The general consensus has been that the $1-million Travers Stakes (gr. I) will be a cake walk for Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) champion Street Sense. Confirmation came Aug. 22, when post positions were drawn and the son of Street Cry was installed as a 3-5 morning line favorite.
And with Preakness Stakes (gr. I) and Haskell Invitational (gr. I) winners Curlin and Any Given Saturday skipping the Aug. 25 "Mid-summer Derby," many already considered a Street Sense victory at the meet’s premier event a foregone conclusion.
Not necessarily so, says Street Sense trainer Carl Nafzger. “These guys we're running against Saturday know what they’re doing, and they can beat (us). This is a really strong crop of 3-year-olds. I’m not sleeping good at night. They’re all out to beat (us)," said Nafzger, who won the Travers in 2000 with Unshaded.
“I think it would have been great if (Curlin and Any Given Saturday) were here. Everyone wanted me at the Belmont and Curlin here, but you can’t have all the horses together all the time. You have to follow the schedule that’s best for the horse.”
So which of the six contenders has the best chance at pulling off the upset? Nafzger is on record as saying the biggest challenge could come from Sightseeing. Although he finished third to Street Sense in the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) July 29, Sightseeing closed very well.
A son of Pulpit, out of Resort, Sightseeing was beaten by only a half-length in the Wood Memorial (gr. I) and then won the Peter Pan Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont May 20. Bred in Kentucky by Ogden Mills Phipps, he may relish the 1 1/4-mile Travers. But as Nafzger noted, Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey has pulled off more than one shocker in his career.
“I know how Shug can take a horse and build him up to a certain race, and I know Shug's been looking at this race," Nafzger said. "Sightseeing was closing really strong (in the Jim Dandy) and we got another eighth of a mile to go. He’ll be formidable on Saturday.”
McGaughey said watching Sightseeing gallop out past Street Sense in the Jim Dandy was encouraging. "The way he finished, he kind of kept going," said McGaughey, who has won the Travers three times. "I'm going to be really interested what the extra eighth of a mile is going to do, too, really interested. It could be one of those things where it doesn't make any difference, but it could also make a big difference, like a major, big difference."
Sightseeing had his final Travers work Aug. 19, breezing five furlongs in 1:00.88. He was installed at 6-1 morning line odds. Edgar Prado will ride.
The other colt who may improve enough to challenge is C P West, making his third start against Street Sense. He is trained by another Hall of Famer, Nick Zito. A son of Came Home, out of Queen’s legend, C P West held a short lead over the Derby champ entering the top of the Jim Dandy stretch. It wasn’t until the final sixteenth that Street Sense put him away.
Zito may have Saratoga’s leading rider, Cornelio Velasquez, set the pace again and try to steal the race. "My wish list and my goal is to somehow, some way, open up again on Street Sense," Zito said. "I know it's an extra (eighth of a mile), but if we can get away from Street Sense, we might have a shot."
The morning line’s second choice is 5-1.
Zito’s other challenger is late-bloomer Helsinki, who did not start as a 2-year-old and just broke his maiden in May. Since then, the son of Distorted Humor , out of Well Dressed, has won an allowance at Delaware Park, ran fifth in the Dwyer Stakes (gr. II) and was a well-beaten fourth in the Lemon Drop Kid at Saratoga Aug. 5.
Loose Leaf won the Lemon Drop Kid, coming from well off the pace to take top prize by 3 3/4-lengths. In that one, the son of Notebook, out of Claire’s Smile, recorded an impressive 106 Beyer. Trained by Ken McPeek, Loose Leaf (21-1) has made a race-high 13 starts, winning four. The red-hot Kent Desormeaux will be aboard in the Travers.
Grasshopper, who has never had a stakes try, and For You Reppo, who has never won a race other than maiden, round out the field.
Post time is 5:40 p.m. EDT. All seven horses will carry 126 pounds.
$1 Million Travers Stakes (gr. I, Race 9, 5:40 p.m.), 3-Year-Olds, 1 1/4 Miles
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey, Odds
1. Helsinki (KY), 126, Julien Leparoux, 20-1
2. CP West (KY), 126, Cornelio Velasquez, 5-1
3. For You Reppo (KY), 126, Garrett Gomez, 20-1
4. Street Sense (KY), 126, Calvin Borel, 3-5
5. Grasshopper (KY), 126, Robby Albarado, 8-1
6. Loose Leaf (KY), 126, Kent Desormeaux, 21-1
7. Sightseeing (KY), Edgar Prado, 6-1