Key Takeaways from Travers Stakes Weekend

Essential Quality (left) edged pacesetting Midnight Bourbon by a neck in the Aug. 28 Travers Stakes at Saratoga. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Tom Pedulla presents five takeaways from the $1.25 million Runhappy Travers Stakes on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course and other major developments this weekend:

Steve Asmussen (Eclipse Sportswire)

NO WORSE FOR WEAR: Fans of Midnight Bourbon held their breath when the Travers starting gate snapped open and Midnight Bourbon took his first strides in a race since he nearly went down after clipping heels with Hot Rod Charlie in the July 17 Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park. Would there be any lingering mental effects from that frightening episode? Well, the spunky 3-year-old did just fine. He was never in close quarters behind horses since he shot to the lead and he barely missed by a neck after being run down by Essential Quality. “What a constitution he’s got,” said trainer Steve Asmussen, adding, “He’s a top-class horse that doesn’t have a Grade 1 yet.”

ONE TO WATCH: When one of trainer Chad Brown’s horses lose, his face typically reflects the agony of defeat. That was not the case after Miles D, ridden by Flavien Prat, ran a solid third in the Travers in only his fourth career start and his first test in graded stakes company. “He was third best by a good margin, but we’ll take it. I was just talking to Flavien about how pleased I was,” Brown said, speaking minutes after the finish. Although it is unclear what might be next for the son of Curlin, it will be exciting to see what he can accomplish as a 4-year-old. “We’ll regroup with our guy. He’s lightly raced and looks like he has a bright future ahead of him,” Brown said.

ENCOURAGING RETURN: Even in a neck defeat to Jackie’s Warrior in the H. Allen Jerkens Memorial Stakes, Life Is Good showed he is back and better than ever. In his comeback race following surgery to remove an ankle chip, Life Is Good shook off the rust from a layoff of more than five months to set a torrid pace, tearing through the opening quarter of a mile in 21.97 seconds, the half-mile in 44.16 seconds and three-quarters of a mile in 1:08.36 for jockey Mike Smith before being overtaken by Jackie’s Warrior and Joel Rosario, who stayed remarkably patient. Smith was not at all deterred by the colt’s first setback in four starts. “We’re asking him to run against probably the best sprinters in the country, if not the world, to be honest with you right now,” Smith said. “For him to run like he did was pretty incredible.” Life Is Good was making his first start since being transferred to Todd Pletcher from controversial trainer Bob Baffert. Pletcher was delighted with the performance. “I thought he ran super,” he said.

Gamine delivers another win. (Chelsea Durand/NYRA)

ENORMOUS RETURN: Michael Lund Petersen dug deep to spend $1.8 million to acquire Gamine as a 2-year-old in training. She continues to reward his big investment. The 4-year-old Into Mischief filly delivered for the ninth time in 10 starts while increasing her earnings to $1,656,500 and continuing to enhance her broodmare value by winning the Ketel One Ballerina Handicap by 1 ¾ lengths against Lake Avenue. As if all of that wasn’t enough, she secured a fees-paid berth in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at Del Mar. No wonder Petersen was beaming in the winner’s circle. “She is one amazing horse. They don’t come around like her very often, and I treat her like that, too,” he said. “You never know when it will be the last time you’re going to see them like this, so you just enjoy every race like it’s going to be the last win we get.” Gamine dominated the Filly and Mare Sprint by 6 ¼ lengths last November at Keeneland.

A feisty finish in the Forego. (Eclipse Sportswire)

FULL OF BITE: A dramatic stretch duel between Yaupon and Firenze Fire in the Forego Stakes went the way of Yaupon when an exasperated Firenze Fire reached to his inside and attempted to bite his rival in deep stretch, costing him and jockey Jose Ortiz precious momentum. “Jose told me that if he had just done that in one little instance, he could have corrected him,” said Kelly Breen, who trains Firenze Fire. “But he was strong and he couldn’t get him off the other horse.” Ricardo Santana, Jr., aboard Yaupon, was as startled as Ortiz. “That was kind of scary,” Santana said. “That never happened to me before and the only thing I can think is ‘Don’t stop riding.’” An undeterred Yaupon, who kept a straight course, finished first by a head.  

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