Weekend Lineup Presented By NYRA Bets: Big Travers Card Features Six Grade 1 Races

A quartet of Breeders’ Cup Challenge races and the $1.25 million Travers Stakes highlight this weekend’s racing action in North America, with a total of six Grade 1 stakes on Saturday’s card at Saratoga.

The Travers drew a field of seven headlined by last year’s juvenile champion Essential Quality. The Brad Cox-trained 3-year-old was undefeated until he finished fourth in the Kentucky Derby, but returned to win both the Belmont Stakes and the Jim Dandy.

Other top runners expected to compete on Saturday include champion female sprinter Gamine in the G1 Ballerina, division leader Letruska in the G1 Personal Ensign, and the highly-regarded 3-year-old Life Is Good returns in the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens for new trainer Todd Pletcher.

On the West Coast, a Breeders’ Cup berth is on the line in Saturday’s G2 Pat O’Brien Stakes at Del Mar, where C Z Rocket is the morning-line choice. On Sunday, Kentucky Derby first-place finisher Medina Spirit returns to the races in the listed Shared Belief Stakes.

Here’s a quick snapshot of this weekend’s graded stakes schedule, starting with Saratoga’s big races (all times Eastern):



3:02 p.m. – $500,000 Grade 1 Ballerina Handicap at Saratoga

Michael Lund Petersen’s Gamine, the Eclipse Award-winning female sprinter of 2020, will get another chance to flash her championship form over a track she dominated last summer when she heads a field of seven in Saturday’s G1 Ballerina at Saratoga Race Course.

Also in from the West Coast is Bo Hirsch’s 5-year-old homebred mare Ce Ce, who also shipped cross-country for her last start, the G2 Princess Rooney July 3 at Gulfstream Park, beating runner-up and fellow Ballerina entrant Estilo Talentoso.

Godolphin homebred Lake Avenue is chasing her second career graded stakes victory and first in a G1 after running second by a neck in each of her last two starts – the G3 Bed o’ Roses June 4 at Belmont Park and G2 Honorable Miss July 28 at Saratoga.

Ballerina Entries

3:37 p.m. – $600,000 Grade 1 Forego Stakes at Saratoga

Calumet Farm homebred Lexitonian, a racing enigma who broke through with his biggest performance to date last month, goes after a second consecutive win for the first time in his career in Saturday’s seven-furlong contest.

Five of the eight horses entered in the Forego are G1 winners, including Firenze Fire, Mind Control, Mischevious Alex, and Whitmore, the champion sprinter of 2020. Lexitonian joined the group with a half-length victory in the six-furlong Alfred G. Vanderbilt July 31, his 19th career start.

Also in the field, Yaupon won each of his first four career starts last year, two of them coming at Saratoga – an open allowance triumph over older horses and the G2 Amsterdam – as well as the Chick Lang. Following a troubled eighth in both the Breeders’ Cup Sprint to end 2020 and the G1 Dubai Golden Shaheen to open 2021, Yaupon returned to capture Pimlico’s Lite the Fuse July 4 in his most recent outing.

Forego Entries

4:12 p.m. – $500,000 Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial Stakes at Saratoga

J. Kirk and Judy Robison’s Jackie’s Warrior will seek to solidify himself as the nation’s leading sophomore sprinter when taking on a compact field. Jackie’s Warrior, trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, has shown an affinity for Saratoga, having not come close to losing in three starts at the Spa.

Jackie’s Warrior’s biggest obstacle could come from the presence of returning graded stakes winner Life Is Good, who arrives off a five-month hiatus and makes his debut for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. The highly-regarded son of leading sire Into Mischief, owned by CHC Inc. and WinStar Farm, is unbeaten in three starts on the West Coast and has never been behind horses at any point of call, when racing from the barn of Bob Baffert.

Jerkens Entries

4:47 p.m. – $600,000 Grade 1 Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga

Despite Letruska’s imposing presence, a field of nine top-class older fillies and mares will line up to go 1 1/18 miles at Saratoga. Trained by Fausto Gutierrez, the dual G1-winning Letruska will be attempting her fourth consecutive graded stakes score. She has already secured her Breeders’ Cup Distaff spot with a dominating gate-to-wire 2 ¾ lengths victory in the G1 Ogden Phipps, also a “Win and You’re In” event, two starts back at Belmont Park on June 5.

Kenny McPeek is returning Peter Callahan’s Swiss Skydiver to the distaff division. After circumstances forced his hand earlier in the Saratoga meet, he ran her in the G1 Whitney against the boys last out on Aug. 7, and she finished fourth.

