Breeders’ Cup Action Returns to Saratoga for Travers

By Teresa Genaro

Breeders’ Cup action returns to Saratoga Race Course on Saturday for NBC’s Summer at Saratoga: Breeders' Cup Challenge Series and the Grade 1 Travers Stakes. The Travers offers a newly bolstered $1.25 million purse, the next engagement in a budding rivalry between two New York-based horses, and a potential coming-out party for a speedy West Coast invader.

The signature race at the Saratoga meeting, the Travers was first run 150 years ago, when Saratoga Race Course opened. Named for William R. Travers, the race recalls the first president of the Saratoga Racing Association, which ran the track until 1955, when it became part of the New York Racing Association.

This year’s Travers features the fourth meeting between Wicked Strong, winner of the Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga last month, and Tonalist, winner of the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes. The two horses first met in February at Gulfstream Park; neither horse emerged with a victory, with Tonalist finishing second, 3 1/4 lengths ahead of Wicked Strong in fourth.

The next match-up came in the Belmont, in which Wicked Strong followed up his fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands with another fourth, but he turned the tables in the Jim Dandy, finishing 2 1/4 lengths ahead of runner-up Tonalist.

Wicked Strong is owned by Boston-based Centennial Farms and his name honors the victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings. Throughout the horse’s career, Centennial has donated a percentage of Wicked Strong’s earnings to The One Fund Boston, which supports the bombing victims. Should Wicked Strong win, his owners will donate 5% of the purse money to the fund, a commitment that will remain in place for the rest of the horse’s career.

Wicked Strong’s trainer Jimmy Jerkens, who won the 2010 Travers with Afleet Express, will also saddle V.E. Day in the Travers.

The morning line favorite for this year’s Travers is California-based Bayern, who has already earned a Breeders’ Cup Classic berth with his impressive 7 1/4-length win in the Grade I William Hill Haskell on July 27 at Monmouth Park. Questions have been raised about his ability to go the 10 furlongs of the Travers, but he trounced his competitors in the 9-furlong Haskell, and if he can carry his brilliant speed for the mile and a quarter, the race may be his to lose.

Trainer Linda Rice, who in 2009 became the first woman to win the Saratoga training title, will try to become the first woman to win the Travers with her late-closing Kid Cruz, who finished third behind Wicked Strong and Tonalist in the Jim Dandy.

Horses can be nominated to the Breeders’ Cup as foals the year they’re born; they can be nominated once their racing careers have begun; and they can be nominated once they’ve become stallions. In most cases, the earlier you nominate, the lower the fees, and once nominated, horses are eligible for the Breeders’ Cup program and races for life. Nominators of horses who win Breeders’ Cup Challenge races earn $10,000.

NBC’s Summer at Saratoga: Breeders' Cup Challenge Series broadcast of the Travers begins at 4:30 PM this Saturday, August 20 and will include coverage of the Grade I Ballerina Stakes, a Challenge Series race for the Filly and Mare Sprint.