Travers Winner May Not Go To Breeders


Missing a large patch of red carnations at one end, the traditional winner’s blanket was draped over a white-painted wooden railing in the middle of the courtyard by barn 75 on the Oklahoma Training Track backstretch on Sunday morning, illuminated by the sun from a cloudless blue sky.

Making his Grade 1 debut, Afleet Express earned the floral reward for his dramatic nose victory over Fly Down in the $1-million Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday.

“We knocked one out yesterday,” winning trainer Jimmy Jerkens said. “I was hoping I didn’t wake up and it was all a dream. It was a big thrill for all of us, the whole crew. It’s great. It’s very satisfying, that’s for sure. That’s why we work seven days a week, 365 days a year, so that once in a while that can happen.”

It was the first Travers victory in his first try for Jerkens, the son of Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens, 81. His father is winless in five attempts in the premier race at Saratoga, finishing second with Devil His Due in 1992.

“What a thrill,” said Allen Jerkens, who watched the race on television at his home in Saratoga Springs, New York. “I thought he won. I was afraid to say it, but I thought he had his nose in there.”

Owned by Martin Cherry and Gainesway Farm, Afleet Express became the first horse to miss the Triple Crown series and win the Travers since Coronado’s Quest in 1998. He won the Pegasus Stakes (G3) in June and was a fast-closing third in the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2), Saratoga’s traditional local Travers prep.

“I think he learned a lot from his last race,” Jerkens said. “He gave every indication he was going to run good again. He ran up against the dirt much better than he did last time. You could see the difference in him.”

Jerkens was unsure what the next step was for Afleet Express, but did not think the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) on November 6 at Churchill Downs was in his future.

“I don’t think so,” he said. “Nothing’s out of the question, but I wouldn’t think we would. I really don’t know. It’s too early to tell. He looks good. He ate good, and he didn’t act like he was knocked out, so that’s a good sign.”

Fly Down gave Racing Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito his fifth runner-up finish in the Travers. A chestnut colt by 2003 Horse of the Year Mineshaft, Fly Down was fifth, beaten by 4 ½ lengths, in the Jim Dandy after being forced to check late.

“I don’t know what to say,” said Zito, who also trains Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) runner-up Ice Box and Preakness Stakes (G1) third-place finisher Jackson Bend. “It’s frustrating, but we’ve got to be grateful to be in these races, that’s for sure. I’ve got to be grateful that way and think about that, but on the other hand, getting beat all these races is tough.

“Fly Down obviously ran a winning race. A nose here or there, that’s all. I thought like maybe he [got there], because he’s so long. It was a really tough race. It’s just a tough break, that’s all I can say. We do the best we can.”

Zito is eyeing the Breeders’ Cup for Fly Down, runner-up in the Belmont Stakes (G1), and may use the Jockey Club Gold Cup (G1) on October 2 at Belmont Park to get there.

“The goal would be to somehow try to get him to the Breeders’ Cup Classic,” he said. “I don’t know what races we’ll pick yet. We’ll just wait it out. Hopefully, he’s okay and if that’s the case, then we’ll see.”

Zito’s two other Travers starters, pacesetter Miner’s Reserve and Ice Box, finished seventh and eighth, respectively. Miner’s Reserve emerged from the Travers with a right front foot injury.

“I’m a little worried about his foot,” Zito said. “We X-rayed him and it was okay. Hopefully, he’s going to be all right, but it looks like he has a really severe bruised foot. Let’s hope that’s it. He was in front all the way, and I don’t know if that made him stop or the mile and a quarter made him stop.

“Ice Box came back good. We scoped him and didn’t find any displacement or anything. I don’t know what it is, to be honest with you. I’m a little disappointed in him. He was far back but so was Fly Down. It wasn’t a closing track yesterday, but definitely disappointing. Maybe we’ll take some precautions and check him out real good and see what the story is.”

Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (G1) winner Super Saver never was in contention and finished tenth of 11 horses, beaten by 24 ½ lengths, easily the worst effort of his career. Since the Derby, he finished eighth in the Preakness and fourth in the IZOD Haskell Invitational Stakes (G1).

“I think the first turn was sort of an interesting logjam for everybody,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “I thought once we negotiated the first part of the turn, he was able to drop in and get good position and angled in down the backside. He was kind of following the eventual winner and just kind of came up empty inside the eighth pole.”

After consulting with owner WinStar Farm’s Racing Manager Elliott Walden, Pletcher said Super Saver probably will undergo testing to see if there is an underlying cause for his recent dull efforts.

“We’re going to do some more thorough diagnostics and see if there’s something that’s maybe lying beneath the surface that’s causing him not to perform up to his standards,” Pletcher said.

by Phil Janack


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