Minus Classic Winners, Travers Draws Competitive Field of Seven

Minus Classic Winners, Travers Draws Competitive Field of Seven
Photo: AP/Jim McKnight
Trainer Nick Zito, right, is interviewed by NYRA announcer Tom Durkin during Wednesday's Travers Stakes post position draw.
Despite the absence of this year's two classic winners, Giacomo and Afleet Alex, Saturday's $1-million Travers Stakes (gr. I) drew a talented and competitive field of seven today, headed by Haskell Invitational (gr. I) winner Roman Ruler and Jim Dandy (gr. II) winner Flower Alley.

The most intriguing horse in the field has to be Bellamy Road, who has not run since popping a splint in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). Trainer Nick Zito had originally scheduled the seven-furlong King's Bishop Stakes (gr. I) for Bellamy Road's return, but after conferring with owner George Steinbrenner and farm manager Ed Sexton, Zito decided the Travers would serve the son of Concerto better in the long run than subjecting him to a hotly-run sprint against undefeated Lost in the Fog.

After snatching the Whitney Handicap (gr. I) right from under the nose of Saint Liam with the speedy Commentator, Zito is hoping for a similar scenario in the 1 1/4-mile Travers. Zito believes if Bellamy Road can show the same brilliance he did in his sensational 17 1/2-length victory in the Wood Memorial (gr. I), he is talented enough to wire the Travers field. He will have the advantage of breaking from the rail, with regular rider Javier Castellano aboard.

Roman Ruler, who drew post four, is trained by Bob Baffert, who will be seeking his second Travers victory, having scored with Point Given in 2001. Flower Alley's conditioner, Todd Pletcher, has captured the Jim Dandy four times, including the last three runnings, but has yet to win the "Midsummer Derby." Jim Dandy winners in general have not fared well in the Travers, as only two have come back to capture the Travers in the past 20 years.

The recent history of the Travers has revealed some interesting statistics pertaining to the Triple Crown. Five of the last six winners – Lemon Drop Kid, Point Given, Medaglia d'Oro, Ten Most Wanted, and Birdstone -- finished out of the money in the Kentucky Derby. The other winner, Unshaded, did not run in the Derby. However, the last six Travers winners all finished in the money in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), with Birdstone, Point Given, and Lemon Drop Kid winning the last leg of the Triple Crown; Medaglia d'Oro and Ten Most Wanted finishing second; and Unshaded finishing third.

If these statistics hold true this year, then Andromeda's Hero could be a live longshot under Corey Nakatani, having finished out of the money in the Derby and second in the Belmont. The son of Fusaichi Pegasus   will break from post two, alongside his stablemate, Bellamy Road.

Most of the money is expected to be on Fog City Stable's Roman Ruler, who was forced to drop off the Derby trail due to a quarter crack, and Eugene Melnyk's Flower Alley, whose ninth-place finish in the Derby actually was much better than it looks on paper. Both colts are just now reaching their physical and mental peak and should put on a great show, as they did in their previous confrontation in the Dwyer Stakes (gr. II), in which Roman Ruler defeated Flower Alley by a half-length.

Baffert has always regarded Roman Ruler, another son of Fusaichi Pegasus  , as one of the most talented colts he's ever trained, right up there with Point Given and Vindication. After wisely backing off and giving the colt time for his foot to grow back, Baffert is now confident Roman Ruler will catapult himself to the top of his division. He has already knocked off Flower Alley and the Zito-trained Sun King, and now turns his attention to the remaining survivors of the Triple Crown trail. A victory in the Travers would put Roman Ruler in position to challenge Afleet Alex for supremacy in the 3-year-old division. Jerry Bailey, who is two-for-two aboard the colt, will back in the irons.

Flower Alley, by Distorted Humor  , has excellent tactical speed, and has been able to focus better since the addition of blinkers. It will be up to Flower Alley and John Velazquez to put enough pressure on Bellamy Road to prevent another Zito heist, while saving enough to withstand the expected late pressure from Roman Ruler and Don't Get Mad, as well as the shifty Reverberate and the late-closing Andromeda's Hero and Chekhov. Flower Alley should benefit from drawing the outside post, which will enable Velazquez to keep a close eye on Bellamy Road and get a good position outside him going into the first turn,

B. Wayne Hughes' Don't Get Mad has had an up and down career to say the least. His ups, all at Churchill Downs, have been nothing short of spectacular, while his downs, all in Southern California, have been for the most part mediocre performances. But trainer Ron Ellis is tired of hearing that the son of Stephen Got Even   can only win at Churchill Downs. Circumstances have contributed to his defeats, and he most likely is not a horse geared toward the harder California tracks. The Saratoga surface should be closer to what he ran over at Churchill Downs, and with his explosive turn of foot and big knockout punch, he should be a major factor.

With Gary Stevens remaining on Chekhov, Edgar Prado, the meet's leading rider, will have the mount on Don't Get Mad and will break from post five.

Centennial Farms' Reverberate, runner-up in the Jim Dandy and Peter Pan (gr. II) also is coming into the race in top shape and is one who should love the 1 1/4 miles. He likes to be in the hunt early and will be a presence throughout the race. Look for the son of Thunder Gulch   to show big improvement off his Jim Dandy performance. Also remember, Thunder Gulch won the 1995 Travers, and sired 2001 Travers winner Point Given. Jose Santos has the mount.

Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith's Chekhov is still a work in progress, and we probably won't see the best of him until next year. But the $3.3 million son of Pulpit, trained by Patrick Biancone, did close some ground on a speed-favoring track in the Haskell to finish fourth, beaten 4 1/4 lengths.

The Travers will be televised on ESPN's two-hour "SportsCenter at Saratoga" show starting at 5 p.m. EDT. Post time for the Travers, which will be race No. 11 of the 12-race program, is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

Travers Field:

Post Position/Horse/Trainer, Jockey, odds

1 -- Bellamy Road/Nick Zito/ Javier Castellano, 2-1
2 -- Andromeda's Hero/Nick Zito/Corey Nakatani, 12-1
3 -- Chekhov/Patrick Biancone/Gary Stevens, 10-1
4 -- Roman Ruler/Bob Baffert/Jerry Bailey, 5-2
5 -- Don't Get Mad/Ron Ellis/Edgar Prado, 10-1
6 -- Reverberate/Sal Russo/Jose Santos, 6-1
7 -- Flower Alley/Todd Pletcher/John Velazquez, 7-1

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