August 25, 2010

Dear Diary,

If you think you have the winner of Saturday‘s Travers Stakes, one of the most competitive renewals in years, you had better be lookin’ at lucky. And you don’t have to take my word on that.

“I fear all of them,” said Kiaran McLaughlin at this morning’s post draw that saw his Trappe Shot draw slip #2 in the field of 11 and installed the 4-1 early line second choice. “The winner will be the one that gets a good trip.”

“It’s a very competitive, open race,” said Todd Pletcher, whose Kentucky Derby- winning Super Saver drew the extreme outside position and made co-third choice with Afleet Express at 6-1.

“It’s wide open; I think seven or eight of them have a legitimate chance,” said John Kimmel, whose New York-bred Friend Or Foe leaves from post 9 at 15-1.

And even Leon Blusiewicz, whose 12-1 Admiral Alex enters the Grade 1 Travers after winning his only lifetime start earlier at the meet, thinks he’s in with a chance.

“Well, I’ve done it before,” Blusiewicz said. “I went into the Grade 1 Selima and beat an undefeated filly named Larida. So I don’t think I’m in deep.” It seemed clear that he was referring to his chances and not necessarily those of his horse.

With the Derby winner perceived to be off form after running on empty in Baltimore after an enervating Derby, and the Haskell combination of a wide trip and shortness of top condition, favoritism went to A Little Warm, at a lukewarm 7-2.
Trainer Tony Dutrow, who’s simply over the moon about A Little Warm and the way that he’s coming up to the race, has the son of Stormin Fever and Minidar at career tops. The Travers favorite clearly is the “now horse” in this group.

And he’s a comer, too. He’s been good since Florida this winter. After winning the Spectacular Bid, he was second in Funnybone’s Hutcheson, then made a good impression holding extremely well after setting a pressured pace in the Louisiana Derby, his two-turn debut.

The plan was to join the Triple Crown horses at the Preakness but when he didn’t scope satisfactorily after a workout for the race, he was declared and didn’t return until June 29 at Delaware Park.

After stalking the leader’s pace throughout, A Little Warm drew away from Miner’s Reserve, following that up by doing the same thing to the same rival in the Jim Dandy, arguably regarded as the quintessential Travers prep.

Now making his third start off a layup, Dutrow said this week he’s “super-duper happy” with the way his horse is doing and getting over the ground in his training.

That might have been the first time the term super-duper was used in this context but Dutrow’s point is well taken. A Little Warm stalked Miner’s Reserve under restraint in the Jim Dandy and appeared to lengthen his stride as the wire approached--exactly what you’d like to see when tasked with a tenth furlong.

As he does with most horses, leading rider Johnny Velazquez really seems to get along with free running types like A Little Warm very nicely.

After much second guessing, the connections of the Haskell runner-up have decided to follow their two-turn progression, McLaughlin believing that longer is what his horse prefers.

McLaughlin lives with Trappe Shot, knows him, but we disagree. The King’s Bishop appears the better spot although certainly not an easy one. But then there’s all that conditioning and natural speed going to waste in search of a first Grade 1 title. Nothing short of victory will vindicate the camp’s decision.

Dale Romans is adding blinkers to First Dude’s equipment not because he needs him to be faster but because he wants instant acceleration from the horse when Ramon Dominguez calls on him. Wouldn’t be surprised to see the modified type of blinkers commonly referred to as “cheaters,” which helps a horse‘s concentration.

Fly Down was a sharp Dwyer winner and followed that up with a good Belmont Stakes placing before racing evenly in the Jim Dandy before being forced to check in the late going.

The Jim Dandy favorite trailed the field virtually throughout before making a late bid in the strongly run contest. It was his first start since the Belmont, coming in off a relatively soft work-line and might improve dramatically here. He’s drawn the same post he had in the Jim Dandy, an improvement considering the added distance.

Afleet Express was a very good Jim Dandy third despite a somewhat circuitous trip, galloping out well after the race. He’s coming up to the 10 furlongs off graduating distances, as if he’s been pointed for this since leaving Florida late last winter. Javier Castellano, one winner behind Velazquez for the jockey title and in great form with a riding triple today, aids his chances.

In short, there are plenty of three-year-olds on the come in a class that has lacked definition, Lookin at Lucky notwithstanding. If anyone is to serious challenge the division‘s protem leader, their first serious test comes Saturday.