On a chalky betting day where favorites beat a path to the Saratoga winner’s circle, the New York Racing Association announced an all-sources Travers Day handle of $51,381,515.

Firenze Fire-Forego-Travers Day
Firenze Fire bit off more than he could chew, savaging Forego Stakes rival Yaupon in deep stretch. Yaupon survived the sudden savaging, winning the Grade 1 Forego as the 2/1 favorite. (Image: Skip Dickstein)

That came from a paid crowd of 44,507, which generated an on-track handle of $9,406,526. This provided an obvious boost from last year’s Travers, which ran at the beginning of August without fans due to the pandemic.

The Travers Day crowd watched Essential Quality essentially put a lock on the Champion 3-Year-Old of 2021. Piloted by regular rider Luis Saez, the Brad Cox charge outdueled stubborn pacesetter Midnight Bourbon, pulling away in the final 16th for a neck victory.

The 2/5 favorite, Essential Quality paid $2.90 for his fifth victory in six 2021 races. He stopped the clock for 1 ¼ miles in 2:01.96, posting a 107 Beyer Speed Figure.

Essential Quality does what it takes

“He broke well. We were hoping that he wouldn’t lose as much ground and have more of a ground-saving trip as opposed to the Jim Dandy,” Cox told the New York Racing Association. “Luis did a good job of recognizing that there wouldn’t be a whole lot of pace. He asked him to run out of there and established good position. He didn’t let Midnight Bourbon get too far away up the backside. I was a little worried up the backside once he cleared up with softer fractions. He’s a tremendous horse. He’s a champion and he ran like one today.”

In so doing, Essential Quality ran Cox into the record books. He became the first trainer in 79 years – and only the third ever — to win Saratoga’s two marquee races, the Whitney and the Travers, with different horses. Three weeks ago, Cox saddled Knicks Go to the Whitney title.

Midnight Bourbon, the Preakness runner-up to Rombauer, picked up his third second-place stakes finish of the year. He added this to his runner-up finish to Hot Rod Charlie in the Louisiana Derby. Miles D, the 18.70/1 long shot in the seven-horse field, took third.

Travers Day produces pitiful Pick 6 payout

Essential Quality winning the Travers at odds-on provided the last piece in a favorite-heavy day at Saratoga. The average Travers Day $2 win ticket paid $8.50 and the All-Stakes Pick 6 paid a woeful $113.

That was the byproduct of the likes of Gamine, Jackie’s Warrior, Letruska, Yaupon, and Gufo all claiming the other five Grade 1s. In one of the day’s best races, 1.55/1 second-favorite Jackie’s Warrior outdueled 9/10 favorite Life Is Good, capturing the H. Allen Jerkens Memorial. That was Jackie’s Warrior’s third victory in his last four races, bringing a 107 Beyer along for the ride.

Yaupon won the Forego Stakes at 2/1. He paid $6, beating Firenze Fire in a memorable – and crazy – finish. As Yaupon rolled down the rail in the stretch, Firenze Fire matched him stride-for-stride. Then, Firenze Fire inexplicably reached out and savaged his rival. At one point, he had a hold of Yaupon’s bridle in his teeth, defying jockey Irad Ortiz’s commands to let go until the final 40 yards.

A savage ending to the Forego

“Honestly, it was really weird. I’ve never been in that (position) before,” Ortiz said after the race. “He got me too closes to the horse when he did that (savaging Yaupon). The (gallop-out) was perfect. He came back in great order. I think he should’ve won that race.”

Letruska took the Personal Ensign Stakes at .75/1, her 101 Beyer and nearly gate-to-wire command paying $3.50. She bested 23/1 Bonny South for her fourth consecutive graded-stakes victory and fifth this year.

Gufo and his 104 Beyer won the Sword Dancer at 2.55/1, the highest odds of all six Grade 1 winners. He paid $7.10 for his neck victory over Aidan O’Brien’s import, Japan. Opening the favorite parade to the winner’s circle was Gamine, who won the Ballerina Stakes by nearly two lengths. She paid $2.70 as the .35/1 favorite.