Alpha made favorite in so-so Travers
Why not, Gary Contessa figured.
With the best 3-year-olds either retired or ailing, the trainer's long shot, Speightscity, might have just as good a chance at winning the $1 million Travers Stakes at Saratoga on Saturday as any horse in the field — including 5-2 favorite Alpha.
''He ran second to Alpha in his last start,'' Contessa said, referring to a 3-1/4-length loss in the Withers more than six months ago. ''He wrenched his knee. I thought he broke it, but we dodged a bullet. The biggest question is, is he fit enough? We don't know. A race we were looking at didn't work out, and so now here we are in the Travers.''
Trainer Ken McPeek took a similar approach with Golden Ticket. After two races failed to draw enough horses, McPeek decided the Travers was worth a shot — even for a horse with one win in nine lifetime starts.
''He's worked as good as I've ever had a horse work at the training track here,'' McPeek said, ''and he's a horse sitting on tilt. We kind of feel there's a chance for him.''
At 30-1, Speightscity is the longest shot in the 11-horse field entered Wednesday. Golden Ticket and Fast Falcon are the second-longest shots at 20-1. McPeek also will send out Atigun at 12-1.
The Travers usually draws a stellar field, filled with Grade 1 winners vying for the 3-year-old championship as well as Horse of the Year honors. Not this time. Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I'll Have Another, Belmont winner Union Rags and Derby and Preakness runner-up Bodemeister are retired. Haskell winner Paynter is sidelined by an illness.
It will be the first time since 2005 that a horse who won a Triple Crown race is not in the field. Only two horses — Alpha and Street Life — come into the Travers off wins. Only one horse, Liaison, has a Grade 1 win on his resume, and he did it last year.
''A lot of the best horses are on the shelf,'' McPeek said. ''It's unfortunate. It's not a terrible group of 3-year-olds, but at the same time there is not a horse in there that's unbeatable.''
The owners of Speightscity had to pay a $20,000 supplemental fee to get in the Travers because the colt was not nominated for the race. Even before the draw, things started well for Contessa and company.
Hansen, last year's 2-year-old champion expected to set the pace, was declared out of the race because of a torn tendon in his left front leg. Now, Contessa expects Speightscity, with Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard, to go right to the front after drawing the No. 1 post.
''Hansen's not in here. I was thinking about whether I wanted to go head-and-head with Hansen or not, but from the rail, if all goes well, we will be on the lead,'' Contessa said.
Alpha comes into the Travers off a two-length, gate-to-wire win over Neck 'n Neck in the Jim Dandy at the Spa on July 28. The colt trained by Kiaran McLaughlin drew the No. 6 post, and will be ridden by Saratoga's leading jockey, Ramon Dominguez.
''If they go from the one hole, we'll lay second like we thought we might have to to Hansen, anyway,'' McLaughlin said about Speightscity. ''We'll leave it up to Ramon, but we will be forwardly placed.''