Making the Grade, which will run through the 2020 Triple Crown races, focuses on the winners or top performers of the key races, usually from the previous weekend, who could make an impact on the Triple Crown. We’ll be taking a close look at impressive winners and evaluating their chances to win classic races based upon ability, running style, connections (owner, trainer, jockey), and pedigree.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve was shifted from its normal first Saturday in May place on the calendar to Sept. 5, while the Preakness Stakes was postponed until Oct. 3. The Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets kicked off the 2020 Triple Crown June 20 at the shortened distance of 1 1/8 miles, and Tiz the Law delivered a dominant victory in New York.
The subject of this blog usually is a 3-year-old coming off of a breakthrough stakes win on the Kentucky Derby trail. Ny Traffic is still seeking his first stakes win, but this season has put together a string of top three finishes in four graded stakes that earned him 110 qualifying points on the Road to the 2020 Kentucky Derby leaderboard. Most recently, Ny Traffic came up a nose short of Authentic in the Grade 1 TVG.com Haskell Stakes July 18 at Monmouth Park so let’s dig a bit deeper and evaluate his chances to be a serious player Sept. 5 in the run for the roses.
Ability: After a 2-year-old campaign in which Ny Traffic won one of four races and was unplaced in a pair of stakes, John Fanelli sold an interest in the Cross Traffic colt to Cash is King and LC Racing and transferred him to trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. Fanelli told America’s Best Racing in March he purchased the colt for $22,000 after Ny Traffic failed to meet a reserve of $27,000 at last year’s Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale of 2-year-olds in training.
Paul Braverman also came aboard as a partner after Ny Traffic won his 2020 debut by 6 ¾ lengths Jan. 11 at Aqueduct in a 1 1/16-mile, allowance-optional claiming race while stretching out in distance and navigating two turns for the first time.
Since that allowance win, Ny Traffic has competed against graded stakes competition and held his own, although he has yet to win at that level.
Ny Traffic ran third, beaten by 1 ¼ lengths by Modernist in a division of the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford Feb. 15 and followed with a second to pacesetter Wells Bayou by 1 ½ lengths at 26.70-1 odds in the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby March 21. In the latter race, Ny Traffic earned a then-career top 98 Equibase Speed Figure while stretching out in distance to 1 3/16 miles.
The COVID-19 pandemic by that point had started to have a crippling effect on Thoroughbred racing and sports in general. The Kentucky Derby subsequently was postponed until September and many other major prep races were either canceled or postponed while live racing was halted in multiple jurisdictions.
Ny Traffic returned May 23 at Churchill Downs and ran second after leading in deep stretch to highly regarded Maxfield in the Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes, coming up a length short to an unbeaten opponent. (Note: Maxfield was injured while training in June and will miss the Derby.)
Most recently, Ny Traffic turned in arguably the best performance of his career to date in the Haskell on July 18. He stalked pacesetter Authentic from second throughout before letting that rival pull away coming off the final turn to open a 2 ½-length lead in early stretch. But Ny Traffic rallied resolutely through the final furlong and almost caught Authentic in the closing strides with a powerful late bid.
Ny Traffic earned a career-best 109 Equibase Speed Figure, 100 Beyer Speed Figure, 107 BrisNet speed rating, and 120 TimeForm US speed rating in the Haskell.
The speed figures point to a 3-year-old on the rise and it’s worth noting that he has quite a few positive signs entering the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby, especially given he projects to be at least 20-1 odds.
Ny Traffic has a solid foundation of five route races this year, plenty of rest (seven weeks) entering the Derby to set him up for a peak effort, a quality race in the Matt Winn on the main track at Churchill, and a runner-up finish at 1 3/16 miles. In my view, he looks like one of the more promising longshots for this year’s Kentucky Derby.
Running style: My biggest concern with Ny Traffic is running style as he prefers to race on or near the lead, setting the pace in his first two races in 2020 and pressing/stalking in his three subsequent starts. There are quite a few Derby hopefuls who fit the same profile with tactical speed, and many of them have shown the ability to finish faster than Ny Traffic has demonstrated that he is capable of in his races to date.
