A pair of quarter cracks may have kept Quality Road out of the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), but nearly four months later the record-setting 3-year-old will get his shot at the next best thing—the Mid-Summer Derby.
A homebred of Edward Evans, Quality Road drew post 4 and was installed as the 8-5 favorite in a field of seven sophomores for the $1 million Shadwell Travers (gr. I) Aug. 29 at Saratoga. The star-studded Travers also drew Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Summer Bird, as well as the top three finishers of the Aug. 1 Jim Dandy (gr. II), including the impressive winner, Kensei.
The 1 1/4-mile Travers is last of five graded stakes on a Saratoga card that also includes the Ballerina and NetJets King’s Bishop, both grade I stakes and each worth $300,000. ESPN will have coverage of all three races beginning at 4:30 p.m. EDT.
Quality Road would have been the probable favorite for the May 2 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands had it not been for a pair of untimely quarter crack injuries occurring in April. The son of Elusive Quality—Kobla, by Strawberry Road, had just dusted rivals in the $1 million Florida Derby (gr. I) March 29 at Gulfstream Park—doing so in spectacular fashion. The bay colt set a 1 1/8-mile track record in that race, covering the ground in 1:47.72 while defeating Dunkirk by 1 3/4 lengths. At the time, he was trained by Jimmy Jerkens.
Since then, Quality Road has recovered well from the quarter cracks and moved into the barn of Todd Pletcher. His new trainer picked Saratoga’s Amsterdam (gr. II) as the return spot for him—and what a comeback performance it was. Ridden by John Velazquez, who will again have the mount in the Travers, Quality Road rolled to another record-setting win in the Aug. 3 Amsterdam, covering 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:13.74 in his 2 1/4-length score.
The Virginia-bred enters the Travers with a record of 4-1-0 from five lifetime starts and earnings of $722,830.
"Obviously, he's a special horse," Pletcher told the Albany Times Union this week. "It's just a matter of whether he has enough seasoning under his belt to get the mile and a quarter at this stage."
Drs. Kalarikkal and Vilasini Jayaraman’s Summer Bird finished sixth in the Kentucky Derby before pulling an 11-1 upset in the Belmont Stakes for his first stakes victory. Trained by Tim Ice, the son of Birdstone returned to the track in the Aug. 2 Haskell Invitational (gr. I) and finished runner-up to Rachel Alexandra at Monmouth Park. He has turned in a pair of works at Saratoga in preparation for the Travers.
A winner of two of six starts in his career, Summer Bird drew post 6 and regular rider Kent Desormeaux will keep the riding assignment on the 3-1 second choice.
“Winning any grade I race is special, so to follow Birdstone and win the Belmont, then the Travers, would be great, but you know we would like to win every race we’re in,” Ice said. “I think when you ship him around as much as we have it’s a great benefit for us (that he’s so laid back)—and for him, he’s a horse that loves his sleep, and he trains and goes in the stall and goes in takes a nap and nothing bothers him.”
Stonestreet Stables and Gulf Coast Farms’ Kensei will try the Travers after romping impressively in both the July 4 Dwyer (gr. II) at Belmont and the Jim Dandy at Saratoga. After weeks of pondering, majority owner Jess Jackson and trainer Steve Asmussen decided they would send Kensei to the Mid-Summer Derby and point their other 3-year-old star, Rachel Alexandra, for the Sept. 5 Woodward (gr. I) against older horses.
Kensei, by Mr. Greeley, finished third in the Derby Trial (gr. III) April 25 at Churchill Downs and runner-up in the June 6 Woody Stephens (gr. II) at Belmont before relishing the added distance in his last two. A winner of four of seven starts and earnings of more than $500,000, Kensei (7-2) drew post 7 and will have Edgar Prado aboard.
“We know we got a late start with him this year and eliminated ourselves from the Triple Crown races,” assistant trainer Scott Blasi said. “But he’s developed nicely in each race, and as they’ve gotten longer, he’s gotten faster, and that seems to be important this time of year.
“The way he’s matured physically and mentally with racing, it’s nice to have (Rachel Alexandra) take the pressure off of him and she can take it better than anybody. But it’s allowed him to be able to come around and to his own; he’s training very forwardly right now and we’re excited about our chances.”
Also coming out of the Jim Dandy are Warrior's Reward and Charitable Man, second and third, respectively. Warrior’s Reward (8-1) was within a length of Kensei at the top of the lane but was unable to get any closer. Prior to that, the son of Medaglia d'Oro was beaten 5 1/2 lengths by Kensei in the Dwyer. He still seeks his first stakes win. Calvin Borel will ride for Ian Wilkes.
“I hope the Travers (was his) breakthrough race,” Wilkes said. “He’s really improving. He’s a slow-maturing horse. He got beat a couple of times because there just wasn’t that killer instinct in him. He just wanted to run along with them, but I think he’s really starting to bounce back and come into his form.”
Charitable Man (6-1), sent off as the 6-5 favorite in the Jim Dandy, closed some ground in the late stages of the nine-furlong race but still came up 2 1/2 lengths short. Winner of the Peter Pan (gr. II) at Belmont Park in May, Charitable Man was fourth in the Belmont Stakes. Bred by Edward Evans, he is owned by Mr. and Mrs. William K. Warren and trained by Kiaran McLaughlin. Charitable Man turned in a bullet four-furlong move in :47.45 Aug. 21 at Saratoga. Ramon Dominguez will ride the dark bay colt for the first time, replacing Alan Garcia.
We decided to make a change when Ramon Dominguez was one of the top in the country and we could get him," McLaughlin said. "He was available. And speaking of Mr. Warren, we decided to make a change.
“(Charitable Man) runs well every time. We got a little high on him going into the Belmont because of his sire winning the Belmont (Lemon Drop Kid). We thought he’d love the mile and a half, which he did not relish like we thought he would, but luckily we won’t have to run him that distance again. We’re looking forward to Saturday even though it’s an extremely tough race, but he’s doing well.”
Rounding out the field are WinStar Farm’s Hold Me Back, winner of the Lane’s End Stakes (gr. II) at Turfway Park in March and most recently fifth in the Virginia Derby (gr. IIT), and Robert LaPenta’s Our Edge, who has gone wire-to-wire in his last three starts, including a seven-length score in the July 19 Barbaro Stakes (gr. III) at Delaware Park. Our Edge, trained by Nick Zito, is once again expected to be the pacesetter.
Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, who was expected to be included in the Travers field, was taken out of the race by trainer Chip Woolley Jr., who said on Aug. 26 that the Birdstone gelding has not fully recovered from last week’s surgery that corrected an entrapped epiglottis.
$1,000,000 Shadwell Travers (gr. I), 3-Year-Olds, 1 1/4 Miles (Dirt) PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey, Trainer, Odds
1. Hold Me Back, 126, Julien Leparoux, Bill Mott, 15-1
2. Charitable Man, 126, Ramon Dominguez, Kiaran McLaughlin, 6-1
3. Warrior's Reward, 126, Calvin Borel, Ian Wilkes, 8-1
4. Quality Road, 126, John Velazquez, Todd Pletcher, 8-5
5. Our Edge, 126, Alan Garcia, Nick Zito, 15-1
6. Summer Bird, 126, Kent Desormeaux, Tim Ice, 3-1
7. Kensei, 126, Edgar Prado, Steve Asmussen, 7-2