Alpha turned in his final serious work for the Grade 1, $1 million Travers on Friday at Saratoga, covering a half-mile over the fast main track in 48 4/5 under exercise rider Rob Massey.
"He worked well," said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said. "I had him galloping out in 1:01 4/5. Officially I think they said 1:02 1/5, but he went great and all systems are go. Saturday is normally the day we work, but last week we worked Thursday because of weather and there's chance of rain again today. The track had some moisture in it, but he handled it well."
The work was Alpha's second since winning the Grade 2 Jim Dandy at the Spa on July 28. Last week, the Bernardini colt breezed four furlongs in :48 1/5 over the main track for the 1 1/4-mile Travers on August 25. Though Alpha's major preparations are now complete, McLaughlin said he is unlikely to focus much on the rest of the field.
"I paid attention to Paynter not showing up, that was important for us," McLaughlin said with a smile. "Otherwise, I know the horses that are coming, looks like an eight- to 10-horse field and we just have to wait and see how we draw. We're doing well and we'll get there ourselves. I don't worry too much about everybody else."
Expected for the Travers in addition to Alpha are Atigun, Five Sixteen, Hansen, Liaison, Neck 'n Neck, Nonios, Stealcase, Street Life and possibly Fast Falcon. NYRA Stakes Coordinator Andrew Byrnes said Friday that previously expected European invader Cogito would skip the race.
Fast Falcon worked five furlongs in 1:00 2/5 Friday morning, after which Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito said it was very likely the colt would be entered in the Travers.
"He worked super and galloped out strong," Zito said. "I just want to call (owner) Richard Pell and make sure we're on the same page, but I'm fine with it. He's going to be a long shot, which I like."
The son of Awesome Again was most recently seventh over a sloppy track in the Jim Dandy. He finished second behind Teeth of the Dog at Belmont Park in both the Grade 2 Dwyer on June 30 and the Easy Goer overnight stakes on June 9.
"It was a slow pace, and I don't think he liked it," said Zito about the disappointing Jim Dandy performance. "He wasn't himself. This is what makes an interesting story about a long shot. That's what I'm here to do."
Zito has run 26 horses in the Travers, winning the race in 2004 with Birdstone, and finishing second five times and third three times.
Jockey Junior Alvarado worked Fast Falcon Friday morning and will ride in the Travers, according to Zito.
Neck 'n Neck is expected to turn in his final breeze for the Travers on Sunday or Monday, trainer Ian Wilkes said Friday.
"We're going to work him Sunday or Monday," Wilkes said. "I'm leaning more towards Monday, but we have to keep an eye on the weather."
Neck 'n Neck was beaten two lengths by Alpha in the Jim Dandy and is expected to face many of the same horses in next week's Travers, but for the moment, Wilkes isn't worrying too much about his competition.
"I just need to get one spot better, don't I?" he asked rhetorically outside his Clare Court barn.
"I can't worry about the other horses right now," he added. "We've got eight days, we've got another work to get through, and I've got to just worry about him."
Neck 'n Neck came out of the Jim Dandy well and is, according to his trainer, in good shape heading towards the Travers.
"He's fine. No problems," Wilkes said. "His works have been good and I'm very pleased with him."