While the Kentucky Derby is the most famous and prestigious race and the Belmont is the Test of Champions, the real race for determining the champion three year old colt is, somewhat surprisingly, the Preakness. Twelve of the last 13 horses to win the Preakness won the Eclipse Award for the champion 3 year old colt. The exception--Red Bullet in 2000--was a sensible exception, because that was the only graded stakes race he won that year (he was injured after the race). That year's champion was Tiznow, who didn't even race in the Triple Crown, and usurped Fusaichi Pegasus for the crown by thrashing him in the Breeders Cup Classic.
So what does this have to do with this year's Travers? Well, this year will be the second time since Louis Quatorze won the Preakness in 1996 that the Preakness winner won't be crowned the champion 3yo colt, since the winner, Rachel Alexandra, is obviously ineligible for the award. Given that no 3yo colts has won more than one Grade 1 race this year, there has to be extra emphasis on the Travers, especially because it matches up a couple of horses with great potential, a classic winner, and a late bloomer. (Sadly, Mine That Bird had to be withdrawn because he hasn't recovered from last week's epiglottis surgery.)
Let's do our normal countdown for this year's Travers. It'll be brief--there are only seven horses running. For the record, while we like some horses better than others, for a change, we have a field where every horse belongs, and there isn't a single entrant that would be a shocker to hit the board.
We Look Like Outsiders
7. Our Edge. While Nick Zito did win this race five years ago with Birdstone, that was with a horse who was already a classic winner and had a graded stakes win at Saratoga. This guy's a front-running, stretching out sprinter whose best race came against absolutely nobody in Delaware Park. He'd be an intriguing entrant in the King's Bishop on the undercard, but looks like pace fodder here.
6. Hold Me Back. If you squint enough, you can make a case for this horse winning--good breeding, great connections, and really only 0-for-1 on a fast dirt track. Heck, we may use him in our multi-race bets at 20-1 or so. But when Bill Mott tells you he's taking a shot for kicks, you're supposed to nod appreciatively and move on.
Be Very, Very Careful
5. Charitable Man. This guy got a ton of hype for winning the Peter Pan (without meriting any), and backed it up by running like crap in the Belmont. Now he comes in off a good-on-paper 3rd in the Jim Dandy, that upon examination, was utterly bland and far inferior to the two in front of him. Why should you take 9-2 on him here when he's done nothing to earn it?
4. Kensei. This guy won us a good chunk of change on Belmont day when he ran third at 30-1 in the Woody Stephens. He's followed that up with two pretty nice wins in the Dwyer and Jim Dandy, but in both cases, he won without being particularly impressive, and looks solid more than spectacular. Definitely has a chance, but looks like he might be a horse that's already peaked and isn't really Grade I material.
3. Quality Road. We won't dispute that he's probably the most talented horse in the race, as he's set two track records and has 4 three-digit Gowanus Speed Figures. His only loss was in a race where he wasn't 100% healthy. So what's the problem? We're not sure he's ready for this spot. His prep off a 4 month layoff was a 6 1/2 furlong sprint that he won easily. Now he's stretching out 3 1/2 furlongs to go a mile and a quarter, which he's not really bred for, an has to contend with a fair amount of early speed. He could romp, but at 7-5, we're looking elsewhere.
The Key Contender
2. Summer Bird. The Belmont winner comes into this race much the same way he came into the Belmont, off a so-so performance in the slop where he didn't get a chance to fire his best shot. This is the 6th race of his career, and he's perfectly bred for the distance. He's clearly one of the better colts in this class, the question is whether or not he rises to the challenge and takes the definitive lead for the Eclipse Award. We say he just falls short to an up and comer.
The Upset Winner
1. Warrior's Reward. While everyone is quick to note that Quality Road has multiple 100+ GSF's, this guy actually is tied with Quality Road for the highest figure in the field. The reason we like him is two fold. First, his last two races were both good under poor circumstances--he missed the break in the Dwyer and rallied stoutly for a good third, and was contesting the pace in the Jim Dandy, and wilted late. We think he'll get a better trip under Calvin Borel this time, sitting just off the pace. Second, we like Borel, and we especially like that had he been forced to choose between this horse and the Kentucky Derby winner, he was picking Warrior's Reward. This is the other horse with huge upside in the race, and we think he puts it all together on Saturday. Which, of course, will just further muddle the Eclipse Award question.
As for the strong undercard on Travers day, we like Sky Haven to pull off a small upset in the Victory Ride, Captain's Lover in the Ballston Spa (if it stays on the grass), Munnings in the Kings Bishop, and Informed Decision in the Ballerina. Good luck to all!
(And for those looking for TA, probably tomorrow.)