Key Takeaways from Runhappy Travers Day at Saratoga

The Sport
Jack Knowlton of Sackatoga Stable leads Tiz the Law and jockey Manny Franco to the Saratoga winner’s circle after the colt rolled to a 5 ½-length victory in the Travers Stakes on Aug. 8. (Joe Labozzetta/NYRA Photo)

Tom Pedulla presents five takeaways from the $1 million Runhappy Travers Stakes on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course and other key developments this weekend:

TIZ MAGNIFICENT: Trainer Barclay Tagg, who began training on his own in 1972, never had the opportunity to run Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide in the Travers Stakes in 2003 because the gelding developed a fever before the race. It meant everything to him when Tiz the Law completed that unfinished business in spectacular fashion. “I’ve been doing this a long time and I’ve always wanted to win the Travers. This has been in my head my whole life,” Tagg said. “And now it’s happened, so it couldn’t be better.” Despite being geared down by jockey Manny Franco well before the finish, the Constitution colt blazed the mile and a quarter in 2:00.95, trailing only Arrogate’s 1:59.36 as the second-fastest Travers in 32 years.

Barclay Tagg post-Travers. (Eclipse Sportswire)

SWIFT TURNAROUND: Tagg has always made sure to give Tiz the Law the luxury of time between starts, and the youngster has responded with one big effort after another. As a juvenile and sophomore, the youngster has never gone to the gate with fewer than eight weeks of rest. He will have half of that time to prepare himself for the most important race of his life, the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. Tagg is confident he can have him ready for that enormous challenge. “We’ll give him 10 days of easiness and then get a few more breezes in him before we go out there,” he said. “That’s about all we can do.” The great news for Sackatoga Stable is that Tiz the Law can get the job done with his current form while others must find a way to make a leap forward.

RISING STAR: Caracaro, a son of Uncle Mo, proved his quality when he rallied to be second in the Travers. Trainer Gustavo Delgado brought him back for the “Mid-Summer Derby” only three weeks after he placed second to Country Grammer in the Peter Pan Stakes and was rewarded with a strong performance. How strong? Country Grammer settled for fifth in the Travers. No one was more encouraged than jockey Javier Castellano after Caracaro’s fourth career start. “I think he has room to improve. I think he’s starting to get better and go in the right direction,” Castellano said. “He has everything. He’s a full-package horse. He has a good mind. He rated beautifully.”

Gamine aces Test. (Adam Coglianese/NYRA)

TEST AFTER TEST: Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert chose an interesting path to the 1 1/8-mile Longines Kentucky Oaks for Gamine by running her in the Longines Test Stakes at seven furlongs at Saratoga. Not surprisingly, the winner of the one-mile Longines Acorn Stakes on June 20 aced the Test, drawing off from Venetian Harbor by seven lengths and matching the stakes record of 1:20.83 set by Lady Tak in 2003. Jimmy Barnes, Baffert’s top assistant, is optimistic that Michael Lund Petersen’s daughter of Into Mischief will meet the Oaks’ stiff challenge. “She’s rising straight to the top,” Barnes said. “For what she’s accomplished so far for such a lightly-raced filly, we look forward to stretching her out and seeing what comes of that.”

ALL HEART: Serengeti Empress, who had made her first four starts this season around two turns with largely disappointing results, could not have been more impressive than she was in being cut back to seven furlongs in the Ballerina Stakes. She overcame a slow start to withstand torrid fractions of 21.75 seconds for the opening quarter, 43.73 for the half and 1:08.32 seconds for three quarters in producing a final time of 1:21.63. In the process, she repelled challenges from defending champion Come Dancing and eventual runner-up Bellafina. The Ballerina offered the winner expense-paid entry to the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint, a race trainer Tom Amoss eagerly awaits. “What we learned is that this is a real good middle-distance filly,” he said, adding, “I look forward to staying at the seven-eighths distance, maybe getting one more start in her before the Breeders’ Cup.”

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