The names of those racing on Saturday’s Travers Day at Saratoga sound like a Thoroughbred all-star team: Essential Quality, Gamine, Letruska, Tribhuvan, Jackie’s Warrior, Life Is Good, Whitmore, Swiss Skydiver. All of them – and others you may have heard of – are set to run in one of Saratoga’s six Grade 1 races on Saturday’s card.
It’s the biggest day of summer racing, surpassing even last weekend’s Pacific Classic card at Del Mar. And everyone 3-and-up is represented: sprinters, routers, fillies, mares, turf runners, sophomores, and older horses. This is the Spa’s biggest day of its eight-week meet, which explains why many of the Thoroughbred stars come out to play on a horseplayer’s and racing fan’s dream card.
NHC gets Saratoga’s card on tournament slate
Speaking of horseplayers, the National Horseplayers Championship is this weekend at Bally’s in Las Vegas. Normally held in February, the NHC moved to late August due to the pandemic. That brings the popular boutique meets of Saratoga and Del Mar into the equation.
As for adding this weekend’s Saratoga variables to that equation, Saturday’s card offers those six Grade 1 races, the most on a single-day US card since the New York Racing Association put eight on its June 5 Belmont Stakes card.
OG News takes a look at all six Saturday Saratoga Grade 1s.
Travers, 1 ¼ miles, 3-year-olds
Speaking of Belmont Stakes Day, your Belmont Stakes winner, Essential Quality, heads the field for one of the biggest races of the season. His two closest pursuers in last month’s Grade 2 Jim Dandy, Keepmeinmind and Ohio Derby winner Masqueparade, follow the leading 3-year-old into the Travers gate. You can also welcome back Midnight Bourbon, who finished sixth in the Haskell after taking second in the Preakness. Also joining the fray is Dynamic One, last seen winning the Curlin Stakes.
Sword Dancer, 1 ½ miles (turf), 4-year-olds and up
Even with the reigning Champion Male Turf Horse, Channel Maker, in the field, the two to watch are Tribhuvan and Gufo. Tribhuvan comes in off his score in the Grade 1 United Nations, a second in a stellar Grade 1 Manhattan field, and a win in the Grade 2 Fort Marcy. Gufo sandwiched wins in the Grade 2 Grand Courturier and the Grade 1 Man o’ War around a third in the Manhattan. As for Channel Maker, he left his form in 2020. He finished seventh in the Grade 2 Bowling Green and eighth in the Grade 1 Dubai Sheema Classic in his only 2021 starts.
Personal Ensign, 1 1/8 miles, fillies and mares 4-year-olds and up
A Breeders’ Cup Distaff berth goes to the winner here. Will it be Letruska, going for her fourth consecutive graded stakes win? Will it be the ubiquitous Swiss Skydiver, coming back on three week’s rest after her fourth against the boys in the Whitney? Will Shuvee winner Royal Flag spring the upset on both? Or will Harvey’s Lil Goil or Bonny South factor?
H. Allen Jerkens Memorial, 7 furlongs, 3-year-olds
This may be the most competitive race of the day. There’s resurgent Jackie’s Warrior, coming in off a 7 ½-length blitzkrieg of the Grade 2 Amsterdam. You have his victim in that blowout, Drain the Clock, who beat Jackie’s Warrior in the Grade 1 Woody Stephens their previous outing. And there’s the return of Life Is Good as a new member of Todd Pletcher’s stable. The Into Mischief colt and one-time Kentucky Derby futures favorite was undefeated in three races for his previous trainer, Bob Baffert.
Forego, 7 furlongs, 4-year-olds and up
All of your favorite older sprinters return in search of pieces of their rivals. There’s Vanderbilt upset architect Lexitonian. There’s the venerable Whitmore, who finished third to 34/1 Lexitonian in that Vanderbilt. There’s Mind Control, who upset Firenze Fire in the Grade 2 Nerud. There’s Mischevious Alex, returning after his inexplicable eighth in the Vanderbilt. And there’s Yaupon, who won the Black-Type Lite the Fuse Stakes on July 4 at Pimlico.
Ballerina, 7 furlongs, fillies and mares 3-year-olds and up
Baffert emerges from his low profile in the wake of the Medina Spirit/Derby flap, turning star sprinter Gamine loose in search of a Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint berth. The Champion Sprinter of 2020 won that race in record time last year. Ce Ce and Sconsin get the unenviable task of trying to snap Gamine’s four-race winning streak. Ce Ce won the Grade 2 Princess Rooney last out. Sconsin finished second in the Black-Type Roxelana Stakes at Churchill Downs. Before that, she won the Grade 3 Winning Colors.