Surprise Belmont winner Sarava.

Surprise Belmont winner Sarava.

Barbara D. Livingston

Saratoga Notebook: McPeek Thinking Upset; Weight Could Factor; Tagg Rethinks Hopeful; Bond High on Solar Man

By Phil Janack
When Sarava rocked the Thoroughbred world by winning the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) last June, trainer Ken McPeek may have been the least surprised by the unexpected upset.

For that reason, he wouldn't be shocked to see Wild and Wicked pull off a similar upset in Saturday's Travers (gr. I).

"It's funny because, physically, he's so similar to Sarava," McPeek said Friday. Wild and Wicked and Sarava, now trained by Bob Baffert, were both sired by Wild Again.

"He's just a compact, very efficient horse. He's not a big horse, but he's very classy and I think the biggest thing is, he's a really good package. If we could pull off another shocker, that would be something."

McPeek is willing to throw out Wild and Wicked's last start, where he finished fourth in the $1 million Haskell (gr. I) Aug. 3, beaten 10 lengths in the first loss of his four-race career.

Rather than run in the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. III) Sept. 1, McPeek opted to bring the Ohio Derby (gr. II) winner back in the Travers.

"I think he deserves another chance," he said. "He's a nice horse. If he's not good enough, you need to know. He needs some seasoning, but I think he's prepared. He's ready. You only get one window of opportunity in this game, and sometimes you've got to jump through."

Weight Could Tell in Travers
One of the biggest factors in the Travers could be the 126-pound weight assignment, trainer Wally Dollase said.

All six horses expected to start are picking up weight from their last race, and only Peace Rules and Dollase's Ten Most Wanted have carried as much. None have won at 126 pounds.

Ten Most Wanted toted 126 pounds in both the Kentucky Derby, where he was ninth after a rocky start, and the Belmont, where he closed to within a length of winner Empire Maker. Third in the Derby, Peace Rules was fourth under 126 in the Preakness (gr. I).

"They all haven't had that weight, and I think that's going to be the difference," Dollase said. "We've been carrying 126 and this is a big, powerful horse. I know my horse can handle that. He went a mile and a half with 126, so he can certainly handle a mile and a quarter at 126. If he likes the track, he should run a big race."

Sky Mesa carried as much as 122 pounds in his Hopeful (gr. I) victory here last August. Strong Hope was at 121 for his Jim Dandy (gr. II) victory Aug. 3; Congrats had 121 in a Belmont allowance last fall; and Wild and Wicked had 120 for his debut victory in April.

"In these classic races, the mile and an eighth to a classic distance, the last eighth of a mile is breeding," said John Ward, trainer of Sky Mesa. "You can train a horse to get to the eighth pole, and from there on genetics has got to kick in these races. Sky Mesa is bred to be as classic as he can be."

Tagg Rethinks Hopeful for Maiden Winner
Barclay Tagg said Friday he has cooled on the idea of running Funny Cide's Sackatoga stablemate Saratoga Episode in the Hopeful (gr. I) Aug. 30.

The 2-year-old New York-bred broke his maiden in his second start Aug. 15 by 1 1/2 lengths. He was nominated to the Hopeful, which will also feature impressive juveniles Birdstone and Chapel Royal.

"I nominated him just in case it fell apart or something, but that's not really on my list of things to do," Tagg said. "I don't think he's shown that much yet. He's been a nice horse, but I don't think he has the figures for that.

"I don't like to cut off options two weeks ahead of time. Horses are funny. You never know what direction they're going to go or what's going to happen to other people's horses."

If he follows his normal schedule, Tagg will likely work Saratoga Episode on Monday. Where he goes from there is up in the air, though the $100,000 Bertram F. Bongard at Belmont Sept. 28 could be a possibility.

"I work them 10 days after they run, just give them an easy half-mile. It's kind of a routine thing," Tagg said. "He's doing great."

Solar Man's Delayed Return
It took two months, but trainer James Bond finally got Solar Man back into another race.

An impressive maiden winner in his third turf try June 28 at Belmont Park, Solar Man returns in Saturday's 12th race, the finale of the Travers Day card.

Ridden by Mike Luzzi, Solar Man was a 9-1 upset winner that day against older horses.

"I thought he ran real good last time," Bond said. "He broke his maiden, and it looked like he did it the right way. I don't want to look too far ahead, but he's ready to run."

Bond had to wait out the weather for all of his grass horses, which delayed Solar Man's return. He is a 3-year-old son of Deputy Commander, who won the 1997 Travers, beating the Bond-trained Behrens.

"He was in one of those situations where every time I had him where I wanted him, the weather kicked up. When we finally got him in, the turf was great and he kicked butt," Bond said. "He's a nice horse and he's doing good at the right

Around the Spa
Todd Pletcher won with one of his four starters on Friday, extending his meet-record total to 31 victories in 27 days.... Trainer Phil Serpe was fined $5,000 on Friday for "displaying extreme temper" toward chief examining veterinarian Dr. Celeste Kunz. Half the fine was waived provided Serpe has no further confrontations.