Upstart’s connections on fence for Travers
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Rick Violette can rattle off a host of reasons to run his New York-bred Upstart on Saturday in the Grade 1, $1.6 million Travers Stakes at Saratoga.
He can name only one reason not to run: American Pharoah.
Starting at Tuesday night’s post-position draw and possibly lasting all the way through Saturday morning, Violette and his owners will grapple with the choice of running for a third straight time against Triple Crown winner American Pharoah or waiting three weeks for the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at Parx, a race that most likely won’t have American Pharoah in it.
Upstart, the winner of the Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream in January, finished last to American Pharoah in the Kentucky Derby and third to him in the Haskell Invitational. Throwing out the Derby, Violette believes the Haskell was Upstart’s only real race since the March 28 Florida Derby, in which he finished second to Materiality.
“He is supposed to improve significantly from the Haskell,” Violette said.
Violette was delighted that Upstart drew the rail – one slot inside of American Pharoah, who was installed as the 1-5 morning-line favorite for the 146th Travers. Violette sees many of the 10 horses in the field having similar running styles, and Upstart won’t lose ground breaking from the rail.
Upstart is 2 for 2 at Saratoga, having beaten New York-breds twice last year, and has trained well over the track. Violette also has Irad Ortiz Jr., who sits atop the Saratoga jockey standings with 46 wins through 28 days of racing here. Violette said he believes his horse can get 1 1/4 miles.
“The plus column is long,” Violette said Wednesday. “He loves this racetrack. He’s training well, coming out of our own stall. We got the hottest rider in the country and a decent post position.”
The flip side is that Violette knows American Pharoah is an immense talent. He called American Pharoah’s victory in the Haskell “stunning.”
Upstart was made the fifth choice at 15-1 on the Travers morning line made by Eric Donovan of the New York Racing Association. At Parx, Violette believes he could be among the favorites.
“The paradox is: Do you run your horse when they’re really good or wait?” Violette said. “You win a lot more races when you’re 4-1 or less. At Parx, I could be first or second choice for a million.”
American Pharoah was scheduled to arrive at Albany International Airport at 2 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday, and with the aid of a police escort, he was to be at Saratoga around
3 p.m. He was scheduled to jog early Thursday morning and gallop at 8:45 a.m. Friday during a 15-minute special training session reserved for Travers horses.
Frosted, the Jim Dandy Stakes runner-up, drew post 6 and was made the 6-1 second choice on the morning line, followed by Jim Dandy Stakes winner Texas Red, who drew post 4 and was made the 8-1 third choice. Keith Desormeaux, the trainer of Texas Red, was surprised by that.
“I’ll bet each of you $5 Texas Red goes off second choice,” Desormeaux said Wednesday to a group of three reporters.
Still, Desormeaux knows the task of facing American Pharoah is daunting.
“If he runs his race, he’s unbeatable,” Desormeaux said.
Keen Ice, the Haskell runnerup, drew post 7 and was made the 12-1 fourth choice. Smart Transition (20 -1), Frammento (30 -1), Tale of Verve (30 -1), King of New York (50-1), and Mid Ocean (50 -1) complete the field.
The Travers goes as race 11 on a 13-race card that begins at 11:45 a.m. The Travers will be shown live on NBC during a two-hour broadcast beginning at 4 p.m. Post time for the Travers is 5:46 p.m.
Six stakes on undercard
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – The six supporting stakes leading up to the Travers at Saratoga on Saturday should be more than enough to keep everybody occupied as they wait for Triple Crown winner American Pharoah to take to the track in the day’s main event.
Five of the six undercard stakes are Grade 1 races, and the other is a Grade 2. The Sword Dancer, Forego, Ballerina, and Personal Ensign are Win and You’re In races for their respective Breeders’ Cup divisions.
The Grade 1 Sword Dancer, a 1 1/2-mile turf race, has had its purse doubled from last year and is now worth $1 million. The increase was enough to lure Flintshire from Europe. Last fall, Flintshire finished second in both the Prix de l’arc de Triomphe and the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Following those two races, trainer Andre Fabre sent Flintshire to the Group 1, $2.1 million Hong Kong Vase at Sha Tin, where he defeated 10 rivals.
Vincent Cheminaud, a 21-year-old champion jump jockey in France who has been riding on the flat for Fabre this year, has the mount.
Flintshire’s opponents include Twilight Eclipse, who finished a troubled third last out in the Grade 1 United Nations at Monmouth Park, and Messi, who has won his first two U.S. starts but will be stepping up in class. The field also includes Imagining, War Dancer, Red Rifle, Guardini, and Fixador.
Here’s a quick look at the other races:
Grade 1, $700,000 Forgeo: The seven-furlong Forego will match Belmont Sprint Championship winner Private Zone against The Big Beast, Salutos Amigos, and Wildcat Red.
Grade 1, $750,000 Personal Ensign: This 1 1/8-mile race for fillies and mares has attracted the champion Untapable, Stopchargingmaria, and Sheer Drama.
Grade 1, $500,000 Ballerina: La Verdad, a perfect 4 for 4 this year, will face Dame Dorothy, who has won the Grade 1 Humana Distaff and the Grade 3 Bed o’ Roses in her last two starts. The Humana Distaff and Bed o’ Roses were both at seven furlongs, the same distance as the Ballerina.
Grade 1, $500,000 King’s Bishop: Holy Boss should be favored in this seven-furlong sprint for 3-year-olds. Holy Boss, trained by Steve Asmussen, has won four consecutive races at six or 6 1/2 furlongs, including the Grade 2 Amsterdam at Saratoga, the Chick Lang at Pimlico, and the Bachelor at Oaklawn Park.
Also entered in the King’s Bishop is Competitive Edge, who will be turning back to a sprint following his fourthplace finish to American Pharoah in the Haskell Invitational.
Grade 2, $400,000 Ballston Spa: This 1 1/16-mile turf race for fillies and mares is topped by Tepin, the winner of the Grade 1 Just a Game on Belmont Stakes Day and the Grade 2 Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day. Tepin was beaten a nose last out in the Grade 1 Diana.
The Ballston Spa also includes Coffee Clique, the winner of the Grade 3 Dr. James Penny Memorial at Parx last time out.
Upstart, shown training at Saratoga, finished third behind American Pharoah in the Haskell.
La Verdad enters the Grade 1 Ballerina on Saturday off a frontrunning 4-length win in the Grade 2 Honorable Miss.