But the draw for Travers 142 was interesting right from the first pill when the name Stay Thirsty, the 5-2 early line favorite for the 2011 Derby of Midsummer, was called out and his post position was announced: “the nine.”
Yes, post nine in a field of 10. Now horsemen will tell you it’s not such a big Travers deal. A mile and a quarter race at Saratoga provides a fairly lengthy run to the first turn, not as critical as a race at nine furlongs.
But when the speedy Preakness winner Shackleford drew the extreme outside in the field of 10--always interesting when two strong big race contenders draw slips right next to one another--the subtext quickly got very interesting.
Then the name of Haskell winner, Coil, was announced: “the seven,” Well, now, a full fledged drama. Big races belong to the jockeys as much as they belong to the horses; a “rider’s race.”
That observation cannot be any more true than it will be for Saturday’s 12th race.
So the stage is set for a rider’s race involving three of the most accomplished horses in the field.
What do you do if you’re the favorite, Stay Thirsty? In all probability he will leave quickly and try to gain good stalking position into the first turn.
Besides Castellano doesn’t figure to allow the speedy and gutsy Shackleford force him to play defense by getting the jump on him and shut him off into the first turn.
Owner Mike Repole, is not bashful, unafraid to share an opinion. “I like the nine post but I would have liked Shackleford inside me. I think [Shackleford’s] going right for the lead and use himself early. I think somehow we have to draft in behind him.
“The great thing about Stay Thirsty is we can let Javier ride his race. If Shackleford wants to go, that’s fine. If Shackleford decides to sit back, Stay Thirsty is so tactical, he can be close or sit back a little. He’s versatile. He’s fine when he’s inside, outside, stalking. He can run on the lead if it happened that way.”
Coil‘s trainer isn’t shy, either. “I think he has to break better than he did in the Haskell,” Bob Baffert said: “It’s a tough race and there is speed in there. You have Shackleford, he’s a fast horse, he shows up every time.
“You’ve got Stay Thirsty, he’s pretty quick, stays up there. All these young horses have speed and we have speed. So, if we want to use it, I think it’s going to be a great race.”
As for Shackleford, “the race at a mile and a quarter is a little different than when you’re running a mile and an eighth,” said trainer Dale Romans.
“I don’t think there is anybody quick enough to get in front of us if they want the lead. From the 10-hole, we may have to go, open up a couple and see what happens.”
Trainer Reade Baker, who will start 20-1 shot Moonshine Mullin from post 3, finds all of this amusing.
“The post position means nothing,” said Baker. “I'm getting a kick out of everyone talking about how the race is going to go but the jocks aren’t here. I always say, ‘The jocks don’t tell me how to train and I don’t tell them how to ride.’”
Sounds like Emma-Jane Wilson will be on her own Saturday.
“I’m not about to give up my whole game plan here,” said Roman’s of Shackleford, “but can go fast, and history shows that when you pull a lot of horses out of their race chasing you, they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t.
“If they go with you they’re pulling out of their race, and if they let you just keep on cruising they might not be able to catch you turning for home. That’s why speed is always dangerous.”
However it turns out, Baffert’s going to enjoy it. “It’s a big race. When you’re going in the gate there’s nothing like looking down and you see all the fans by the rail, and the roar when the gates come open.
“I mean to me there’s not a better feeling than having a horse in a race of this magnitude. Just like all the big Classics, this race is so huge. I’m really excited about it and it doesn’t get old. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Baffert’s not the only one.