Alpha and Golden Ticket in the Travers Stakes.
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Alpha and Golden Ticket in the Travers Stakes.
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Alpha, Golden Ticket Ready for Rematch

Dead-heat Travers winners are set to clash again in Saturday's Pennsylvania Derby.

Kiaran McLaughlin, trainer of Alpha , and Kenny McPeek, trainer of Golden Ticket , both said they were thrilled with the result of the $1 million Travers Stakes (gr. I), in which their colts finished in a dead-heat in one of the most thrilling finishes in the long history of Saratoga.

But the time for sharing is over. With another million-dollar purse up for grabs in the Sept. 22 Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II), each is out to prove once and for all who has the better horse.


“I would have been sick had we lost that photo,” McPeek said on a national teleconference Sept. 18. “It was all positive, and I’m not going to make a negative out of it. I’m excited to meet Alpha again. I think my horse is going to improve, because he needed that last race, not having run in three and a half months. He drank a bucket of water in the spit box after the race. This should be a great grudge match between them. Hopefully, this isn’t the last time we get to run against each other.”


McLaughlin also was thrilled with the dead-heat, especially after they posted Golden Ticket’s number on top, seconds before flashing the dead-heat sign.


“It was very important for us to get that grade I win,” he said. “It helped make him more valuable as a stallion prospect, and it helped (his sire) Bernardini. It felt great to share the grade I with Kenny McPeek, or anybody for that matter. It wouldn’t have been right for either one of us to lose by an inch.


“He’s put on a few more pounds since the Travers, and is a very happy horse right now. I have a lot of respect for Golden Ticket. He had a great trip and is improving. I feel he’s one of the main horses to beat along with Macho Macho (winner of the grade II West Virginia Derby). I think it’s good for the sport to have the two horses meet again. It should be fun.”


McLaughlin said the reason he chose the Pennsylvania Derby over the Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) Sept. 29 is to keep Alpha in his own age group for now.


“This is the last opportunity to keep them in their age bracket,” he said. “Both are million-dollar races and we opted to stay with straight 3-year-olds.”


Alpha, like Golden Ticket, will have to concede two pounds to Macho Macho and 10 pounds to four of the eight starters.


“I hate to give away that much weight, but he is a grade I winner and sometimes you have to,” McLaughlin said.


McLaughlin also will be saddling the favorite, Questing, in the grade I Cotillion Stakes the same day.


“We have It's Tricky, who also is owned by Godolphin, in the Beldame (gr. I), so we decided to come here with Questing,” McLaughlin said.


McLaughlin’s other big horse, Emcee, winner of the Forego (gr. I), will go straight to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I).


As for Golden Ticket, McPeek joked that he used the Travers as a prep for the Pennsylvania Derby.


“I don’t think the Travers was a fluke,” he said. “If you look at the Ragozin numbers, we were in range of those horses. And he’s really improved physically. Alpha, like my horse, is physically well made, but he’s not imposing and you’re not going to get scared looking at him. But they’re both very efficient movers and obviously both can run.”


$1,000,000 Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II, Race 11, Post 6:16 p.m), 3-Year-Olds, 1 1/8 Miles

PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, Odds

1. Stephanoatsee, S Russell, 114, H G Motion, 12/1

2. Casual Trick, S Elliott, 114, N Zito, 8/1

3. Handsome Mike, I Ortiz Jr, 114, L Mora, 20/1

4. Alpha, R A Dominguez, 124, K McLaughlin, 9/5

5. Junebugred, A Cintron, 119, S Hobby, 20/1

6. Golden Ticket, D Cohen, 124, K McPeek, 5/2

7. Csaba, R Maragh, 114, P A Gleaves, 5-1

8. Macho Macho, C S Nakatani, 122, S Asmussen. 4-1