Travers favorite is Haskell winner Verrazano

The field for Saturday’s $1 million Travers Stakes is so

impressive that Kentucky Derby winner Orb isn’t even the


Neither is Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice.

The role of 3-year-old to beat in racing’s Mid-Summer Derby at

Saratoga Race Course is Verrazano, runaway winner of the Haskell

Invitational at Monmouth Park on July 28.

”It’s a great field,” said Todd Pletcher, who trains Verrazano

and Palace Malice. ”From a fan’s perspective, it’s one of the

strongest Travers we’ve seen in a while. With the exception of

(Preakness winner) Oxbow, all the major players are here.”

There’s a logical explanation why Verrazano is the 2-1 top

choice in the nine-horse field entered Wednesday, with Palace

Malice next at 5-2 and Orb at 4-1. It’s the ”what have you done

for me lately” approach.

”The last two races with our horses were very powerful,”

Pletcher said, ”and in the sense of what’s going on in the moment,

that’s why (they are the favorites). But we have a lot of respect

for Orb, and we know he’ll be tough to beat.”

Verrazano ran the worst race of his career in the Derby,

finishing 14th over a sloppy track at Churchill Downs. He came back

and won the Pegasus at Monmouth before his big effort in the


Palace Malice rebounded from his dull 12th-place Derby finish by

winning the Belmont by 3 1/4 lengths and then taking the Jim Dandy

over Will Take Charge and Moreno on July 27.

”With Palace Malice, you’ve got very much of a now horse that’s

always dangerous,” said Orb’s trainer, Shug McGaughey.

”Verrazano, ever since he broke his maiden, has been a top horse.

His only blemish was in the Derby, and he bounced out of that

pretty well.”

After the Derby, Orb ran fourth in the Preakness and third in

the Belmont and then was sent to Fair Hill Training Center in

Elkton, Md., to regroup after the Triple Crown grind. McGaughey was

thrilled with the way he regained his form and looks forward to

seeing if Orb returns to his winning ways – the Derby win was his

fifth in a row.

”We’ve been tickled to death with what he’s done since he got

up here to Saratoga last week,” McGaughey said. ”We just hope we

can keep it going for the Travers.”

The last Travers to feature the Derby winner was 2010, when

Pletcher’s Super Saver went off as the fourth betting choice and

finished 10th. Before that, though, six of the eight Derby winners

who ran in the Travers dating to 1978 went off as favorites.

Verrazano will be ridden by John Velazquez and leave from the

No. 3 gate. Palace Malice will have Mike Smith aboard leaving from

the No. 8 gate, with Orb and Joel Rosario departing from the No. 2


The rest of the field, from the rail out, is Romansh, Golden

Soul, Will Take Charge, Moreno, War Dancer and Transparent.

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