In one of the most thrilling finishes in the race’s 139-year history, WinStar Farm's Colonel John nosed out Mambo in Seattle to win the $1-million Travers Stakes Presented by Shadwell Farm (gr. I) (VIDEO) Aug. 23 at Saratoga.
With Garrett Gomez aboard, Colonel John saved ground through the early stages of the 1 1/4-mile event, but was never far behind the leader. After making a pocket move into the lane, he took over from pacesetter Da’ Tara in upper stretch, but was soon joined from the outside by Williams S. Farish and Kilroy Thoroughbred Partnership’s Mambo in Seattle, who was ridden by Robby Albarado. Those two dueled fiercely in the final sixteenth of a mile and hit the wire together. From the naked eye it appeared Mambo in Seattle was the winner, especially since Albarado raised his right arm in triumph after the race.
But replays showed that Colonel John put his head down perfectly at the wire and the photo finish confirmed his victory. Although the official chart listed Colonel John's win by a nose, the actual margin of victory was closer to an inch.
The final time on a "fast" main track was 2:03.20.
“I had a great trip as far as saving ground, but I knew all the horses would be in tactical, stalking position, somewhere on my hip or right near me," Gomez said. "So, I had my hands full trying to weave my way in and out. I was just going to have to bide my time and go through holes without using my horse. When he got left a little bit, then I thought, 'Oh, no.’ I squeezed him just a little bit to get him into the race. From then on, the race pretty much unfolded the way I wanted.
“The way he ran today was a heck of a performance."
It was the first time Colonel John hit the winner’s circle since taking the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) April 5. The son of Tiznow , who was sixth in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) while going off as the second betting choice, also won his first race on natural dirt. He is trained by Eoin Harty.
Gallant in defeat, Mambo in Seattle nearly won the Travers while making his first graded stakes appearance. The son of Kingmambo entered the event off three consecutive wins for trainer Neil Howard.
“He ran well. I’m grateful to train a horse like him," said Howard, who along with Farish, Kilroy, and Albarado was also second in last year's Travers with Grasshopper. "I thought he went well. He had to go around horses and he got beat by one of the Kentucky Derby favorites. I really couldn’t tell if we had won the race.”
Pyro, who was sent off as the 7-2 favorite, finished third under Shaun Bridgmohan. Harlem Rocker was fourth.
As expected, Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Da’ Tara broke well and was sent straight to the front by Alan Garcia. The Nick Zito trainee led the field of 12 for much of the way while clicking off reasonable splits of :23.91, :48.06, 1:12.12, and 1:37.17. Tizbig pressed the pace through a mile, while a host of others, including Colonel John, Cool Coal Man, and later, a ground-saving Take of Ekati, were also in the mix. Harlem Rocker came from off the pace and made his six-wide bid while approaching the quarter-pole. Also well back through much of the race, Pyro tried to fight his way through traffic and into contention at the top of the lane.
Receiving a perfect trip from Gomez, Colonel John finally came to challenge Da’ Tara coming off the turn, and took over shortly past the eighth-pole. After being next to last following a half-mile and still well back through eight furlongs, Mambo in Seattle launched his bid off the turn while coming six-wide into the lane. He joined Colonel John near the sixteenth-pole and set up an epic Travers finish.
Bred in Kentucky and out of the Turkoman mare Sweet Damsel, Colonel John won for the fifth time in nine starts. He has now earned $1,468,830. He entered the Travers off a third-place finish in the Swaps Stakes (gr. II) on the Hollywood Park Cushion Track, a race in which Tres Borrachos beat him by 1 1/4 lengths.
“This horse, I could put another prep into him, but I think I could probably bring him to the Breeders’ Cup on works," Harty said. "That’s something I would have to discuss.
“We did have a less than ideal trip in the Kentucky Derby, and not to take anything away from Big Brown that day because it was a stellar performance. He was fantastic, and I’m not sure Colonel John could have beat him anyway. But I would certainly love to get Big Brown somewhere down the road, hopefully, at the Breeders’ Cup.”
Going off as the 4-1 second choice, the winner paid $10.40, $5.40, and $4.30 The exacta (2-9) was worth $86.50, while the trifecta (2-9-11) netted $351.
Da' Tara was fifth, followed by Court Vision, Tale of Ekati, Macho Again, Tizbig, Amped, Cool Coal Man, and Tres Borrachos.