All Roads Lead to the Travers

The second season for 3-year-olds promises to be an exciting one, with a talented group of colts made up of seasoned Triple Crown veterans and budding superstars converging on the $1-million Travers Stakes (gr. I) Aug. 26 at Saratoga.

And they'll be coming from all directions – the $250,000 Iowa Derby June 30; $150,000 Dwyer Stakes (gr. II) July 4; $350,000 Swaps Breeders' Cup (gr. II) July 8; $350,000 Ohio Derby (gr. II) July 15; $1-million Virginia Derby (gr. IIT) on the grass July 15; $300,000 Leonard Richards (gr. III) July 16; $500,000 Jim Dandy (gr. II) July 29; $1-million Haskell Invitational Handicap (gr. I) Aug. 6; and $750,000 West Virginia Derby (gr. III) Aug. 6.

With so much money to be given away, it's going to be tough for trainers and owners to decide where to go. Some have already made their plans, while others will look for the easiest spot possible.

The status of four of the big-name horses is still up in the air. Preakness (gr. I) winner Bernardini, owned by Darley Stable, is being targeted for the Jim Dandy by trainer Tom Albertrani. However, if Godolphin's Discreet Cat, winner of the UAE Derby (UAE-I) runs big in the Dwyer, a decision will have to be made by Sheikh Mohammed which horse goes in the Haskell and which goes in the Jim Dandy.

A similar decision will have to be made by trainer Todd Pletcher and the owners of Bluegrass Cat, runner-up in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Belmont Stakes (gr. I), and Sunriver, winner of the Peter Pan (gr. II) and third in the Belmont. Judging from their running styles it would seem that Bluegrass Cat, with his tactical speed, is more suited to the Haskell, while the come-from-behind Sunriver would fare better in the Jim Dandy. But that will have to be decided by the colts' connections.

Sheikh Hamdan, along with trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and racing manager Rick Nichols, likely will choose the Jim Dandy for Belmont Stakes winner Jazil, unless they opt to train the colt up to the Travers, which is what trainer Nick Zito did with his 2004 Belmont winner, Birdstone, who like Jazil, is a small, slightly built horse. But at this time it looks as if the son of Seeking the Gold will have a prep first, with the Haskell also being an option.

McLaughlin also is looking at an allowance race June 22 for Fountain of Youth (gr. II) runner-up Flashy Bull, who could come back in the Ohio Derby. The 1 1/8-mile race at Thistledown is also a possibility for McLaughlin's Gotham (gr. III) winner and Coolmore Lexington (gr. II) runner-up Like Now. Another option for either colt is the Leonard Richards at Delaware Park the following day.

Trainer Mike Trombetta said he is between the Haskell and West Virginia Derby for Illinois Derby (gr. II) winner and Preakness runner-up Sweetnorthernsaint. Trombetta had put the colt back in light training for a week following the Preakness, but decided to back off and will walk him for two weeks and give him a freshening. Trombetta said he's looking for the easier spot, which would lead one to believe that the West Virginia Derby is the more likely of the two.

Bob Baffert has already penciled in the Haskell for his runaway Toyota Blue Grass (gr. I) winner Sinister Minister, who will go straight into the nine-furlong race without a prep. In his last start, he tired badly in the Kentucky Derby, finishing 16th. Baffert stated emphatically that he will not have a horse in the Travers.

Baffert captured Saturday's Affirmed Handicap (gr. III) at Hollywood Park with Point Determined , ninth in the Kentucky Derby. Point Determined and A.P. Warrior, who was beaten a nose in the Affirmed after a stirring stretch duel, will renew their rivalry in the 1 1/8-mile Swaps on July 8. The pair had previously finished second and third, respectively, in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I).

Other possible Haskell starters include Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) winner Brother Derek, who had nightmare trips in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness; and the promising Strong Contender, who will run next in the Dwyer, after which trainer John Ward Jr. will decide on the Haskell or Jim Dandy. Brother Derek, who was give some off time off following the Preakness, has not worked since May 1.

One unusual road to the Travers this year will be the $1-million Colonial Turf Cup June 24 and the $1-million Virginia Derby, both at Colonial Downs. Patrick Biancone has already said that Stream Cat, winner of last year's Kentucky Cup Juvenile (gr. III) on dirt and this year's Crown Royal American Turf Handicap (gr. IIIT) at Churchill Downs and Pin Oak Stud USA Stakes at Lone Star on grass, will use both races as preps for the Midsummer Derby.

Barclay Tagg is pointing Showing Up, sixth in the Kentucky Derby, for both races as well, and hasn't ruled out the Travers if the colt doesn't take to the turf as well as he hopes. Tagg said Showing Up trains like "a tiger" on the grass and moves much better behind on it. Also seriously considering the Colonial Derby as a prep for the Travers is Dan Peitz, trainer of Steppenwolfer, who was third in the Kentucky Derby and an unlucky fourth in the Belmont.

Saturday's Northern Dancer Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill Downs was won by the Pletcher-trained High Cotton, who likely will run next in the Ohio Derby. Pletcher has let the son of Dixie Union build his confidence back up by running him in softer company, which looks as if it's paying off by the improvement he has shown.

Corinithian, who was disqualified from first in the Fountain of Youth, is on the comeback trail for Jimmy Jerkens, and is up to a half-mile in his breezes. The Travers definitely is doable, and if he returns to his Florida form, he will be a force to reckon with.