Battle of the Sexes highlights 149th Travers
By Bob Ehalt
The biggest weekend and most eagerly awaited race of the 40 fabulous days at Saratoga Race Course are on tap along with a matchup loaded with charisma.
Saturday’s $1.25 million Travers Stakes, the 149th edition of the centerpiece of the Saratoga meet, will feature a battle of the sexes when the leading 3-year-old male in training, Good Magic, will take on 10 rivals including the filly Wonder Gadot.
Named after Gal Gadot, the star of the “Wonder Woman” movie, Wonder Gadot will help to offset the absence of the sport’s biggest star, Justify who was retired after becoming the 13th Triple Crown winner.
Runner-up in the Kentucky Oaks and winner of two-thirds of the Canadian Triple Crown against males, Wonder Gadot (5-1 in the morning line) is the first filly to race in the Travers since Davona Dale in 1979. Reflective of the challenge she is facing, a victory would make her the first filly since Lady Rotha in the World War 1-era days of 1915 to prevail in the mile-and-a-quarter Mid-Summer Derby.
“We think she’s special and we’re going to try and prove it,” said trainer Mark Casse.
Though remarkably consistent, the two Canadian Triple Crown races, the Queen’s Plate and the Prince of Wales, represent her lone wins this year. In eight 2018 starts, she also has four seconds, including that runner-up finish to division leader Monomoy Girl in the Kentucky Oaks, and two seconds.
Her most formidable foe figures to be Good Magic, the champion 2-year-old male of 2017 and 2-1 morning-line favorite. Runner-up in the Kentucky Derby behind Justify, the son of Curlin is coming off an impressive win in the $1 million Haskell Invitational for trainer Chad Brown.
“I would say a mile-and-a-quarter is Good Magic’s limit. I thought he ran a great race in the Kentucky Derby and if he runs that (same) race back on Saturday, he’ll be tough,’ Brown said.
Brown also has the second-choice in the Travers in a colt who also finished second to Justify in a Triple Crown. Gronkowski, who has not raced since finishing directly behind the Triple Crown winner in the Belmont, is listed at 3-1 in the morning line.
Named after the zany New England Patriots All-Pro tight end who is a part owner of the colt, Gronkowksi started his career in England and made his debut for Brown in the Belmont Stakes.
“Gronkowski has been training sharper in the morning since the Belmont and has been more aggressive,” Brown said.
Though uncoupled in the wagering, Good Magic and Gronkowski comprise a strong hand for Brown, who has won the last two Eclipse Awards for the sport’s top trainer and is a runaway leader in the training standings at Saratoga.
“They’ve both been training terrific and both are coming off strong works,” said Brown. “I’ve been trying to win this race for a little while and having the top two choices in the race is a good spot to be in.”
Another main challenger figures to be Catholic Boy (8-1), who was a Grade 1 winner on turf in his last start, but also owns a victory on dirt in the Grade 2 Remsen at Aqueduct.
The son of More Than Ready drew post 11 but has the services of five-time Travers-winning jockey Javier Castellano.
“You only get so many chances to run 1 ¼ miles on the dirt as a 3-year-old,” said trainer Jonathan Thomas. “We’d like to leave there running, but we’ll leave that up to Javier. You’ve got a long time to get to the first turn, so it’s not going to be as much a cavalry charge to the first turn.”
The rest of the field includes Trigger Warning (30-1), Bravazo (12-1), Vino Rosso (10-1), Meistermind (30-1), King Zachary (15-1), Mendelssohn (12-1) and Tenfold (8-1), and Catholic Boy (Javier Castellano, 8-1).
Saturday’s 13-race card begins at 11:30 a.m. and post time for the Travers is approximately 5:44 p.m. NBC will air the Travers during the 4-6 p.m. telecast.