Hard Spun Spins On - 8:35 a.m.
In the paddock, Larry Jones rides Hard Spun through his paces. The big colt is on the muscle, prancing and feeling good - but sound-minded, as usual. He doesn't want to stand, but he walks without much restraint. He only spooks once, heading down the chute to the main track, when a security guard steps forward and a bit of white chain flashes at the gap. He is sensible, but feeling his oats.
Hard Spun is stabled in the stakes barn, right next door to Siro's, which Jones says is highly convenient. Following his morning routine, as he walks the colt around the shedrow, the trainer talks about the decision to shorten Hard Spun up to the seven-furlong distance of the King's Bishop (gr. II) instead of running in the Travers.
"The Travers was definitely something we looked at," he says, "but the more we contemplated getting to the Breeders' Cup Classic, the more it made sense to back up and come at it from a speedier side, which he definitely has. LeRoy Jolley said using a sprint race as a prep was a great way to win a classic; he won the Travers with a horse coming off a 7-furlong race, so I figure if it's good enough for him it's good enough for me."
Saturday, we'll know if it's good enough for Hard Spun.
Master of Ceremonies - 8:05 a.m.
D. Wayne Lukas pauses from his morning duties to give his view on the Travers. The well-spoken Hall of Fame trainer has, as always, an insightful opinion on the race.
"Any time a Kentucky Derby winner runs anywhere, it'll draw people, it'll draw fans," he says. "I think the last time a Derby winner won the Travers was my horse, Thunder Gulch, in 1995. So can Street Sense do it? We'll see. It's a marquee event and it's going to draw great players and it'll be a great race."
What about the longshots, Wayne?
"Anytime you run a race that pays $1 million there are going to be horses that will step up and run more than their past performances indicate they should. Sometimes they perform and sometimes they don't but it's just like the Derby or the Belmont - you have horses that may look like they don't belong. But the Travers is a fixture, it's the number one race for 3-year-olds after the Triple Crown classics, so it's always going to draw a unique supporting cast."
And Street Sense is the star?
Racing Paparazzi - 7:59 a.m.
Todd Marks, photographer for the Saratoga Special, stands near the Oklahoma Training Track with his camera ready. He is stalking Nick Zito trainee Helsinki, who is out for a morning gallop.
"I tell you, this job isn't easy," Marks remarks as he waits for the Travers starter to round the turn. "It takes forever to find a horse, you ask when it'll be out, they say '10 minutes' and it takes an hour, it's just ridiculous."
Talk about the Travers, Todd.
"It's hard to go against the favorite. But I spent an hour with Grasshopper yesterday, and you spend time with these horses, you start believing these crazy things, thinking maybe he could really win. He's a beautiful horse with a great disposition and I'd love to see him give Street Sense a good fight, but the fact of the matter is, at the head of the stretch I don't see another horse being able to run him down. I think the other jocks are going to try their damndest to make the race hard for him, of course. It should be a fantastic race."
Helsinki gallops by and Marks fires off a volley of shots. The horse goes by. And that's the end of Marks' morning.
"I got Loose Leaf at 6:30 a.m, and I needed fresh shots of Sightseeing which I got, so I'm good now," he says. "Another morning in the bag."
Eleven more racing days to go.
Any Given Answer - 7:30 a.m.
Angel Cordero Jr. perches aboard a dark bay colt on the Oklahoma Training Track. They stand facing the infield, as the colt takes in the sights and sounds of the morning.
"Angel, who are you riding?" asks a fan.
"Rags to Riches," Cordero says.
Which it is not, unless the chestnut filly went in for a recent makeover..
"No, come on, who is it, really?"
Cordero grins impishly. "Any Given Wednesday," he says.
The colt - Magna Graduate - moves restlessly beneath him.
"Bad, bad boy," the former jockey scolds. "Okay, amigo, now is a good time to make our departure. There are no disasters on the horizon, the coast is clear... vamanos!"
He may be older, but he's still Cordero - and Saratoga wouldn't be the same without him.
And the Favorite is... - 7:04 a.m.
Joe DiAngelo, agent for jockey Channing Hill, is driving his golf cart over to the barn of H.A. Jerkens, "The Chief." Along the way, he reviews the field for the Travers. His thoughts are not very insightful.
"To tell you the truth, I haven't paid much attention," he says. "If I don't ride a race, I don't follow it. I guess you have to figure Carl is a nice guy, he's paid his dues, he's been around the industry for a hundred years, so you pick him."
The Chief echoes this sentiment.
"The Derby horse, if he runs his race, figures hard to beat," he says. "I liked Sightseeing, though. And the Zito horse, what's his name? CP West. Yeah, he ran good last time out. But the Derby horse, that's the one"
Looks like the favorite is the favorite for a good reason.
Peace? - 6:37 a.m.
Carl Nafzger, walking toward the main track, stops to move a security barrier. This is not viewed favorably by the attending NYRA Peace Officer.
"Sir, why did you move that?"
It's probably the simplest question anyone has asked Nafzger all week long - with Street Sense in his barn, the questions and answers are usually more complex.
"Because you're cutting off the horse path, and if you have a horse on its' way to the track..." Nafzger begins.
The Peace Officer attempts to understand. Ends up moving the barrier a few centimeters to the left. They're both happy.
"Did you straighten him out, Carl?" someone asks as Nafzger walks on.
"You can't straighten out anybody who doesn't know anything about a horse except that they walk on four legs," Nafzger says with a smile. "But he's a nice guy. He's a very nice guy."
And so is the trainer.
Invisible People - 6:25 a.m.
NYRA Peace Officer Chris Bourgeois stands in the middle of the path near the main track's backside gap. She waves traffic through, keeping a sharp eye out for horses coming down the lane. Whenever a runner draws near, her orange flag stops the cars and golf carts. Right-of-way on the racetrack always goes to equines.
Seven fans manuever their way across the path. They're on their own; Bourgeois doesn't hold up the cars for them.
"People are invisible to me," she says. "I'm only looking for the horses."
It's the racetrack credo, like it or not.
Like Yesterday - 6:15 a.m.
Tom Albertrani walks a set of four to the main track. He gives brief directions - gallop a half, jog a mile - and pauses to remember last year. Winning the Travers. With Bernardini.
"It seems like just yesterday. The time has gone so quickly and once again we're here," he says. "Bernardini was a horse whose caliber only comes around once in a while and I was very fortunate to be around him. Unfortunately we never had the opportunity to see him as an older horse, but I'm sure he would have matured and gotten stronger. He did it all right."
Albertrani doesn't have a starter. He likes Street Sense for the Travers. But he promises to take a look at the Form and check back in with a solid analysis. Tips for this year's winning Travers trifecta from last year's winning trainer? We'll keep you posted.