Trainer Christophe Clement proclaimed Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Tonalist ready for the $1.25 million Travers Stakes (gr. I) after the colt breezed five furlongs in 1:01.88 over the Oklahoma training track the morning of Aug. 16.
Tonalist was one of a quintet of Travers hopefuls working Saturday on the grounds at Saratoga Race Course, including Jim Dandy (gr. II) victor Wicked Strong, Commanding Curve, Coltimus Prime, and Charge Now. Saratoga hosts the 1 1/4-mile Travers Aug. 23.
The Travers would be the third stakes pairing of Tonalist and Wicked Strong. The latter dead-heated for fourth in the Belmont, but defeated Tonalist by 2 1/4 lengths in the 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy July 26.
Tonalist, under exercise rider Alvaro Hernandez, began his breeze at the half-mile pole, three lengths ahead of Life in Shambles, who had drawn within a length by the quarter pole. Life in Shambles came off the rail to engage Tonalist, who remained in front down the stretch and finished approximately 2 1/2 lengths in front of his stablemate.
"It was a nice work," said Clement, who trains the son of Tapit for Robert S. Evans. "We'll have to see how he comes out of it. A touch more aggressive, maybe, than last week. To me, the horse is very, very fit. The plan is not to do any more fast work. Keep him happy, keep him sound, and run him next Saturday. He had a race, two breezes (since the Belmont). He looks great, he's fit."
In his only other breeze between the Jim Dandy and Travers, Tonalist went five furlongs in 1:03.36 Aug. 9 over the Oklahoma training track.
Clement's ready to go as well. He said he's "looking forward to the Travers" with the 10-furlong distance after the shorter Jim Dandy, and the likely pace presence of Haskell Invitational (gr. I) winner Bayern.
"I'm excited. Let's go," he said.
Meanwhile, trainer Jimmy Jerkens expressed satisfaction after Wicked Strong breezed six furlongs over the main track.
Expected to vie for favoritism in the Travers with Tonalist, Centennial Farms' Wicked Strong went out shortly after 9 a.m. and covered the distance in 1:13.15 under regular exercise rider Kelvin Pahal.
"I thought he worked like he usually does," said Jerkens. "It looked like the track was very, very fast, so I knew he would skip right along. Kelvin looked up at me at the quarter pole. I didn't wave him on any. I didn't want him to go too fast because he's already a little more on the bridle with the blinkers on."
Wicked Strong, who won the TwinSpires.com Wood Memorial (gr. I) in April at Aqueduct Racetrack prior to fourth-place finishes in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Belmont, likely will have a short blowout Aug. 21.
Trainer Dallas Stewart gave West Point Thoroughbreds' Kentucky Derby runner-up Commanding Curve a five-furlong work over the main track. The 3-year-old son of Master Command breezed in 1:01.58 on the main track, the eighth-fastest of 37 horses at the distance.
"He went very well," Stewart said. "It was a good workout. He drank a lot of water and finished up good. It will tighten him up really good. He's not a superior work horse, but he put a lot of effort in today."
Commanding Curve is winless in five starts at 3, all in graded stakes. He was third in the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) prior to the Kentucky Derby, where he came from next-to-last to run second, 1 3/4 lengths behind California Chrome.
Ninth in the Belmont, Commanding Curve wound up fourth behind fellow Travers contenders Wicked Strong, Tonalist, and Kid Cruz in the Jim Dandy.
"We've been pushing him. We're going to see what happens," Stewart said. "He's got to pick his game up. He's got to improve six, eight, 10 lengths to win. He's been strong and consistent. Throw out the Belmont and he's been knocking at the door, so we'll see what happens."
Canadian classic winner Coltimus Prime got acquainted with Saratoga's main track on Saturday, working five furlongs in 1:05 for trainer Justin Nixon. It was the first breeze for the Milwaukee Brew colt since winning the second leg of Canada's Triple Crown, the Prince of Wales Stakes, at Fort Erie July 29.
Another Travers contender, Curlin Stakes runner-up Charge Now, went five furlongs on the Oklahoma training track in a bullet 1:01.45, fastest of 18 horses at the distance. He is trained by Hall of Famer Bill Mott for WinStar Farms.
Finally, Carl Gessler Jr. and Sarah Lyn Stables' C J's Awesome remains under consideration for the Travers, trainer Ken McPeek said, after the son of Awesome Again breezed five furlongs in a bullet 1:01.55 over the Oklahoma training track Aug. 15.
"Carl Gessler and I have discussed the details on it the last several days," McPeek said. "We're going to watch him train the rest of the weekend and into Tuesday and make the call."
C J's Awesome broke his maiden at Churchill Downs June 27 at 1 1/4 miles and would be making his stakes debut in the Travers.