Make no mistake, tactical speed is an advantage in a 20-horse Derby field when it comes to finding ideal positioning and avoiding trouble. I’m just worried that Ny Traffic will be competing for position with runners like Tiz the Law, Art Collector, and Honor A. P. that also stalk or press the pace and boast better proven finishing speed.
Connections: John Fanelli is the executive manager at a Nissan dealership in Turnersville, N.J. and was formerly a professional poker player. He grew up in South Philadelphia and fell in love with racing going to the track now known as Parx Racing. Fanelli also campaigned 2019 Pennsylvania Derby winner Math Wizard in partnership with Cash Is King, LC Racing, and several other partners.
Cash Is King is the racing operation of Chuck Zacney. The stable rose to national prominence in 2004 when talented juvenile Afleet Alex gained popularity. Afleet Alex went on to win the Arkansas Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes in 2005. The colt became one of the more popular Triple Crown contenders of his era, and his connection to Alex's Lemonade Stand to help raise money for pediatric cancer proved especially inspirational. Afleet Alex ran third in the 2005 Kentucky Derby.
LC Racing is the stable name of Glenn Bennett, owner of Tru-Fit Frame and Door in Pennsauken Township, N.J.
Paul Braverman, a Boston investment manager, was a longtime partner of Harvey Clarke, with whom he finished 11th as a part-owner in Soldat in the 2011 Kentucky Derby. Clarke died in January 2019 and Braverman and Clarke’s estate own talented 3-year-old filly Harvey’s Lil Goil. Braverman also raced in partnership graded stakes winners Cairo Prince and Harvey Wallbanger.
Trainer Saffie Joseph Jr., broke through on the national stage with a career year in 2019 when his stable exceeded $3.8 million in purse earnings and Math Wizard scored an upset victory in the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 21. The Pennsylvania Derby was the first graded stakes win for Joseph, a native of Barbados who began training in south Florida in 2011. Joseph also trains multiple graded stakes winner Tonalist’s Shape and graded stakes winner Cookie Dough.
A native of Veracruz, Mexico, Paco Lopez won the Eclipse Award as outstanding apprentice jockey in 2008 and has amassed more than 2,850 victories and $101 million in purse earnings. Lopez won the Twinspires.com Breeders’ Cup Sprint aboard Roy H in 2018. He finished 11th aboard Firenze Fire in 2018 in his lone previous start in the Kentucky Derby.
Pedigree: Ny Traffic is from the second crop of Grade 1 winner Cross Traffic, whose best career race came at 1 1/8 miles in the 2013 Whitney Invitational Stakes when he defeated a talented field that included that year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Mucho Macho Man. Cross Traffic also ran second in the Grade 1 Met Mile during a six-race career. He sired 2018 Tito’s Handmade Vodka Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies winner and champion 2-year-old filly Jaywalk from his first crop of runners and has eight stakes winners through Aug. 24 from his first three crops.
Ny Traffic is the first starter out of the Graeme Hall mare Mamie Reilly, a winner at three-quarters of a mile. Grandam (maternal grandmother), French Song, won six races at distances ranging from 5 ½ furlongs to one mile, and third dam (maternal great-grandmother), Quilma, was a Chilean classic winner who won three graded stakes in the U.S. in 1993, including the 1 1/8-mile Fleur de Lis Stakes at Churchill Downs.
At first glance, this is not a pedigree that would inspire tremendous confidence in Ny Traffic’s chances to excel at 1 ¼ miles, but in 2020 we have quite a bit more information on the Derby contenders than usual and a longer track record around two turns. Based on what I’ve seen, I have no doubt Ny Traffic can win big races around two turns, but the fact that he has not finished as fast as others leads me to believe his best outcome in the Derby might be a spot at the bottom of the trifecta or superfecta.