The Triple Crown racing series has been less than compelling for most fans this year. That said, think about all the possible storylines setting up for the Grade 1 Travers Stakes in August at Saratoga.
Five horses could make the Travers the race of the year.
RICH STRIKE, EARLY VOTING and EPICENTER are the most important 3-year-olds who might enter, because of their big Triple Crown efforts and overall popularity.
Those three colts offer great storylines for the Travers:
If RICH STRIKE Wins the Belmont Stakes, then Winning the Travers could give him a sizable lead in the 3-year-old division as well as a shot at Horse of the Year, depending on how the older horse division shakes out. If RICH STRIKE loses the Belmont, then Winning the Travers could put him back on track to make the ballot for the 3-year-old Eclipse Award.
What about EARLY VOTING ? After being held out of the Kentucky Derby and skipping the Belmont Stakes, his storyline will be proving himself at 1 1/4 miles. He already Won the Preakness at 1 3/16 miles while showing a new dimension by sitting off another horse rather than setting the pace.
EARLY VOTING could also take a huge step toward the Eclipse Award for 3-year-old males if he could pick up a second Grade 1 with added prestige. The Travers is not a Triple Crown race, but it carries huge weight. For example, look at ESSENTIAL QUALITY and how he Won the Eclipse Award for best 3-year-old last year. He Won the Belmont Stakes as well as the Travers.
As for EPICENTER, well he can take his first step toward re-establishing himself as the top 3-year-old in the division with a Travers Win.
After Winning three Derby trail races at Fair Grounds in the winter and spring, EPICENTER vaulted to the top of the 3-year-old division. He also went into the Kentucky Derby as the expected favorite.
The curtain came down on EPICENTER when he finished 2nd in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. But his stock would rise again if he were to dominate a prep race and take the Travers.
How about two other possible Travers runners who could make the race even more noteworthy ?
Throw in the Derby runner-up ZANDON. He deserves a shot to redeem himself after finishing 3rd to EPICENTER in the Risen Star Stakes (G2) and finishing 3rd in the Kentucky Derby as EPICENTER held him off for 2nd. In between, he Won the Blue Grass Stakes (G1) impressively over SMILE HAPPY.
The 1 1/4-mile Travers distance also seems perfect for MO DONEGAL, who beat ZANDON after a controversial stretch battle in the Remsen Stakes (G2) last December. In his final prep race before the Kentucky Derby, he Won the Wood Memorial Stakes (G2) at Aqueduct by running down the future Preakness Winner EARLY VOTING. He then made a decent closing move for 5th in the Kentucky Derby after drawing the rail post position.
MO DONEGAL could prove himself as the best long-distance router with Wins in the Belmont and Travers. He runs like he never gets tired. He also could prove that he does not need Aqueduct to Win his races.
Those are the five horses who could make the Travers more memorable than usual this year. First and foremost, they all need to remain healthy and get to the Spa in peak condition.
With the shine off of this year’s Triple Crown it seems like all the major storylines are coming together for the accurately titled Midsummer Derby at Saratoga.