A Jimmy Jerkens horse crossed the finish line first in Saturday's 145th running of the Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course, but it was major underdog V.E. Day, not Wicked Strong, that stole the victory in the final moments.
Wicked Strong, the other Jerkens horse, surrendered the lead at the very last moment, while Tonalist, rode by Joel Rosario, was right behind to round out the top three in the 2014 iteration of The Midsummer Derby.
TVG captured the decisive moment:
The Grade 1, $1.25 million event featured a strong 10-horse field with a bevy of recognizable names such as Kid Cruz and Commanding Curve. Here is a look at how the full field wound up Saturday:
|1||4||V.E. Day||Jimmy Jerkens||Javier Castellano|
|2||7||Wicked Strong||Jimmy Jerkens||Rajiv Maragh|
|3||6||Tonalist||Christophe Clement||Joel Rosario|
|4||8||Kid Cruz||Linda Rice||Irad Ortiz Jr.|
|5||10||Mr. Speaker||Shug McGaughey||Jose Lezcano|
|6||5||Viva Majorca||Ian Wilkes||Julien Leparoux|
|7||3||Charge Now||Bill Mott||Junior Alvarado|
|8||9||Ulanbator||Ian Wilkes||Brian Hernandez|
|9||1||Commanding Curve||Dallas Stewart||Shaun Bridgmohan|
|10||2||Bayern||Bob Baffert||Martin Garcia|
Bayern shot out to a major lead over the course of the opening quarter mile, only to be overtaken by Tonalist after the first turn. The two dueled each other until the final turn, where Wicked Strong made a serious push.
At the top of the stretch, it was all Wicked Strong—until V.E. Day turned on the afterburners.
For those brave enough to throw coin down on a field that included a few non-mainstream wild cards, here is how the payouts broke down:
The New York Racing Association captured Jerkens' thoughts after the fact:
"As good as I felt for V. E. winning, I felt bad for Wicked. He ran his guts out," says Jerkens.— NYRA (@TheNYRA) August 23, 2014
"I don't know. Savor this for awhile," says Jerkens of what's next for 1-2. Doesn't map things out "months and months ahead."— NYRA (@TheNYRA) August 23, 2014
For those in the know, the triumph by V.E. Day was no surprise, as Ray Paulick of Paulickreport.com colorfully illustrated:
When I spoke to new Calumet Farm stallion director Ken Wilkins this week he said "V.E. Day will shock the world." Did I listen to him? No.— Ray Paulick (@raypaulick) August 23, 2014
Mike MacAdam of Dailygazette.com captured the scene in the winner's circle:
V.E. Day, Javier Castellano and a whole mess of carnations after they won the Travers pic.twitter.com/8Q28e3QMgD— Mike MacAdam (@Mike_MacAdam) August 23, 2014
Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist was obviously the most recognizable name in attendance Saturday thanks to his taking down California Chrome's bid for a Triple Crown this season.
Rode by Rosario, assistant trainer Christophe Lorieul was confident of his horse's chances going into Saturday because of the favorable draw results, as captured by Brisnet, via ESPN.com:
"From [post] 5 on up, that was good for us," Lorieul said after Tonalist received post 6. "We didn't want to get stuck on the inside. He has tactical speed, but it really is his game being close up and behind horses. He wants to be in the clear. He has a very long stride.
Bettors clearly felt the same way based on the turn the odds took about an hour before the gates opened, as detailed by MacAdam:
Tonalist currently 8-5 for the Travers.— Mike MacAdam (@Mike_MacAdam) August 23, 2014
Tonalist's main competition going into the race, though, was Wicked Strong. Saturday marked their third stakes matchup, with the series being tied.
Interestingly enough, Wicked Strong came into the day's events with a full head of steam after a win over Tonalist at the Jim Dandy, which Jerkens accredited to blinkers and a better ride from jockey Rajiv Maragh, per the NYRA on Twitter:
Jerkens thinks combo of blinkers and an agressive @RajivMaragh got Wicked Strong "into the bit."— NYRA (@TheNYRA) August 19, 2014
While not as exciting as California Chrome's recent Triple Crown hunt, Wicked Strong did put forth a bid to make some history Saturday, per ESPN:
Wicked Strong is attempting to become the 11th horse since 1960 and sixth in the last 12 years to complete the Jim Dandy-Travers double. Seven of the past 10 Travers winners have exited the Jim Dandy, most recently done by Alpha, who dead-heated with Golden Ticket in 2012.
Bob Baffert's Bayern was on the hunt to play spoiler, though. After an undercard win a mere months ago, Bayern proved no one-hit wonder and blew away the field at the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational by 7 1/4 lengths.
While never wise to write off such a speedy horse, nor a Baffert-trained horse, Saturday saw Bayern come out of the No. 2 gate and completely burn out after being challenged by others.
Arguably the least recognizable of the serious contenders, Mr. Speaker experienced a major return to form in recent months and was not to be shrugged off as a serious contender. This is especially the case when one ponders the fact that Shug McGaughey's horse was the only participant outside of Tonalist to be proven at the distance, as noted by Steve Haskin of BloodHorse.com:
"First off, Mr Speaker has already won at 1 1/4 miles, and the only Travers horse who has won going that far is Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist."
McGaughey was another name to not underestimate, as the Hall of Famer is just one of eight trainers to have three wins at the event.
Kid Cruz wound up in fourth after never using elite speed to an advantage, while Kentucky Derby runner-up Commanding Curve wound up in ninth after a ho-hum day overall.
The world of horse racing now turns its attention to Sunday for the Grade 1, $1 million TVG Pacific Classic at Del Mar. That race punches the winner's ticket to the upcoming $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic in November.
With that major staple of the racing calendar on the horizon, Saturday's Travers Stakes was a good way to whet the appetite of fans for the time being.
Results and info courtesy of NYRA.com unless otherwise specified.