Smile Politely

Monsters have taken over Saratoga

RoadOnly seven horses will break from the gate of the 140th running of the Grade I $1-million dollar Travers Stakes this Saturday, and for good reason: it’s infested with monsters. OK, maybe not quite saber-toothed monsters, like the kind that lurk in your closet and the shadows under your bed (Go check, I’ll wait…), but nonetheless, there are scary contenders to be found within.

The scariest horse of them all, however, will not be present, allowing the seven Travers hopefuls to breathe a sigh of relief they will not be mauled and left for dead; naturally, I’m talking about the filly, one ravenous Rachel Alexandra. And with the Kentucky Derby winner, Mine That Bird, out recuperating from epiglottis surgery, that leaves a smaller number to squabble for the oldest of racing trophies. But don’t let this news fool you: a less fearsome horse would be a fool to face the foes entering the 2009 Travers.

The most intimidating of these is the imposing Quality Road, a 3-year-old rogue standing at 17 hands, on a roll with two track records in his last two starts at two very different distances. After being sidelined with quarter cracks for the entire Triple Crown, the ‘Road has returned to racing with a vengeance, intent on stamping himself as top 3-year-old male in the division, out to prove just why he was the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby before his Achilles Heel stopped him.

Ready to rip the throat out of Quality Road is the Belmont winner, Summer Bird, up in arms that his dominating victory in the 11/2-miles victory has been overlooked for him to become the second-money favorite. “Did no one see the Haskell!” he has been heard to cry from his stall, where he talks in his sleep. “I was the closest thing to that freak filly, and I was running just off the pace all the while!” Having to satiate himself with the knowledge he was at least able to scare off the 3rd place finisher in that race, Munnings, who is opting to run in the Grade I King’s Bishop at 7 furlongs, Summer Bird has been seen sulking on the Saratoga backstretch, stealing stony glances at the Todd Pletcher barn whenever he lopes by.

MunningsBut no horse complains so much on the backstretch as Kensei, who has been largely ignored at the Asmussen barn thanks to his stablemate: you guessed it, Miss She-Who-Need-Not-Be-Named. “At least,” Kensei has been reported to shout over the road to Summer Bird, “you don’t have to hear Rachel describing her itinerary to fifty reporters a day. How many times do I have to hear about the way she likes her straw arranged in her stall, and how Munnings has a nice behind? It’s disgusting!” In his spare time, Kensei likes to float around smudged hand-made press releases about his victories in the Dwyer and the Jim Dandy, and how the losers in those races have had nightmares of their brush with him ever since. Warrior’s Reward and Charitable Man, the 2-3 finishers in the Jim Dandy who are also entered in the Travers, were not reached for comment.

But the Travers isn’t the only race chock full of imposing horses this Saturday. The Saratoga backstretch is teeming with Eclipse winners and wannabes. One of those champs is Indian Blessing, who, it should be noted, does not answer politely when asked how she feels about being the second-money favorite to Informed Decision in the Grade I Ballerina. In fact, it’s best to just not bring up the odds at all, or anything about her last start at Hollywood Park, where she finished off the board for the first time in her 14-race career. The two fillies have been placed away from each other on the backstretch after Indian Blessing caused a commotion when she spotted Informed Decision having a bath, beginning a tirade about synthetic surfaces only being appropriate for fillies with synthetic parts. Music Note, who was in the top tier in her division last year, is also entered to run in the Ballerina and has stayed away from the girl drama, attempting a comeback of her own since a disappointing 5th place finish in the Ogden Phipps June 13th, her only start of this year.

Meanwhile, the Grade I King’s Bishop field is filled with a cluster of headstrong horses of its own. Munnings, Capt. Candyman Can, Big Drama, Despite the Odds, and Vineyard Haven are culminating in a showdown of sprinters for the 7-furlong race. Munnings has quickly become the darling of the sprinting world after winning the Woody Stephens and the Tom Fool, both Grade II races, before he was outdueled by Summer Bird in the Haskell for second-money and had to settle for third. Capt. Candyman Can is coming off a game second-place finish to Quality Road, when the big bay scorched the track record in the Amsterdam at Saratoga. Vineyard Haven was a rising star last year when he won the Futurity at Belmont and was bought by Sheik Mohammed as a Kentucky Derby prospect; when the gray failed to impress in his only start as a 3-year-old, he was not heard from again for half a year. As sprinters often have to make up for their shortcomings in distance with attitude, the King’s Bishop should prove an interesting stretch battle with a clash of egos. Watch for Big Drama to act, well, dramatic, early, by setting a quick pace when he runs screaming out of the gate.

The graded stakes action at Saratoga starts this Saturday at 2:55pm ET with the Grade III Victory Ride, featuring the last horse ever to beat Rachel Alexandra, Sara Louise. It’s best just to turn on TVG and leave it on from there.

ESPN will be airing the Travers and some undercard races beginning at 4:30pm ET. The post time for the Grade I Travers is approximately 5:46pm ET.

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