Mott, trainer of the runnerup, was disappointed but encouraged enough to take the next step. “I thought it was a great effort. He was a little green when that horse went by him and he came back again.” Then he added, “we want to win the Travers, anyway.”
It’s unknown at this point whether the third finisher will go on to the Midsummer Derby. “For his first time going a mile and an eighth and only his second start this year, I thought it was a good performance,” said trainer Todd Pletcher.
“He learned a lot today,” jockey Javier Castellano added. “I think in the future he’s going to appreciate [added distance] because he was always on the lead but today we stretched him out. I thought it was a great effort for him."
As for Viva Majorca, beaten less than a length after rallying wider and faster than the winner in the final sixteenth of a mile, he appeared to have no chance to win at any point. Despite the fact he was coming out of sprints, he had only two horses beaten for much of the race instead of getting into the game from the start.
Further, he was steadied by Julien Leparoux after hesitating to run up inside horses approaching headstretch, then was shifted outside over rival’s heels, eventually reaching the 6-path with a furlong remaining then flew home, albeit too late. Like the winner’s run, his was a remarkable effort.
The top four finishers might not be ready for prime time just yet, but the second half of the sophomore season has only just begun.
In earlier races, Silver Union took the opening maiden claimer in a manner suggesting he will repeat if spotted properly by George Weaver, who saddled his first of two winners on the day.
Starting an early double for Johnny Velazquez, he was in hand late while drawing off; bet back in the right spot.
In the 7th, Castellano cut it a little too fine, waiting, waiting, then waiting some more with Hope Cross, finally tipping out with less than a sixteenth of a mile remaining and finished like a rocket to just miss catching Sumba Sunset.
Trainer Michael Matz and Luis Saez continue doing good work on the Saratoga turf course but bet that Hope Cross will not be a maiden for long.
After some confusion on the tote board, the stewards got it right in the finale when they disqualified runnerup Angel Choir and placed him third.
Bearing out under Jose Ortiz’s left handed urging, he bumped the eventual winner, Fresh Feline very hard, starting a chain reaction into original third finisher, Jolene. The incident cost that one either first or second position and the 24-1 chance justifiably was placed third.