A well-focused Ten Most Wanted and jockey Pat Day took advantage of a torrid pace duel to register an easy victory in the 2003 Travers Stakes (gr. I) before a Travers Day record 66,122 at Saratoga Race Course Saturday.
The race lost much of its star power when trainer Bobby Frankel declared his Belmont winner, Empire Maker, on Friday, and fellow conditioner Barclay Tagg took Derby/Preakness hero Funny Cide out of consideration as well. But with Peace Rules coming off a convincing victory in the recent Haskell (gr. I) at Monmouth, Frankel was still playing a confident hand.
Fitted with blinkers after runner-up finishes in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) on June 7 and the Swaps (gr. II) at Hollywood Park five weeks later were blamed on a lack of concentration, Ten Most Wanted blew past favored Peace Rules, ridden by by Jerry Bailey, in the stretch to win by 4 1/2 lengths in 2:02 for the 1 1/4-mile classic test for 3-year-olds.
Trainer Wally Dollase, who sent Ten Most Wanted's sire Deputy Commander out to capture the 1997 Travers, became the first trainer in more than 50 years to saddle both a father and son to victory in the Midsummer Derby. (Winbert F. Mulholland, who holds the record with five Travers victories, won in 1939 with Eight Thirty, who sired 1950 winner Lights Out.)
``This one was a lot easier,'' Dollase said, referring to Deputy Commander's nose win over Behrens in '97. ``He's bred to do this. I was confident he'd get the mile-and-a-quarter. He got a perfect ride by Pat. I love to come to New York. I don't know what it is. I just see to do well here.''
In finishing ninth in the Kentucky Derby, Ten Most Wanted sustained a back injury after being jolted at the start. He was treated by a chiropractor and recovered to make it close in the Belmont, finishing behind Empire Maker and ahead of Funny Cide in the New York gelding's bid for the Triple Crown.
"He's an awesome looking horse and looks so much like his sire Deputy Commander," said Dollase, now perfect in two starts in the Travers. "Both got it together mentally at this time of year. I love to train route horses; that's my specialty. It takes patience. I gave this horse a lot of time in between races and trained him not to hurry so he can close like a really good horse. He did that today. He put it all together. I didn't think he would win that easily. I thought the time was good for three-year-olds."
Day said things couldn't have gone any better.
"I thought they'd run along pretty quick, so I was just going to let my horse coast along there and, really, I hadn't anticipated going after them until we turned for home," Day said.
"I thought with (Strong Hope and Peace Rules) looking each other in the eye for a mile, that the last quarter of a mile might get them to cave in and I was going to be along to pick up the pieces. As it turned out, my horse got his feet up underneath him and was tracking it nicely up the backside. Going into the turn, when he changed over to his left lead, he just started extending his stride and picking them up, so I just angled to the outside, got him clear and by the time we got to the quarter pole, he was ranging up on these horses in hand.
"At that point, I was just concerned about him opening up a sizeable lead and losing his focus like he had done in the Swaps. I restrained him until he changed leads and we were pretty well into the stretch. I let him ease past Peace Rules, and then I just kept him to his task.
"He didn't really bear down for the last eighth of a mile, but it was certainly enough to get the job done," Day added. "He was in the bridle and felt much more comfortable and aggressive going to these horses than he did once he cleared them. As the competition gets deeper, I would dare say that we probably won't be inheriting the lead at that point quite in that manner and the competition will carry him on down the stretch and keep him focused. I think as long as he's running alongside a horse, he'll stay to the task.
Earning $600,000 for his first win since the Illinois Derby (gr. II) April 5, Ten Most Wanted became racing's newest millionaire for owners Michael Jarvis, J. Paul Reddam and James Chisholm with earnings of $1,253,460. The Travers was his third career win in nine starts.
The strapping colt took dead aim on the leader, Peace Rules, in the stretch after the slight choice in the six-horse field was softened up on the front end by Strong Hope.
The latter, ridden by John Velazquez slipped through on the inside of Peace Rules soon after the start and the two went head-and-head through rapid fractions of :23 2/5, :46 1/5 and 1:09 4/5. Ten Most Wanted was well placed on the inside by Day and enjoyed a ground-saving trip. On the final turn, Peace Rules began to take control up front as Ten Most Wanted rallied into contention. Day moved Ten Most Wanted off the rail and engaged the leader near the head of the stretch and after a brief battle, began to draw away at the eighth pole.
Bailey blamed the pace for the outcome, but said there was little he could do about it. The six-furlong time was the second-fastest in the race's history.
"Strong Hope and Peace Rules have got their running shoes on when they're in the gate," Bailey said. "They are both aggressive by nature. People don't understand that the more you pull, the more they want to run. Sometimes, you do more damage fighting them, going :47 and pulling on their jaws instead of just letting them run freely. If you have an option you take it, but with these two horses, you don't have an option. I never ridden this horse before, but he is a good horse and he always lays his body down. The race set up for the winner; he was more focused than when I saw him last time at Hollywood (Swaps)."
Sky Mesa, who was the second choice, at 5-2, had an eventful trip for jockey Edgar Prado. Breaking from the outside post, Sky Mesa missed the start, rushed up to challenge for the lead on the outside entering the first turn, fell back again along the backstretch and was no factor in the stretch, finishing last.
"He broke a little slow, but I was able to work him back into a good position," Prado said. "He ran to the half-mile pole, and then just quit."
Day won his first Travers in 14 years, but his record-tying fourth overall. He previously won with Play Fellow (1983), Java Gold (1987) and Easy Goer (1989). This was his 18th mount in the race, just one behind the record held by Angel Cordero Jr.
"I think he's going to better as time progresses and later in the year and even as a four-year-old," Day said of his latest Travers winner. "I think he's grown and matured dramatically from early in the year to now and I think there's still a considerable amount of room for improvement. It's a jockey's dream to participate in these kinds of races and subsequently to win them is the 'cat's meow' if you would. It feels great. It's the reason why we keep getting up and coming out here and plying our trade, hopefully to get a mount like this and to be able to get a victory in a race like this. I kind of go with Kenny Rogers, 'there's time enough for counting when the dealing's done.'"
Not only was the attendance a record for the Travers, so was the on-track and total handles. On track, $9,390,933.67 was wagered; total handle was $39,489,785.98.
Ten Most Wanted, the 5-2 third choice, paid $7.50, $3.40 and $2.80. Peace Rules returned $3.80 and $2.80. Strong Hope, a distant third, 14 1.2 lengths behind the winner, showed for $3.10. The $2 exacta was worth $27.
Completing the order of finish were Wild and Wicked, Congrats and Sky Mesa.