Bonny South will try to turn the tables on Letruska after a runner-up finish in the Ogden Phipps. The 4-year-old filly was a well-beaten fifth in her last start in the G2 Delaware Handicap as the odds-on favorite, but has been breezing impressively with stablemate, G1 Runhappy Travers Stakes 4-5 favorite [and Belmont Stakes-winner] Essential Quality.

As Time Goes By runs for the Coolmore connections and has been sent from the Southern California base of Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. She ran second to Swiss Skydiver in the G1 Beholder Mile and then racked up a pair of G2 wins, taking the Santa Margarita by 9 ¼ lengths and the Santa Maria by a nose, both at Santa Anita.

Personal Ensign Entries

5:25 p.m. – $750,000 Grade 1 Sword Dancer Stakes at Saratoga

Four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown will saddle a pair of strong contenders in Tribhuvan and Rockemperor, who will square off against a talented field of G1 winners in the 1 1/2-mile turf contest, which offers a “Win and You’re In” berth to the winner for the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

With seven wins and more than $3.2 million in purse earnings, Channel Maker will make his fourth straight Sword Dancer appearance following a second in 2018, a fourth in 2019, and a win last year to highlight his championship campaign that also included a score in the G1 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic at Belmont.

Japan, trained by Aidan O’Brien, will make his first start in North America. The 5-year-old, who boasts a record of seven wins and four thirds from 18 starts with purse earnings in excess of $2.1 million, posted consecutive G1 wins in 2019 in the 12-furlong Grand Prix de Paris at Longchamp and the 1 5/16-mile Juddmonte International at York. Japan has notched a pair of G3 wins in four starts this campaign, taking the 1 11/16-mile Ormond in May at Chester and the nine-furlong Meld last out on July 15 at Leopardstown.

Sword Dancer Entries

6:12 p.m. – $1.25 million Grade 1 Travers Stakes at Saratoga

Juvenile champion Essential Quality overcame Hot Rod Charlie’s blistering fractions to run down his rival in the G1 Belmont Stakes on June 5 and followed that 109 Beyer Speed Figure effort with a half-length win over Travers rival Keepmeinmind in the G2 Jim Dandy going 1 1/8 miles.

Keepmeinmind competed in the Triple Crown’s second leg, running fourth in the Preakness before earning additional black type with a third place G3 Ohio Derby performance in June. Keepmeinmind matched his career-best 97 Beyer for closing on Essential Quality in the Jim Dandy last month, finishing second and 2 1/4 lengths ahead of fellow Travers foe Masqueparade.

Midnight Bourbon, the runner-up to Rombauer in the Preakness, has not raced since clipping heels with Hot Rod Charlie and unseating rider Paco Lopez in the G1 Haskell in July at Monmouth Park. Masqueparade bested King Fury by a half length in the Ohio Derby, extending his winning streak to three, before finishing third in a Jim Dandy contest that will see the trifecta rematch in the Travers.

King Fury, runner-up in the Ohio Derby, trained at Saratoga through an EHV-1 quarantine, causing him to miss the G2 Jim Dandy and instead return in the G1 Saratoga Derby Invitational on Aug. 7. He finished 10th after a wide trip in his turf debut.

Dynamic One – second in the G2 Wood Memorial – showed his affinity for the Saratoga track last out, rallying from last-of-seven to close strong, besting Miles D by 1 3/4 lengths in the Curlin on July 30 at Saratoga for his first stakes victory.

Travers Entries

9:35 p.m. – $200,000 Grade 2 Pat O’Brien Stakes at Del Mar

A field of 10 stout sprinters will travel seven furlongs the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Challenge race funneling into the Dirt Mile.

Morning-line choice C Z Rocket, a veteran gelding who found a new lease on life when he was haltered for $40,000 16 months ago and took up residence in the barn of trainer Peter Miller. The 7-year-old has since won seven races, four of them stakes, and placed in three other added-money tests to bank more than $1.1-million for his new connections.

Chief threat to C Z Rocket appears to be another classy veteran, the 7-year-old Flagstaff, a winner of seven races and $1,011,585. The gelding by sprint champion Speightstown has made five starts this year, but this will be his first in his California home base.

Trainer Bob Baffert has a pair in the dash in Eight Rings and Classier. The former, a 4-year-old colt by Empire Maker, was second beaten only a neck in the G1 Bing Crosby Stakes at six furlongs earlier in the meet. Classier, a 3-year-old colt also by Empire Maker, shortens up off a score in the Los Alamitos Derby at nine furlongs on July 4.

O’Brien Entries

Here’s a look at the remainder of the weekend’s graded stakes, courtesy of NTRA:

The post Weekend Lineup Presented By NYRA Bets: Big Travers Card Features Six Grade 1 Races appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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