The Summer Season enjoyed a big weekend with the Travers Stakes and King’s Bishop at Saratoga on Saturday before switching gears to Del Mar for the Pacific Classic and Pat O’Brien on Sunday. Overall, there is quite a bit to look at so let’s jump right in with what I think was the most note worthy performance of the entire weekend.
It seems the most common thing we have discussed over the summer is the question marks surrounding the 3 yr old division. Coming into this weekend it came down to the big 4 who all had the chance to become first the 2 time winner of a major stakes race since the Triple Crown began. In the end, it was Stay Thirsty that came away the winner of the 2011 Travers Stakes and he did it in pretty impressive fashion. His nose for the course at Saratoga was apparent once again, especially on a trip around the oval that didn’t seem to go as planned.
After stumbling at the break, Stay Thirsty was gunning for the 1st turn quicker than expected before letting Shackleford pass and establish the lead in front. Sitting just off Shack’s hind down the back stretch, Stay Thirsty still looked eager to get on the lead. By the time he made his way to the top of the stretch that’s where he was and he never looked back. After racing 2nd in the Belmont, and winning the G2 Jim Dandy also at Saratoga, Stay Thirsty should undoubtedly be considered the front runner for the 3 yr old champion award at this point in the game. It’s a “what have you done for me lately” division, so with back to back wins against the healthiest completion available he has clearly answered that.
In my opinion there are a couple of things Stay Thirsty will need to do to hold on to the lead. First is going to have to be running well outside of New York. By this I mean the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs. To date his only graded stakes wins, The Gotham, Jim Dandy and Travers have all been in the Empire State. His next race is likely to be the G1 Jockey Gold Cup at Belmont before heading to Kentucky in November. The 3 yr old division is still up for grabs and if another horse in the division prevails in the Classic then the chances of Stay Thirsty claiming the award will be very slim. Second is pretty simple but very important: holding form. This colt has come into form this summer but at 3 yrs old it may be a test to hold it through the remainder of the summer and into the fall.
BIG Disappointments for the other 3. Coming in Coil had been blazing around the main track at Saratoga during workouts for the Travers. As they say however, there’s a big difference between racing and training. Coil was slow at just about every possible point in the race and didn’t seem interested in racing. Shackleford on the other hand had his strategy in place but wasn’t able to make anything of it. In the end, I’m still not convinced his chances of winning at a distance of 1 ¼ mile is likely for him in 2011. All and all, though, this was just one race and both colts still have the chance to get back on track before the Breeders’ Cup.
In other news at Saratoga on Saturday was the anticipated return of Uncle Mo. At the wire, it was a nose that separated Owner Mike Repole from the greatest day in his racing career. It had to be a confidence builder for everyone in Mo’s camp because it was still a big win for him to perform tough in first trip back. With so little time between now and November though, I don’t see Mo being ready for the competition in the Classic or the races distance. So, look for him to head towards either the Dirt Mile or Sprint.
Speaking of Sprints, let’s switch gears to the West. Not being talked about as much as Mo was the return of The Factor who entered the Pat O’Brien Stakes at Delmar after a layoff due to injury. The Factor was back for the first time since a disappointing 7th in the Arkansas Derby where following the race he was taken off the Derby Trail and diagnosed with a hairline ankle fracture. His return is so eye catching because of a few of things. Number 1, unlike Uncle Mo, he was tackling a field of older horses that included the heavy favorite, Smiling Tiger. Number 2 is that all of his dominant wins earlier in the season came on the dirt at Santa Anita. So disposing this crop of horses over the Del Mar synthetics was very impressive. Finally, it was just his sheer form and final time in the 7 Furlong Sprint – 1:21.56. Mo’s return was great but The Factor wins this contest. Maybe this fall we’ll see these two go head to head in the BC Sprint.
And then we saw a track record in the Pacific Classic. Acclamation rose to the occasion with a Del Mar Polytrack record of 2:00.61 over a fast track in the 1 ¼ mile Grade 1. In what was expected to be a battle between Game on Dude and Twirling Candy turned out to be a surprise wire to wire win for a horse racing on synthetics after recent turf success. His big hits on turf this year included 3 wins in a row prior to the Pacific and will likely be the reason we won’t see this horse in the Classic. Even though his win automatically qualified him for the Classic, the Churchill Downs dirt is likely to be too much to ask of a horse that hasn’t raced well on dirt since 2009. So Breeders’ Cup turf? — Only if he gets made eligible, he’s not yet nominated for the Breeders’ Cup……..interesting.
As for Game on Dude and Twirling Candy, the two are still pointed towards the Classic. If they race again before November, you might find them off the polytrack and back on the dirt to prep for Churchill Downs.
Written by: Little Brink
- For anyone who didn’t catch the replay of any of the races or would like to view them again here you go.