Saratoga Notebook: A Dandy Lead-in to the Travers

by Dick Powell
(Editor's Note: Content for this weekly handicapping notebook is provided by Brisnet).

The $1 million Travers (G1) is now less than three weeks away, but the picture is still cloudy. With SMARTY JONES (Elusive Quality) retired and Belmont (G1) winner BIRDSTONE (Grindstone) training up to the race, it appears that starter Bob Duncan will have a gate full of sophomores since no one is being scared away.

On Sunday, the $500,000 Jim Dandy S. (G2) was run at 1 1/8 miles over a main track that continues to favor horses forwardly placed while saving ground. As expected, MEDALLIST (Touch Gold) gunned to the front for Jorge Chavez and after a quarter mile in 23.09, it looked like the winner of the Dwyer (G2) was finally able to relax and harness his brilliant speed.

However, once the field straightened away down the backstretch, Medallist began to get rank and ran his middle half-mile in 46.55, which tripped the six-furlong mark in 1:09.64.

Sitting behind him was PURGE (Pulpit), who was awful in the Belmont (G1) but appeared to be relaxing while sitting about four lengths off the pace. When John Velazquez asked him to go heading to the three-eighths pole, the response was immediate. This was the colt that ran well against Smarty Jones in Arkansas this past spring.

As he roared up along side, Medallist offered no resistance and suddenly Purge had a clear lead turning for home. Velazquez kept his mount to task and Purge crossed the wire in front by 4 1/2 lengths as the easiest of winners. THE CLIFF'S EDGE (Gulch) rallied from far back to get second, a half-length over EDDINGTON (Unbridled), who was subsequently placed fourth by the stewards for lugging in turning for home. NIIGON (Unbridled) was placed third and Medallist was a badly beaten fifth. The final time was a sensational 1:47.56.

After the race, Todd Pletcher could not have been happier with the way the race unfolded. He indicated that Purge runs his best races when he has a target in front of him and is more of a front-end stalker than a true front-end horse.

Allen Jerkens, trainer of Medallist, was beside himself after the race and couldn't believe how bad his colt ran. He said that the Travers is out of the question and he would go back to the drawing board.

Down at Monmouth Park, LION HEART (Tale of the Cat) romped in the $1 Million Haskell Invitational H. (G1) when Joe Bravo sent him to the front and never looked back. MY SNOOKIE'S BOY (Crafty Friend) was a game second but never looked like he could go by the winner in the stretch. ROCK HARD TEN (Kris S.) finished a disappointing sixth as the 9-10 favorite.

On Saturday at the Spa, the Whitney H. (G1) was run on a track listed as fast but subject to intermittent showers late in the afternoon. Going in, it looked like the race was loaded with speed and sure enough we saw an incredible pace scenario.

YESSIRGENERALSIR (Patton) was immediately sent to the front and Edgar Prado went up after him with ROSES IN MAY (Devil His Due). Jerry Bailey broke PEACE RULES (Jules) a step slow and wound up chasing the pace while four wide.

After running a half in 45.25, the two dueling leaders threw in an amazing 23.67 third quarter, earning a six-furlong split of 1:08.92. As the stalkers began to fade in the drive, due to wide trips and the grueling pace scenario, the Whitney appeared ready to be won by one of the deep closers.

Pat Day had PERFECT DRIFT (Dynaformer) biding his time toward the back and began to move up around the far turn. He swung out three wide turning for home and it looked like had a ton of horse. Prado was still pushing Roses in May around the far turn and inherited the lead when Yessirgeneralsir packed it in. With the energy used up early, it was unlikely that the Dale Romans trainee would be able to hold on, but the minute Perfect Drift attacked him Roses in May began to fight back.

The chart of the Whitney does not say that Perfect Drift put a head in front at the three-sixteenths pole, but it looked like he did. He had momentum, a softened up leader and Pat Day as always had saved some energy for the stretch run. But Roses in May was having none of it and quickly battled back.

The two dueled as a team right to the wire and Prado got Roses in May's nose down at the wire to win a hard-fought victory over Perfect Drift, whose stretch energy continues to be questioned. The runner-up had everything go his way and still could not win the photo.

In the trainers' race, Todd Pletcher had eight wins for the week (seven with Velazquez, one with Bailey) and now owns 14 for the meet. Steve Asmussen and Bobby Frankel have both won five races this meet, and Scott Lake, Bill Mott and Mark Shuman have all recorded four wins.

John Velazquez had another 10-win week to increase his overall total to 20 after two weeks. Edgar Prado has won 15 races and continues to score with a wide variety of trainers. Jerry Bailey has 13 wins and Richard Migliore is next with 11.


Wednesday (8/4)
Race 4 - UMA NORMA (Pleasant Tap) lost all chance to be involved in the early pace when she was checked leaving the first turn and then was four to rally four-wide between horses to get second. She's worth betting back from a better post position.

Thursday (8/5)
Race 8 - CAT'S ROAR (Tomorrows Cat) has run well in both starts this year and didn't run bad in her seasonal stakes debut. She chased the front-runners and still held pretty gamely despite being outclassed. Worth a bet if she drops back to New York-bred first level allowance ranks.

Friday (8/6)
Race 3 - GET SET (Rahy) was used hard from an inside post to set the early pace before tiring in the lane. She might benefit from a return to the turf if she can catch firm footing.

Race 6 - ALLEN'S KAT (Allen's Prospect) stumbled at the start and was then forced to press the pace while losing ground on the outside. She'll be tough if she stays in maiden claiming company.

Saturday (8/7)
Race 2 - ALL TRUMPS (Grand Slam) was bumped numerous times in his rough career debut for Angel Penna Jr., whose horses always run better with a race under their belt. Give him another chance.

Race 6 - POP PRINCESS (Alphabet Soup) pressed the pace on the outside before weakening in only her second start of the year and should be able to handle more distance.

Race 9 - BOWMAN'S BAND (Dixieland Band) wound up stuck behind traffic in the Whitney when the pace pressers all backed up on the far turn. He still was able to get third and should be tough going ten furlongs next time out.

Sunday (8/8)
Race 8 - GOVERNOR BROWN (Kingmambo) was able to slip through on the inside to get into contention, but the outside closers already had momentum and he lost a three-horse photo.

Monday (8/9)
Race 6 - CAPITAL PEAK (With Approval) had a nightmare trip while saving ground around three turns. He was checked, steadied and bumped at various times and finally was able to rally for third.