Trainer Ian Wilkes declared Neck 'n Neck ready for the Travers Stakes (gr. I) after the Jim Dandy (gr. II) runner-up breezed five furlongs in 1:00.09 at Saratoga Race Course Aug. 20 in New York. The prestigious race for 3-year-olds is scheduled for Aug. 25.
"He did it well in hand. He never extended himself," Wilkes said. “He just floated around there, finished up down the lane good, galloped out good, pulled up happy, (and) walked off the track happy. I’m happy."
After Neck 'n Neck finished fifth in the Sam F. Davis (gr. III), fourth in the Fasig-Tipton Fountain of Youth (gr. II), and fifth in the Florida Derby (gr. I), Wilkes dropped him into an entry-level allowance May 10 at Churchill Downs. The colt won by 6 1/2 lengths, then captured Churchill’s Matt Winn (gr. III) by 7 1/4 lengths on June 16 and was second to Alpha in the Jim Dandy on July 28.
Wilkes expressed gratitude for how owner/breeder A. Stevens Miles Jr. put no pressure on him to make the Triple Crown with Neck ‘n Neck (by Flower Alley) and was content to focus on races in the second half of the year.
"It's a grind to get here," Wilkes said. "You have to keep them sound, healthy, happy, and on top of their game. It takes a good horseman to do that. Sometimes you get too caught up in (the Triple Crown). That's the good thing with Mr. Miles. The first thing he said to me was, 'If you can’t make it, no problem. Don’t do it.' So there was no pressure on me when my horse wasn't quite ready. I was ready to back off and point for this."
In the 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy, Neck 'n Neck chased Alpha , who was unpressured on the lead, to finish second by two lengths. Wilkes believes Neck ‘n Neck could encounter a more favorable pace scenario in the 1 1/4-mile Travers.
"He can be wherever he wants, and that’s the good thing," Wilkes said. "We have a smart rider in Leandro (Goncalves), who knows the horse and he understands him, and that’s good. It depends on how fast they go, but with Hansen coming it could change the pace scenario. I think we’ll see a little more pace than we did last time. It could be a different track, a different race. And it all depends on post position, too, as to what tactics you use."
Before the race is drawn, Wilkes says he will focus on Neck 'n Neck, not his possible competition.
"There’s only one horse I can control -- my own," said Wilkes. "If you start worrying about what other people are doing -- I have no control -- you only give yourself ulcers."
Also on the worktab Aug. 20 for the Travers was Five Sixteen (by Invasor ), who breezed four furlongs in :49.05. In his two most recent starts, Five Sixteen was fifth in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) June 9 and second to Street Lifein the Curlin July 27.
"He's matured and he’s coming around the right way," said Dominick Schettino, who trains Five Sixteen for MeB Racing Stables. "He’s physically going the right way."
Joining the field for the Travers will be Team Stallion Racing Corp. and McConnell Racing Stable's Speightscity, who will be making his first start since finishing second to Alpha in the Withers (gr. III) Feb. 24 at Aqueduct.
"We were going to run in the Bernardini (an overnight stakes Aug. 24 at Saratoga), which was a more realistic spot for us, but the race did not fill," said Speightscity’s trainer, Gary Contessa. "I've never seen a horse win a race like the Travers, at 1 1/4 miles, off workouts. This horse hasn’t run since February, but back in February he was getting to Alpha at the end of the Withers. In my opinion, he was closing the gap a little but who knows? You have to be in it to win it."
Speightscity, a son of Speightstown , is 2-1-0 from seven starts with earnings of $109,860. He has been training steadily at Saratoga this summer, and most recently posted mile works in 1:39.25 Aug. 17 and 1:40.19 Aug. 13.
Irad Ortiz, Jr., will ride, Contessa said.