Macho Again prepped for the Travers with a win in the Jim Dandy (gr. II) July 27. <br><a target="blank" href="">Order This Photo</a>

Macho Again prepped for the Travers with a win in the Jim Dandy (gr. II) July 27.
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Wide-Open Field Set For Travers

Other than Big Brown, no 3-year-old has separated itself from the rest of the pack in 2008. That could all change Aug. 23 at Saratoga, as a full field of 12 will go to post in the $1 million Travers Stakes Presented by Shadwell Farm (gr. I), each horse seeking its place in history by attempting to win one of the oldest and most prestigious Thoroughbred races in North America.

If all 12 line the starting gate, it would be the largest field in the last 18 runnings of the Travers, a 1 1/4-mile event on the dirt. Post time is scheduled for 5:45 p.m. EDT, but ESPN will begin its live coverage of the “Mid-Summer Derby” at 4:30 p.m. The Travers is also the final leg of a guaranteed $1 million Pick Four that begins with the Victory Ride (gr. III) in the eighth race.

Included in this year’s wide-open field are the 1-2 finishers in the Jim Dandy (gr. II) in Macho Again and Pyro; Robert LaPenta’s triumvirate headed by Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Da’ Tara; Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) winner Colonel John; and a handful of graded stakes winners looking to crack the upper echelon of the division, notably Withers (gr. III) winner Harlem Rocker. All will carry 126 pounds.

Interestingly, Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Pyro was installed as the 7-2 morning-line favorite despite losing to Macho Again in the July 28 Jim Dandy. Trained by Steve Asmussen, Pyro was one of the top 3-year-olds in the first half of the season before disappointing in both the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) and the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).

The son of Pulpit--Wild Vision rebounded nicely by winning the Northern Dancer (gr. III) June 14 at Churchill Downs and seemed poised to run down Macho Again in the final yards of the Jim Dandy, but fell short by a half-length.

“We were disappointed he didn’t win the Jim Dandy, but it was a good effort,” Asmussen said. “When we lead him over, we are going to lead him over with confidence.”

Pyro, the only three-time graded stakes winner in the field, must overcome unenviable post 11 in the Travers. He will get regular rider Shaun Bridgmohan.

West Point Thoroughbreds’ Macho Again captured his first graded stakes victory in the Jim Dandy, but has been in top form since winning the Derby Trial April 26 at Churchill. The son of Macho Uno  was runner-up to Big Brown in the Preakness (gr. I) and fifth in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I). He was installed as the 6-1 fourth choice on the morning line.

“He’s a fighter,” said Macho Again's trainer, Dallas Stewart, who was third in the 2000 Travers with Dollar Bill. “And he likes Saratoga. He ran second in his first start here last year, and he’s bigger and more mature than he was last year.”

Breaking from post five, Macho Again will have Julien Leparoux in the irons for the second consecutive race. He is attempting to become the fourth consecutive horse to win both the Jim Dandy and Travers.

To read more about the fascinating history of the Travers Stakes, check out the new book by Vic Zast, The History and Art of 25 Travers.

Da' Tara is one of three starters for Lapenta and trainer Nick Zito, who won the race in 2004 with Birdstone. The shocking Belmont Stakes winner will be looking to rebound from a last-place finish in the Jim Dandy. Under Alan Garcia, the Tiznow colt got caught up in a speed duel with Mint Lane in the early stages of the Jim Dandy and tired badly. Garcia isn’t expected to take Da’ Tara straight to the front this time, as the Allen Jerkens trainee Tizbig should be the pacesetter.

Zito also saddles Fountain of Youth (gr. II) winner Cool Coal Man, who was third in the Haskell (gr. I), and Amped, a son of Fusaichi Pegasus making his first graded stakes start.

Perhaps the horse with the most upside is Stronach Stables’ Harlem Rocker, another son of Macho Uno . Trained by Todd Pletcher, Harlem Rocker burst onto the 3-year-old scene by romping in the April 26 Withers, where he earned an impressive 106 Beyer Speed Figure. Most recently he proved he could route, winning the 1 3/16 mile Prince of Wales July 13 in Canada.

Unraced as a juvenile, Harlem Rocker is 4-for-5 overall, but perfect in four dirt efforts. The Ontario-bred will be ridden by Eibar Coa and could go off as the post-time favorite.

“I don’t think we’ve gotten to the bottom of him yet,” said Pletcher, who won in 2005 with Flower Alley. “It looks like a pretty wide-open race. It should be interesting to see what happens.”

Also to be considered are WinStar Farm’s West Coast invader Colonel John, the second choice in the Kentucky Derby who tries dirt for the second time; IEAH Stables’ Court Vision, who returns to dirt after a pair of turf appearances; and Charles Fipke’s Tale of Ekati, winner of the Wood Memorial (gr. I) and fourth in the Jim Dandy.

Colonel John trainer Eoin Harty is pleased with how his bay colt is coming into the race. “(He’s training) very, very, very well. I think the key to the Travers will be the pace. I’d like to see a half in :46 and be laying about five or six lengths off that.”

Restricted Saratoga stakes winner Mambo in Seattle, and Tres Borrachos, who enters off a victory in the Swaps (gr. II), complete the field.

$1,000,000 Travers Stakes (gr. I, Race 11, 5:45 p.m.), 3-Year-Olds, 1 1/4 Miles
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey, Odds
1. Tale of Ekati (KY), 126, Edgar S. Prado, 20/1
2. Colonel John (KY), 126, Garrett K. Gomez, 8/1
3. Da' Tara (KY), 126, Alan Garcia, 8/1
4. Tizbig (KY), 126, Cornelio H. Velasquez, 30/1
5. Macho Again (FL), 126, Julien R. Leparoux, 6/1
6. Cool Coal Man (KY), 126, John R. Velazquez, 15/1
7. Amped (KY), 126, Jorge F. Chavez, 30/1
8. Harlem Rocker (ON), 126, Eibar Coa, 4/1
9. Mambo in Seattle (KY), 126, Robby Albarado, 5/1
10. Tres Borrachos (KY), 126, Tyler Baze, 15/1
11. Pyro (KY), 126, Shaun Bridgmohan, 7/1
12. Court Vision (KY), 126, Kent J. Desormeaux, 12/1

The Travers Stakes is featured on this week's "That Handicapping Show".