Now placed back on its customary late-August spot on the calendar after a pandemic-altered 2020 season, Saturday’s $1.25-million, Grade 1 Runhappy Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course is shaping up to be a crucial contest in determining the pecking order in the 3-year-old male division.
That’s nothing out of the ordinary for the 1 ¼-mile race known as the “Mid-Summer Derby,” which will be held for the 152nd time this year.
Historically, the Travers has existed as the most prestigious race to win for 3-year-olds aside from the Triple Crown races. Its list of winners over the past 100 runnings includes such legendary Thoroughbreds as Man o’ War, Granville, Whirlaway, One Count, Native Dancer, Gallant Man, Sword Dancer, Buckpasser, Damascus, Arts and Letters, Bold Reason, Alydar, Easy Goer, Holy Bull, Thunder Gulch, Point Given, Bernardini, Street Sense, and Arrogate.
This year’s renewal is highlighted by the presence of another 3-year-old that has the potential to join the above list: Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets winner Essential Quality, who was voted champion 2-year-old male in 2020 and is 7-for-8 in his career.
The Travers will be broadcast nationwide during a show airing on FOX from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m ET. Post time is set for approximately 6:12 p.m. ET. For more information on TV/radio/live streaming coverage of what is annually one of the most active weeks in horse racing, click here.
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Read on for information about all of the Travers Stakes contenders:
1. Midnight Bourbon (9-2 morning-line odds)
Jockey: Ricardo Santana Jr.
Trainer: Steve Asmussen
Owner: Winchell Thoroughbreds
Career record: 10 starts – 2 wins – 3 seconds – 3 thirds
Career earnings: $673,920
Earnings per start: $67,392
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 99
Pedigree: Tiznow – Catch the Moon, by Malibu Moon
Running style: Press the pace
Notable achievements and interesting facts: Midnight Bourbon makes his first start Saturday since a near-catastrophic incident in the July 17 TVG.com Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park cost him a placing. He entered the stretch of the Haskell vying for the lead with Hot Rod Charlie to his outside and Mandaloun coming up on the rail, but he then clipped heels with Hot Rod Charlie when that colt moved in front of him, and he unseated jockey Paco Lopez. Without his rider, Midnight Bourbon still crossed the finish line third in the Haskell, but was listed as “did not finish” due to the mishap (Hot Rod Charlie was disqualified from his first-place finish and placed last). Prior the Haskell, Midnight Bourbon finished a clear second behind Rombauer in the Preakness Stakes, and he has been competitive in nearly all of his races since breaking his maiden last summer at Ellis Park – even his sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve was good considering his rough trip. Although his pedigree page suggests that Midnight Bourbon is a classic-distance horse, the visual evidence from his races reveals a horse that possesses speed and desire but lacks the stamina for a strong finish. He should be a pace factor in the Travers breaking from the inside post, and if the fractions are modest he could get a call at the top of the stretch, but he’s an outsider as a win candidate. Travers history: Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen has finished third twice in the Travers; one of those horses, Pyro in 2008, was owned by Ron Winchell.
2. Essential Quality (4-5)
Jockey: Luis Saez
Trainer: Brad Cox
Career record: 8 starts – 7 wins – 0 seconds – 0 thirds
Career earnings: $3,545,144
Earnings per start: $443,143
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 109
Pedigree: Tapit – Delightful Quality, Elusive Quality
Color: Gray or roan
Running style: Stalker
Notable achievements and interesting facts: Currently the leader of the 3-year-old male division, Essential Quality figures to be a prohibitive post-time favorite in the Travers Stakes as he seeks to add to his already impressive résumé of big-name races. He’s only lost once, finishing fourth in the May 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve where he raced wide around both turns, rallied in the stretch, and came up a length short of first-place finisher Medina Spirit. Since then, he rebounded to defeat game pacesetter Hot Rod Charlie in the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets – arguably the best race of his career – and then tuned up for the Travers with a win in the Jim Dandy Stakes at the Spa on July 31. In the Jim Dandy, Essential Quality raced wide around both turns again and had to dig down deep to outfinish deep-closing and ground-saving Keepmeinmind by a half-length, but he responded well to the challenge and summoned the stamina, class, and professionalism he’s displayed ever since last fall to get the job done. He’ll face a talented group of opponents in Saturday’s Travers, but one of them will have to take a big leap in development to defeat this champion and also rely on him regressing – which hasn’t happened yet. With little early speed lined up on paper, it would not be surprising to see Luis Saez position Essential Quality close to the lead from the outset, similar to his run in the Belmont Stakes. Travers history: Reigning Eclipse-Award winner Brad Cox makes his second Travers Start following Owendale’s fifth-place finish in 2019. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum won the 2006 Travers with Bernardini under the Darley banner and also picked up another win as Godolphin Racing when Alpha finished in a dead heat for first in 2012. Godolphin also has a second-place and a third-place finish. Luis Saez, currently leading the jockey standings at Saratoga and in a good position to claim his first meet title in a couple of weeks, won the Travers in his first appearance aboard Will Take Charge in 2013 and has also finished third once.
