Verrazano early pick for Travers
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y.
At least as far as the post-position draw went in the battle of the Big Three for Saturday’s $1 million Travers Stakes, advantage Palace Malice.
Palace Malice, the Belmont and Jim Dandy stakes winner, drew post 8, while his top rivals – Kentucky Derby winner Orb and Haskell winner Verrazano – drew posts 2 and 3 for the 144th Travers Stakes at Saratoga.
Todd Pletcher, who trains Palace Malice and Verrazano, prefers his horses to be outside of the primary speed in a race. Moreno, the expected pacesetter drew post 6.
“I think when you’re outside of a speed horse, you kind of have some options,” Pletcher said. “We’ll still have options. [Verrazano] might just have to navigate his way around a little bit.”
Verrazano, who will be ridden by John Velazquez, was installed as the 2-1 morning-line favorite by New York Racing Association linemaker Eric Donovan. Palace Malice was made the second choice at 5-2, while Orb – the favorite in all three Triple Crown races – was made the 4-1 third choice.
Verrazano, a son of More Than Ready, is 6 for 7 lifetime, with his only loss coming in the Kentucky Derby, where he finished 14th over a sloppy track. Since then, he won the Grade 3 Pegasus by 9 1/4 lengths and the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational by a stakes-record 9 3/4 lengths, earning a 116 Beyer Speed Figure, the highest by any 3-year-old this year.
“He’s only lost once in his life, and he’s coming off arguably the most dominant 3-year-old performance of the year,” Pletcher said when asked if he was surprised that Verrazano was the morning-line favorite. “Those three morning-line favorites, it’s going to be very close in the wagering.”
Like Verrazano, Palace Malice is coming off a lifetime-best performance in the Jim Dandy, where he won by one length and earned a 107 Beyer. Five of the last eight Jim Dandy winners have come back to win the Travers.
“We’re concerned that we’re trying to match lifetime-best performances back in four weeks; it’s always a balancing act,” Pletcher said. “We just hope they’re able to come over and run their races. Everything we’ve seen in their training since the Jim Dandy and the Haskell indicates to us they’re still in peak form. You just hope that’s the case Saturday afternoon.”
At the opposite end of the spectrum, Orb will be making his first start since a subpar third-place finish in the Belmont Stakes. He was purposely given a break by trainer Shug McGaughey, who sent him to the Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland for two months.
“I’m surprised there’s that much separation,” McGaughey said about the odds. “I don’t think he’ll be 4-1 when they run it.”
Will Take Charge, the Jim Dandy runner-up, and Transparent, disqualified from first in the Curlin Stakes, are the co-fourth choices at 10-1. Will Take Charge gets a rider switch to Luis Saez.
Godolphin Racing has the uncoupled entry of Transparent, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, and Romansh, trained by Tom Albertrani. Transparent was demoted to fourth place in the Curlin Stakes, while Romansh was elevated from second to first.
A coupled entry in the Curlin, Transparent and Romansh will be individual betting interests in the Travers because the rules allow for uncoupled entries in races where the purse is a minimum $1 million.
War Dancer, the Virginia Derby winner, will try to transfer his good turf form to dirt for trainer Ken McPeek, whose Golden Ticket dead-heated with Alpha for the win in last year’s Travers.
Golden Soul, the runner-up to Orb in the Kentucky Derby, will try to bounce back from losses by double-digit lengths in the Belmont Stakes and Haskell Invitational.
The Travers will go as race 12 on a 14-race program that begins at 11:35 a.m. and includes the King’s Bishop and Test – both Grade 1 races – as well as the Grade 2 Ballston Spa.
The Travers will be shown live on NBC in a 90-minute broadcast that begins at 4:30 p.m. Eastern.
(Horse, jockey, trainer, morning-line odds)
1. Romansh, J. Castellano, T. Albertrani, 12-1
2. Orb, J. Rosario, S. McGaughey, 4-1
3. Verrazano, J. Velazquez, T. Pletcher, 2-1
4. Golden Soul, R. Albarado, D. Stewart, 20-1
5. Will Take Charge, L. Saez, D. Lukas, 10-1
6. Moreno, J. Ortiz, E. Guillot, 12-1
7. War Dancer, A. Garcia, K. McPeek, 15-1
8. Palace Malice, M. Smith, T. Pletcher, 5-2
9. Transparent, I. Ortiz, K. McLaughlin, 10-1