Hidden in the shadow of his more heralded stablemate, V. E. Day burst into the spotlight with a thrilling nose victory over Wicked Strong in the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.
The come-from-behind triumph made a double winner out of trainer Jimmy Jerkens. He became the first to saddle the first two finishers in the Mid-Summer Derby since Hall of Famer Nick Zito in 2004.
"I wasn’t absolutely sure it was V. E. Day because he had so much mud on him, until they got a little closer and I saw the silks. Then, I knew it was him," Jerkens said. "I said, `Man, what a feeling. I know I’m going to win the Travers; I just don’t know with who.’ "
A son of turf champion English Channel owned by Magalen Bryant, V. E. Day ran 1-1/4 miles in 2:02.93 and returned $41, $13.20 and $7.30 as the 19-1 sixth choice in a field of 10 3-year-olds. Wicked Strong, co-second choice at 5-2, paid $4.40 and $3.10.
The win payoff was the fourth-largest in Travers history and biggest since Crewman paid $41.90 in 1963.
Unlike Wicked Strong, winner of the Grade 1 TwinSpires.com Wood Memorial and Grade 2 Jim Dandy and fourth in both the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, V. E. Day was untested in graded stakes competition, having captured the Curlin Stakes at Saratoga for his third straight win.
He settled in mid-pack while the Grade 1-winning speedster Bayern led through a quarter-mile in 23.74 seconds, a half-mile in 47.31 and six furlongs in 1:11.27 before tiring.
Wicked Strong, who had tracked the leaders on the outside, took command at the top of the stretch but couldn’t shake V. E. Day, who gained steadily under a sustained drive by Castellano, riding for the first time.
"I was very satisfied the way my horse did it today," Castellano said. "In the Curlin, he came from way back. I learned a lot watching that race. I just took my time. I had a lot of patience, and it paid off today."
Castellano tied Hall of Fame jockeys Eddie Arcaro, Braulio Baeza, Pat Day and Jimmy McLaughlin as the only riders to win four Travers. Castellano and Jerkens also teamed up to win in 2010 with Afleet Express, whose victory was the last time a horse had won the Travers by a nose.
"I’m very fortunate to ride a lot of good horses. I’m very blessed to win four Travers," Castellano said. "I’m happy for Jimmy. He’s a great horseman. He does such a good job."
Wicked Strong was 2 lengths ahead of Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist in third, followed by Kid Cruz, Mr Speaker, Viva Majorca, Charge Now, Ulanbator, Commanding Curve and Bayern, the 2-1 favorite trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert.
"We were hoping to steal it, but the secret was out," Baffert said. "He broke well and was in a good position, but when he turned for home he was out of horse."
On the undercard, The Big Beast captured the Grade 1, $500,000 Ketel One King’s Bishop; Artemis Agrotera won the Grade 1, $500,000 Ballerina; and Abaco took the Grade 2, $250,000 Ballston Spa.