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    Trainer Bob Baffert remained mute after American Pharoah’s Haskell Invitational (G1) win when asked where his Triple Crown winner would make his next, and likely last, start before the Oct. 31 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Maybe he’d take on his elders in Del Mar’s Pacific Classic (G1). Or maybe against his peers in Parx Racing’s Pennsylvania Derby (G2). Surely it wouldn’t be Saratoga’s Mid-Summer Derby, the Travers Stakes (G1). It’s too early to be a final prep for the Breeders’ Cup; Saratoga is the “graveyard of champions;” only one of four Triple Crown winners to run in the Travers have won it—Whirlaway in 1941; and the only time Baffert won the Travers his winner, Point Given, was discovered to have a career-ending injury soon thereafter. But Sunday Baffert put an end to all doubts and speculations when he announced American Pharoah would indeed run just six days later in Saratoga’s Travers Stakes. A mad rush was on for fans to make arrangements to make it to the storied track in Saratoga Springs, NY.

    The competition has not shied away from American Pharoah. He’ll face an accomplished field of nine challengers in the 1 ¼ mile test, many of which he has faced before and squarely beaten. That might be because the $1.25 million Travers purse will increase to $1.6 million should the Triple Crown winner actually start. Paying out to eighth place, means you’d only have to beat two others to walk away with the lowest payout, $45,000.  

    Heading that field of challengers is Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) champion Texas Red. In addition to the Breeders’ Cup, the Desormeaux brothers—trainer Keith and jockey Kent—have teamed to take this son of Afleet Alex to victory in the Aug. 1 Jim Dandy (G2), the traditional prep race for the Travers. Texas Red has been training impressively over the Saratoga track, lodging two bullet works during the last month. His speed and stalking pace mean he will likely be behind the early runners Upstart and American Pharoah and could be in a good position near the finish.

    In his last two starts, Wood Memorial (G1) winner Frosted finished second to American Pharoah in the Belmont (G1) and second to Texas Red in the Jim Dandy (G2). This Tapit colt has appeared on the verge of turning in another race as impressive as his Wood Memorial win, but has been denied each time. Could this be the day he invokes his revenge? Jockey Joel Rosario will guide Frosted from post six.

    Dale Romans’ Keen Ice may be the one horse that could best identity American Pharoah from the rear. The son of Curlin has been beaten by American Pharoah in his last three starts. When it appeared Keen Ice should maybe try a drop in class to garner a better shot at returning to the winner’s circle, he surprised in the Haskell with a strong second place finish. He may warrant another shot to hit the board with the jockey change to Javier Castellano.

    Of course you can’t leave out a note about Dallas Stewart’s Tale of Verve who went from maiden winner to Preakness runner-up in one month. He followed that with a seventh place finish in the Belmont and sixth place finish in the West Virginia Derby (G2). The Preakness finish may have been a fluke, or it could have been that he relished the sloppy track. If it’s a clear day Saturday, might be best to leave Tale of Verve out of your exotics and add in Fountain of Youth (G2) winner Upstart.

    Speaking of the competition on a national teleconference earlier this week, Baffert said, “[Texas Red]’s always tough and so—you know, it’s not an easy race.  We’ve got Frosted in there. There’s other horses. There’s always young shooters coming up and so we’re prepared. I go in there prepared for a tough race and so the Travers, it’s not going to be easy.  It’s going to be an exciting race.”

    This is still American Pharoah’s race to lose. He’s shown time again he is superior among his peers and is capable of nearly unbelievable feats, but with every race comes the possibility of defeat. This is why race fans tune in again and again to see their favorites run. You never know when you’ll get another chance.

    The field for the Travers, with odds and jockey, from the rail out is: Upstart (15-1, Irad Ortiz, Jr.), American Pharoah (1-5, Victor Espinoza), Mid Ocean (50-1, Manuel Franco), Texas Red (8-1, Kent Desormeaux), Frammento (30-1, Jose Ortiz), Frosted (6-1, Joel Rosario), Keen Ice (12-1, Javier Castellano), Tale of Verve (30-1, Gary Stevens), King of New York (50-1, Julien Leparoux), and Smart Transition (20-1, John Velazquez). The race is the 11th on Saratoga’s stakes-filled Saturday card with a scheduled post time of 5:46 p.m. Eastern Time. The race can be seen as part of NBC’s special broadcast from 4 - 6 p.m. Eastern Time. Click here for free PPs courtesy of Brisnet. 

    Photo: Adam Creech

    Jessie Oswald's picture

    About Jessie Oswald

    I'm a lifetime Louisville resident with a passion for horse racing. When I'm not working as a paralegal or taking care of my family, I follow Thoroughbred racing and love to share the excitement and beauty of the sport with anyone willing to learn!

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