3. Keepmeinmind (6-1)
Jockey: Joel Rosario
Trainer: Robertino Diodoro
Career record: 10 starts – 1 win – 3 seconds – 2 thirds
Career earnings: $654,987
Earnings per start: $65,499
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 106
Pedigree: Laoban – Inclination, by Victory Gallop
Running style: Closer
Notable achievements and interesting facts: This grinding type has recovered the form he showed late in his juvenile season by hitting the board in his past two starts against tough competition. After running seventh in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve and fourth in the Preakness Stakes – closing late in both races but coming nowhere near the leaders – Keepmeinmind turned it up a notch to finish third by a half-length in the Ohio Derby at Thistledown on June 26 and then finish a half-length short again, this time as runner-up to Essential Quality in the Jim Dandy Stakes on July 30 at Saratoga. He earned the first two triple-digit Equibase Speed Figures of his career in the Ohio Derby and Jim Dandy and will face all three of his vanquishers in the Travers as the Ohio Derby 1-2 duo of Masqueparade and King Fury are also slated to join Essential Quality. Keepmeinmind is one of the most dependable runners in his age group – race after race, he sits back in the early going and then methodically makes his way through traffic and tries his best to rally into contention in the homestretch. His last two races are encouraging, and if he can replicate them he definitely has a chance to fill out the exacta in the Travers (saving ground as he did in the Jim Dandy would be a big help). With only one win in 10 career starts, however, it’s hard to envision him in the winner’s circle Saturday evening, especially considering he’s lost to Essential Quality four times already and finished behind him in the Kentucky Derby as well. Travers history: This will be the first Travers for trainer Robertino Diodoro, who’s having a solid Saratoga meet. The late B. Wayne Hughes of co-owner Spendthrift Farm finished fourth in the 2005 Travers with Don’t Get Mad. Joel Rosario gets the call again on Keepmeinmind after riding him for the first time in the Jim Dandy. Rosario has finished third twice in the Travers.
4. Dynamic One (6-1)
Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Career record: 7 starts – 2 wins – 2 seconds – 0 thirds
Career earnings: $260,120
Earnings per start: $37,160
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 103
Pedigree: Union Rags – Beat the Drums, by Smart Strike
Running style: Closer
Notable achievements and interesting facts: This son of Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags comes into the Travers on an upswing. He won one of Saratoga’s preps for the Mid-Summer Derby, the 1 1/8-mile Curlin Stakes, by 1 ¾ lengths on July 30, coming from off the pace and outfinishing Travers foe Miles D in deep stretch. That was a big rebound from his prior race, in which he finished 18th of 19 in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, and the win restored some of the buzz he created when he ran second by a head in the Wood Memorial Stakes Presented by Resorts World Casino at Aqueduct back in April. Truth be told, aside from the Kentucky Derby, Dynamic One has not run a bad race since his debut last fall, and he certainly has the pedigree to excel at a mile and a quarter. Along with his sire’s credentials, he’s from the female family of champion filly Storm Flag Flying, third-place Belmont Stakes filly My Flag, Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Miner’s Mark, and a few other classy long-distance performers (he’s also a relative of Miles D – see that horse’s profile for more). Dynamic One is definitely a cut below Essential Quality on paper but fits in well with the rest of the Travers field, and his win on the Saratoga main track is a bonus. He also retains reigning Eclipse Award-winning jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., who rode him in the Jim Dandy. A must-use exacta filler. Travers history: Todd Pletcher, who was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame earlier this month, won the Travers in 2005 with Flower Alley and in 2011 with Stay Thirsty. He’s also finished second once and third twice. The Phipps family, co-owners of Dynamic One, has won three Travers over the years: Buckpasser in 1966; Easy Goer in 1989; and Rhythm in 1990. Co-owner Repole Stable won the Travers in 2011 with the aforementioned Stay Thirsty.
