The 145th running of the Grade 1, $1.25-million Travers Stakes, also known as the "Mid-Summer Derby," has brought together a competitive field of 10, including six horses coming into the race off wins or runner-up finishes.
The probable public betting choice will be Bayern, impressive front-running winner of the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational Stakes last month.
Wicked Strong won the Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes rather easily on the same weekend as the Haskell, defeating Tonalist, who had won the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes prior to that.
V. E. Day rides a three-race winning streak into the Travers, the most recent of his wins coming at Saratoga Race Course in the Curlin Stakes, narrowly defeating Charge Now by a head in the process.
Commanding Curve returns to the 1¼-mile distance of his runner-up finish in the Kentucky Derby, and his connections hope he can rebound to competitive form.
Mr Speaker won the Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes at the distance of the Travers in his most recent race, but on turf, so the hope is that he can transfer that form to the main track, where he finished seventh in his only previous try.
Kid Cruz won the Grade 3 Dwyer Stakes in early July before a non-threatening third-place finish in the Jim Dandy, with Ulanbator fifth in the same race.
Viva Majorca rounds out the field, beaten a length for the win when fourth in the Curlin Stakes last month.
V. E. Day is a lightly raced colt who has a big shot to post the upset. Compared with others in the race, V. E. Day got a late start to his career, debuting in January of this year, and it took until his third race, in May, to earn his first victory.
Since then V. E. Day has improved by leaps and bounds in winning three races in a row, going from an 85 Equibase Speed Figure effort to 97 and most recently running fast enough to earn a 111 figure when victorious in the Curlin Stakes last month at Saratoga.
To put that effort and figure in perspective, Wicked Strong earned a 105 figure winning the Jim Dandy Stakes one day earlier. In the Curlin, V. E. Day was very wide for the last quarter-mile so his head victory was more impressive than it looks on paper. As such, and with current North American leading rider Javier Castellano getting aboard, V. E. Day can win the Travers.
Charge Now rallied from sixth in the early stages of the Curlin, led with an eighth of a mile to go, then was passed right near the finish line by V. E. Day to come up a head short of winning. That effort earned a 110 speed figure that was a career best.
Entered and withdrawn from a non-graded stakes race last weekend in Maryland, Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott showed a lot of confidence in deciding this is the race for Charge Now. A half-brother (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) to 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, there is little doubt Charge Now will run well at this that he’s trying for the first time. If V. E. Day is considered a strong contender in the Travers, then Charge Now must also be respected as he was just inches short of beating V. E. Day in the Curlin.
Bayern was refitted with blinkers following a disappointing ninth-place effort in the Preakness Stakes, and the results since then have been spectacular.
First, Bayern won the Woody Stephens Stakes on the Belmont Stakes undercard by 7 1/2 lengths with a career best 123 Equibase Speed Figure. He stretched out from seven-eighths of a mile to 1 1/8 miles for the Haskell, and Bayern won by nearly the same margin.
Although his speed figure dropped to 118, it was a strong effort. In the Travers, it appears Bayern could have the early lead all to himself as perhaps none of the other horses would risk compromising their own chances by challenging him. As such, Bayern could be tough to catch, however he has never run the 1Â¼-mile distance before, and so the closers in the field have a chance to run him down late.
Notes about some of the others: Wicked Strong had blinkers added for the first time in the Jim Dandy and the result was a strong two-length win in a good field. The 105 Equibase Speed Figure earned was nearly as good as the 108 he earned when winning the Wood Memorial Stakes this spring before a fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. With further improvement, Wicked Strong certainly can be a factor in the Travers.
Similarly, Tonalist was no match for Wicked Strong when second by two lengths in the Haskell but earned back-to-back 108 figures prior to that in the Peter Pan and Belmont Stakes. He is another who can’t be counted out as a contender.
Mr Speaker earned a career-best 116 speed figure when winning the Belmont Derby Invitational recently at the distance of the Travers, but on turf. He has been working well on dirt, where he finished seventh in his only previous try. If he can repeat that last effort, figure he is yet another who could win.
Kid Cruz earned a career-best 108 figure when winning the Easy Goer Stakes in June then a 104 while winning the Dwyer, but he was no match for Wicked Strong and Tonalist in the Jim Dandy (96 figure).
The rest of the Travers Stakes field (with best representative Equibase Speed Figure): Commanding Curve (105), Ulanbator (98) and Viva Majorca (109).