On a muggy, partly cloudy afternoon, he won his fourth by a desperate nose over his stablemate, Wicked Strong, giving trainer Jimmy Jerkens his own personal exacta and kept him an undefeated 2-for-2 in the Travers.
On Travers eve, Jerkens was accepting a ceremonial “Red Jacket” for special achievement for his father, the great Allen Jerkens, plying his trade these days with a few horses in South Florida.
A day later, the “Son of Giant Killer” Jerkens was accepting the Travers trophy on behalf Magalen O’Brien, owner of V.E. Day, a turf specialist that is now 3-for-3 on the main track, including the Curlin Stakes here on July 25.
For Jerkens, it’s been a storybook meet, winning at a 38% rate going into Travers Day. The photo finish camera, getting a strong workout all meet long, was never more telling than in Saratoga's premier event.
This might be a good time to refer to V.E. Day as a former turf specialist, one that can run all day over any surface. Check the replay and watch his stride lengthen when he reaches the finish.
Travers 145 has billed here as a Battle of the Big 3-1/2, yesterday’s runnerup and third finisher, Tonalist, the favored Haskell winner, Bayern, and Belmont Derby winner Mr Speaker, a winner at the Travers distance on Belmont turf July 5th.
As for the favorite, it just wasn’t his day, finishing last of 10 after setting a strong pace, dogged determinedly throughout by Tonalist. Clearly, Joel Rosario did not want the favorite to steal away and he did the hard work, chasing the pace for all 10 furlongs. He helped neither the favorite nor his own horse in the process.
Wicked Strong, racing close-up, too, but in the catbird seat, third, made what appeared to be a winning move on the far turn. Into the stretch, he was in a battle with Tonalist, dispatching him and opening what appeared an insurmountable advantage, but the pace started taking its toll on him, tool.
When Wicked Strong won the Jim Dandy, wearing blinkers for the first time, he ran straight and true down the stretch. Saturday, after acting up a bit at the gate--a quirky habit--he attempted to win the race immediately after entering the straightaway.
This time, however, he was bobbing and weaving in the final sixteenth while tiring and his mate nailed him right on the line under superb handling from Castaneda, who also won the Grade 1 King’s Bishop with an identical late surge aboard The Big Beast.
As for Bayern: “I was hoping they’d go in 48 and change,” trainer Bob Baffert said by telephone from Del Mar. “But when he turned for home, he was out of gas. We were hoping to steal it, but the secret was out.”
“I wasn’t sure it was V. E. Day, he had so much mud on him” Jerkens said of the stretch-running winner. “[But] when I saw the silks I knew it was him. I said ‘man, what a feeling. I know I’m going to win the Travers; I just didn’t know with who'.”
“He beat me,” said Wicked Strong’s rider, Rajiv Maragh. “That darn Jimmy Jerkens, you can’t beat that guy,” Maragh said with mocked indignation.
Of Tonalist, Joel Rosario said: “It looked like there was one horse with speed and then me and Wicked Strong. I tried to get my position; he can run like that, so I was happy where I was. We were just third best today.”
“I was very happy with what my horse did today,” said Castellano. “I’m happy for Jimmy; he’s a great horseman. We’ve had good experiences in the past, winning the Travers [in 2010] with Afleet Express.”
Castellano had other good experiences on the day as well, sweeping the late Pick 3, giving himself four victories on the day to go with his fourth Travers trophy.
What is clear now is that V.E. Day cannot be taken lightly and belongs to be included with the division’s elite. Undefeated juvenile champion Shared Belief is the early line favorite to defeat older horses in Sunday’s Pacific Classic. Divisional-leading dual classics winner California Chrome is scheduled to return in the Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 20 at Parx. The Jockey Club Gold Cup goes the following weekend at Belmont Park.
Supporting Stakes Set the Tone for Future Stars and Upsetters
The 46,557 didn’t lack for entertainment, not with Abaco coming from the back of the pack in a paceless edition of the G2 Ballston Spa for older fillies and mares on the grass. Under well- timed handling from Jose Ortiz, the score gave trainer Shug McGaughey’s his second win on the card.
The grass event was a good start for Pick 4 players who were able to beat the odds-on favorite, Filimbi, who stalked the pace to no avail, finishing last of seven.
Castellano rode The Big Beast with confidence, coming from off the pace, using slightly different tactics than those that won a preliminary allowances here earlier this meet. It was the kind of effort that compelled trainer Tony Dutrow to try Grade 1 company.
“I learned from my days with Bobby Frankel,” said Dutrow. “When your horse is [doing] really, really good to not waste a race.”
New York breds were well represented in the Grade 1 Ballerina by three very talented fillies but when it was over, Artemis Argotera was in a class by herself, winning by open lengths a tick or two faster than it look The Big Beast to win the King’s Bishop.