5. Miles D (12-1)
Jockey: Flavien Prat
Trainer: Chad Brown
Career record: 3 starts – 1 win – 1 second – 0 thirds
Career earnings: $77,280
Earnings per start: $25,760
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 100
Pedigree: Curlin – Sound the Trumpets, by Bernardini
Running style: Stalker
Notable achievements and interesting facts: Lightly raced and cleverly named Miles D enters the Mid-Summer Derby off of a runner-up effort behind Dynamic One in the July 30 Curlin Stakes at Saratoga. He raced from off the pace and made a move through the far turn to grab a brief lead at the top of the stretch of the 1 1/8-mile race, but he could not withstand Dynamic One’s rally and finished 1 ¾ lengths behind that foe. Notably, he was seven lengths clear of third-place First Captain, the race favorite and winner of the Dwyer Stakes. Prior to the Curlin, Miles D broke his maiden in a one-turn mile race at Belmont Park on June 12, which was his second career start after he ran fourth in a high-quality maiden race at Belmont in October 2020. This colt has been patiently handled by Chad Brown while recovering from fractured shin that kept him off the Triple Crown trail and has a superb pedigree. He’s actually related to Dynamic One on his dam’s (mother’s) side as his second dam (maternal grandmother) is millionaire, Grade 1 winner, and third-place Belmont Stakes finisher My Flag – Dynamic One’s third dam (maternal great-grandmother). He faces a tough challenge in the Travers going up against champion Essential Quality and five other contenders who have much more big-race experience, but Miles D is definitely a colt to keep tabs on in the weeks and months ahead. Travers history: Co-owners Peter Brant and Robert LaPenta have made several appearances in the Travers through the years, but never together. LaPenta co-owned 2018 Travers winner Catholic Boy and also finished second once as a sole owner, while Brant finished fourth twice. California-based rider Flavien Prat, who has traveled east to win a handful of marquee races this year including the Preakness Stakes, will be making his Travers debut.
6. Masqueparade (8-1)
Jockey: Miguel Mena
Trainer: Al Stall Jr.
Owner: FTGGG Racing
Career record: 7 starts – 3 wins – 0 seconds – 2 thirds
Career earnings: $494,208
Earnings per start: $70,601
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 108
Pedigree: Upstart – Cry War Eagle, by Any Given Saturday
Running style: Press the pace/stalker
Notable achievements and interesting facts: This talented runner could be part of the early pace in the Travers along with Midnight Bourbon and possibly Essential Quality as he seeks to improve off of his third-place finish to the latter horse in last month’s Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga. Masqueparade contested the pace in the Jim Dandy and briefly took the lead entering the stretch, but he could not match strides with Essential Quality and Keepmeinmind in the final furlong and finished 2 ¾ lengths behind the winner. In his start before that, he was also part of the front rank in the Ohio Derby June 26 at Thistledown and showed determination with a sustained stretch run to hold off late charges from King Fury and Keepmeinmind, scoring by a half-length. Masqueparade first turned heads with a blowout 11 ¾-length win in a 1 1/8-mile allowance-optional claiming race at Churchill Downs on the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve May 1 undercard, earning a 108 Equibase Speed Figure that’s the highest of any horse in the Travers field not named Essential Quality. As such, he’s a logical horse to use in exacta and trifecta tickets for the Travers, although several other contenders have pedigrees more suitable for handling the race’s 1 ¼-mile distance. There’s still a sense of untapped potential with Masqueparade – will he take another step Saturday? Travers history: Al Stall will be making his first Travers appearance, as will Kentucky-based jockey Miguel Mena, who has ridden Masqueparade in all seven of his starts.
7. King Fury (15-1)
Jockey: Jose Ortiz
Trainer: Ken McPeek
Career record: 8 starts – 3 wins – 1 second – 0 thirds
Career earnings: $362,739
Earnings per start: $45,342
Top Equibase Speed Figure: 105
Pedigree: Curlin – Taris, by Flatter
Running style: Closer
Notable achievements and interesting facts: King Fury profiles as an intriguing longshot contender in the Travers as he enters the race off of a nonthreatening 10th-place finish in the Aug. 7 Saratoga Derby Invitational on turf. Trainer Ken McPeek started the Curlin colt in the Saratoga Derby after King Fury and other horses trained by McPeek had to miss planned starts due to an outbreak of equine herpesvirus in their barn shared with another trainer’s horses at Saratoga. This colt was originally slated to start in the Jim Dandy Stakes against Essential Quality on July 30. In his two starts prior to trying turf, he impressively won the Stonestreet Lexington Stakes at Keeneland in April and, after missing the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve due to a minor injury, rallied in the stretch to finish a half-length behind Masqueparade in the Ohio Derby at Thistledown on June 26. If King Fury can regain that improving form in Saturday’s Travers, he could make his presence felt in the stretch, although several other horses lined up for the race also have similar come-from-behind running styles plus experience racing on Saratoga’s dirt track. Travers history: Ken McPeek won the Mid-Summer Derby in memorable fashion when his longshot Golden Ticket finished in a dead heat for first with Alpha in 2012. He’s also finished second once. Jockey Jose Ortiz has finished second twice in the Travers, most recently on Tacitus in 2019.