Although Epicenter may have been installed as the heavy favorite for the Travers Stakes regardless of his opposition, the scratch of top rival Charge It changes the tenor of Saturday’s Midsummer Derby dramatically.
Charge It emerged as the wise guys’ pick for the Travers after notching a resounding 23-length win in last month’s Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park. But Todd Pletcher decided to scratch the 3-year-old son of Tapit last weekend after discovering an abscess under the sole of Charge It’s hoof.
The unfortunate scratch could alter the dynamics of the Grade I Travers from a tactical standpoint. Without the early speed of Charge It, jockey Joel Rosario can hang back on the 7/5 betting favorite Epicenter and stalk a plodding pace. In last month’s Jim Dandy Stakes on the same track at Saratoga Race Course, Rosario patiently waited as Jose Ortiz led Early Voting through moderate fractions of 24.2 seconds for the first quarter and 48.3 in the half. It was not until the top of the stretch, with an eighth of a mile left, that Rosario pounced.
The ice cold TRIFECTA will be……???
IF YOU RETWEET THIS AND POST THE WINNING ICE-COLD TRIFECTA I’ll send YOU a GiddyUpBets t-shirt pic.twitter.com/Bq223w7O77
— GiddyUpBets (@GiddyUpBets) August 23, 2022
From there, Epicenter drew away down the stretch, defeating Zandon by 1½ lengths. Both Zandon and Early Voting will return in the Travers, which will be contested on Saturday at the classic distance of 10 furlongs. Zandon is one of three horses in the field that will be saddled by trainer Chad Brown. Brown has returned to Saratoga after his arrest last week in connection with domestic violence allegations.
Zandon finished third in the Kentucky Derby behind Rich Strike and Epicenter.
“Zandon will have to find a way to turn the tables on Epicenter,” Brown told NYRA.com. “He’s had dead aim on him twice now and couldn’t get by him. Now he has to do it going a mile and a quarter, so he has his work cut out for him.”
Each year, the Travers is typically the most prestigious race for 3-year-old males outside of the Triple Crown. Epicenter has finished in the money in all six of his starts this year, including three victories.
The field also features Haskell winner Cyberknife, the second choice at 7/2, and Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike. Cyberknife rallied in the Haskell when jockey Florent Geroux scraped the paint along the rail to edge Taiba at the wire. In winning his second career Grade I, Cyberknife set a track record at nine furlongs in 1:48.99.
In May, Rich Strike shocked the racing world when he captured the Run for the Roses at improbable odds of 80/1. But the public has soured a little on the Derby champion after a disappointing performance in the Belmont Stakes, where he finished a non-threatening sixth.
Rich Strike breezed five-eighths of a mile last weekend at Saratoga in 59.82 seconds.
“He worked faster than we thought he would, but he did it easily,” trainer Eric Reed told NYRA.com. “He did it all on his own. He was galloping over the track.”
Right row, Stats Race Lens gives Rich Strike a 4.2% chance of winning the Travers, making him the second-least likely winner.
If you like anyone else in there, even Epicenter, you almost have to bet them, since all the money on Rich Strike will inflate the odds on the others.
— John Piassek (@theyreoff) August 26, 2022
Johnny V wins 1,000th at the Spa
After John Velazquez held off a charging Tizzy in the Sky in Race 8 on Thursday, an unexpected guest led the triumphant horse Precursory back to the winner’s circle.
Velazquez received a rousing applause from the Saratoga crowd when he captured his 1,000th career victory at the famed track. The veteran jockey expected trainer Bill Mott to guide Precursory back to the winner’s circle. Instead, he was greeted by his wife Leona, who performed the honors.
John Velazquez @ljlmvel becomes first rider in Saratoga history to collect 1⃣,0⃣0⃣0⃣ wins.
John has won at least one race every Spa season for an incredible 33 straight years.
1st Saratoga win Aug. 5, 1990 – Color Blue, trainer John Forbes pic.twitter.com/dnmMK0g3oC
— Racing Stats & Info (@GaryDougherty) August 25, 2022
Velazquez holds track records for overall wins, stakes victories with 198, and Grade I wins with 48. In 2005, Velazquez won the Travers aboard Flower Alley. He also captured the Saratoga jockey title in 2004 with a then-record 64 wins on the meet. Velazquez indicated Thursday that he did not change much about his approach as the milestone approached.
“I go race by race and try to study the race, see who is the competition, and where I should be. I don’t try to push it,” Velazquez said.
BBQ at The Barn raises thousands for TRF
A crowd of more than 400 attendees braved torrential rains, hail, and intermittent power outages on Tuesday for the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s (TRF) annual BBQ at the Barn event.
Heavy rainstorms on Tuesday evening in Saratoga left a barn at the Saratoga Winery lined with puddles throughout the highly anticipated charity event. Each summer, the event benefits TRF, a national organization devoted to saving retired thoroughbred horses from possible neglect, abuse, and slaughter. New York Rep. Paul Tonko, NBC Sports racing analyst Donna Brothers, and Hall of Fame jockey Ramon Dominguez were among the attendees.
“This is truly a gathering in the winner’s circle in many, many ways,” Tonko told the assembled crowd.
We’re proud to help sponsor the @trfinc BBQ for a 2nd straight year and had a fantastic time tonight as the proceeds help benefit the over 450 retired race horses in their care! pic.twitter.com/qpIA16oWNn
— America’s Pastime Stables (@APStables) August 24, 2022
The dinner raised more than $40,000 from an assortment of sponsors, as well as thousands more from a silent auction. The fundraiser came on the heels of a discussion at last week’s Racing and Gaming Conference at Saratoga, where one panel addressed issues concerning the aftercare of thoroughbred racehorses once their racing careers come to an end. Members of the panel noted that the aftercare industry could benefit from statutory mandates that require local tracks to earmark a small percentage of purse winnings to aftercare programs in the area.
“We need people within the sport to step up to the plate and do what is right for these equine athletes,” Dominguez told US Bets.
By next year’s Travers, there is a possibility that NYRA Bets could offer a litany of exotic props as an additive to its traditional betting menu. The props could include creative wagers on the number of wins a jockey will record on a daily card as well as head-to-head bets between top horses in a prominent race. NYRA CEO David O’Rourke even took it one step further. Following a panel at the conference, O’Rourke outlined one scenario where NYRA could construct a prop on the fly based on a debate between NYRA Live broadcasters Andy Serling and Jonathon Kinchen on a given race.
“It’s almost for fun, but it gets people engaged and gives them an opinion on a race that they might not have already had,” O’Rourke told US Bets.
There are still regulatory hurdles to overcome. While fixed-odds horse racing is still not legal in New York, NYRA has urged the legislature to make the requisite changes in the coming months. Under the Interstate Horse Racing Act, NYRA cannot distribute a fixed-odds wager to other states until the wager is legal in the residing state — in this case, New York.
“We think it should be a relatively benign ask,” O’Rourke added. “I think that’ll get done. By next year I give it a 50/50 chance.”
Photo: Robert Goddin/USA TODAY