Flower Alley overtook a sharp Bellamy Road approaching the eighth pole and edged away to win Saturday's $1 million Travers (gr. I) and give the dominating duo of trainer Todd Pletcher and jockey John Velazquez a first victory in the Midsummer Derby.
The winner of the Jim Dandy (gr. II) by 5 1/4 lengths July 30, Flower Alley was aimed for the 1 1/4-mile Travers ever since his ninth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). The son of Distorted Humor
, owned by Eugene Melnyk's racing stables, got the pace he was looking for and finished with flourish to win by 2 1/2 lengths in 2:02 3/5.
Velazquez, who has won the past two riding titles at Saratoga and is in the running for another this season, said that was secondary.
"I don't want to talk about riding titles any more. This is what it is all about," Velazquez said. "After all these winners the last few years – and we've had some great success – this definitely tops it. The response I got galloping out and the emotion I got, it was definitely a unique feeling. This is tops."
Melnyk said, "Thirty seconds after the Kentucky Derby, we said, `This is Travers time.' This is huge for me. I've been coming here for 25 years, and you can't imagine what it means to me to win the Travers."
Bellamy Road, making his first start since disappointing as the favorite in the Derby, gave way grudgingly in the lane after setting the fractions (:23 2/5, :47 2/5 and 1:10 4/5) under Javier Castellano.
Velazquez said he thought he could take Bellamy Road and started looking for other competition at the quarter-pole.
"I had a lot of horse, but I wanted to make sure that I kept attention to my horse to see if the competition was coming," he said. "I didn't want to beat him up like the time before (Jim Dandy). He was running well enough, that I could look around to see where the competition was. I kept him busy, and then he just drew away."
"I thought Bellamy Road was really something," Zito said. "He hasn't run in four months. I salute Flower Alley, but I also salute Bellamy Road. Four months coming off the bench, and he give us this. What a future he's got!"
Roman Ruler, sent off as the slight public choice in the field of seven at odds of 2-1, finished third, flattening out in the stretch after looming into contention on the far turn for Jerry Bailey. Don't Get Mad, ridden by Edgar Prado, finished fourth.
Baffert, who trains Roman Ruler, noted, "It was the first time he had gone that long. He may have needed the mile and a quarter. At least, he didn't embarrass himself. He ran a good race. But with Bellamy Road in the race, it changed the whole thinking process. We were waiting for Bellamy Road to stop, and he didn't. As for Flower Alley, he ran a good race."
Bailey said he thought Roman ruler shied from dirt in his face with a half-mile left.
"My horse made a middle move, but didn't make up the ground I thought he would," he said. "He was third-best today."
The Kentucky-bred Flower Alley was making just his fifth start when he was well beaten in the Derby by Giacomo, starting poorly and steadying in traffic. Given three months off, the chestnut colt returned to action with a second to Roman Ruler in the 1 1/16-mile Dwyer (gr. II) around one turn at Belmont Park July 4. That set him up for his smart victory in the Jim Dandy. He has now won four of eight lifetime starts and improved his earnings to $1,451,660.
"Flower Alley always showed talent, but he was always green," Velazquez said. "He's showing he has all the potential. He just has to show up, and he obviously did. So, it's a great, great feeling.
Settling into second behind Bellamy Road, Flower Alley was in prime contention from the start as Bellamy Road angled out going down the stretch the first time before Castellano got control of him. Bellamy Road continued to lead down the backstretch and tried to put some distance on the field, but with five furlongs to go, Flower Alley began to apply pressure. On the turn, Roman Ruler also gained ground and it looked like the three favorites would battle. But Bellamy Road, digging in along the rail, and Flower Alley went on with it as Roman Ruler failed to respond. Flower Alley wore down the front-runner in the final furlong under steady left-handed urging from Velazquez.
"It unfolded the way we thought it would and the way we hoped it would," Pletcher said. "It seemed clear cut on paper. Bellamy Road would be on the lead, we would be second and Roman Ruler would be stalking us. The key, I thought was that Johnny (Velazquez) made the right decisions all the way around. At the three-eighths pole pole, he put on a little pressure and that was difference in my opinion.
"This was a home run. The Jim Dandy was the kind of performance that propelled Flower Alley to the next level. Who knows, maybe he can step it up in the Breeders' Cup?"
George Brunacini and Bona Terra Farm bred the winner, a $165,000 Keeneland sale in September 2003 who is out of the Lycius mare Princess Olivia.
The third choice in the field, Flower Alley paid $8, $4 and $2.70 while topping a $33.60 exacta with Bellamy Road, who returned $4.10 and $3. Roman Ruler's show was $2.50.
Andromeda's Hero, Reverberate and Chekhov completed the order.