The 152nd Travers Stakes, the Mid-Summer Derby, is Saturday, Aug. 28 at Saratoga Race Course. The top race of the summer for 3-year-olds is contested at 1¼ miles with a purse of $1.25 million. Here are the updated profiles of the contenders.
2021 Travers Stakes Contenders
1 MIDNIGHT BOURBON
By Margaret Ransom
Midnight Bourbon, unfortunately, was on the wrong end of a drifting Hot Rod Charlie in his last race, the Haskell Invitational (G1) at Monmouth Park a month ago, and stumbled badly when he clipped heels, tossing jockey Paco Lopez to the track. Both horse and rider were uninjured in the scary spill and the colt will be back in Travers.
Aside from a sixth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby (G1) and the kerfuffle in his last, the son of Tiznow has had a productive 2021. He started with a win in the Lecomte (G3), then was third in the Risen Star (G2) and second in the Louisiana Derby (G2), all at the Fair Grounds prior to the Derby. He then ran second in the Preakness (G2) behind Rombauer.
Midnight Bourbon worked a half-mile in 49.60 on Sunday (Aug. 22) over the Oklahoma training track at Saratoga.
“He’s a very impressive horse,” trainer Steve Asmussen said. “I think we’re obviously very fortunate that he came out of the mishap in the Haskell in good shape and he’s training well, per usual.”
2021 Travers Stakes Entries: Midnight Bourbon
Post position: 1
Trainer: Steve Asmussen
Jockey: Ricardo Santana, Jr.
Owner: Winchell Thoroughbreds
Career record: 10-2-3-2
Career earnings: $673,920
Top Equibase speed figure: 99
Pedigree: Tiznow-Catch The Moon, by Malibu Moon
Running style: Front-runner/stalker
Notes: Midnight Bourbon was bred in Kentucky by Stonestreet Farm and was a $525,000 yearling purchase at Keeneland in September of 2019 … His dam, Catch the Moon, was unraced but has produced three graded stakes winners, including Grade 1 winner Girvin … Asmussen has saddled two Travers starters, Pyro and Gun Runner, and has yet to be represented by a winner … Winchell Thoroughbreds has been represented by two Travers starters, both trained by Asmussen; both Pyro and Gun Runner finished third.
2 ESSENTIAL QUALITY
By Ed McNamara
The best horse of his generation never has run a bad race, and only an endlessly wide trip in the Kentucky Derby (G1) has kept him from being 8-for-8. His talent never has been in question. Neither is his grit after he overcame horrible racing luck on July 31 in Saratoga’s 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy Stakes (G2).
Essential Quality had a nightmare journey in the traditional prep for the Travers Stakes (G1) and still managed to win. He wasn’t fully cranked and had to call on his class to turn back Keepmeinmind by a half-length. Rarely does a 2-5 shot have to work so hard and display such a strong will.
“There was a lot of ground lost today,” trainer Brad Cox said. “When they straightened up in the stretch, I thought, ‘Wow, we’ve been wide both turns,’ and then we see (Keepmeinmind) slip up the inside and look like he had some run left. It made for some anxious moments down the lane.”
Cox figures the hard race will move his superstar forward for the 1 1/4-mile Travers.
“He got something out of it, I do think that,” he said. “I think this was a good tightener for him.”
Eight others have been nominated to the Travers: Keepmeinmind, Curlin Stakes winner Dynamic One, Bourbonic, King Fury, Masqueparade (third in the Jim Dandy), Midnight Bourbon, Miles D and Weyburn.
Dynamic One may have the best chance for the upset.
Betting advice: The odds again will be very short on Essential Quality, who as always should be tough to beat.
If you’re not willing to take even money or less, he’s a must-use in multiple-race wagers.
2021 Travers Stakes Entries: Essential Quality
Post position: TBD
Trainer: Brad Cox
Jockey: Luis Saez
Owner: Godolphin LLC
Career record: 8-7-0-0
Career earnings: $3,545,144
Best Equibase speed rating: 109
Pedigree: Tapit-Delightful Quality, by Elusive Quality
Running style: Stalker
Notes: Essential Quality looked as sharp as ever on Aug. 14, when he worked a bullet 5 furlongs in 59 2/5 seconds at Saratoga … If you’re thinking about trying to beat him, here’s an encouraging factoid. No horse has completed the Jim Dandy-Travers double since Alpha dead-heated with Golden Ticket in 2012. Kiaran McLaughlin, Luis Saez’s agent, trained Alpha … Jimmy Bell, head of Godolphin’s United States operations, on Essential Quality’s essential quality: “The really good horses just show up and find a way to get things done, and he has seemed to do that every start. Consistency has been his hallmark.” … Essential Quality has a pair of Grade 1 wins – the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Belmont Stakes and a pair of Grade 2 wins – the Blue Grass and the Jim Dandy.
By Margaret Ransom
Keepmeinmind had a tremendous juvenile season, breaking his maiden in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs after a second in the Breeders’ Futurity and third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
It has taken the son of Laoban a little bit to get rolling this year, but his last race – a troubled performance to finish second behind champion Essential Quality in the Jim Dandy – was impressive and could be good enough here to claim a win.
He was bred in Kentucky by his late sire Laoban’s owner/breeder Southern Equine Stables and was purchased privately by his current connections. Keepmeinmind is a large horse with no early speed, which is why he does his best running late.
Keepmeinmind has been training exceptionally well over Saratoga’s main track all meet including a half-mile in 47.55 seconds Saturday morning (Aug. 21) under exercise rider Dennis Means.
“He went very good,” trainer Robertino Diodoro said. “He was doing it nice and easy all on his own and with a strong gallop out once again. Touch wood, everything is on schedule. This was easy as could be and I thought Dennis did a good job because he’s not an easy horse to slow down.”
“He needs to have his game face on for game day and be ready to run the race of his life.”
2021 Travers Stakes Entries: Keepmeinmind
Post position: 3
Trainer: Robertino Diodoro
Jockey: Joel Rosario
Owner: Cypress Creek Equine (Kevin Moody), Arnold Bennewith and Spendthrift Farm
Career record: 10-1-3-2
Career earnings: $654,987
Top Equibase speed figure: 106
Pedigree: Laoban-Inclination, by Victory Gallop
Running style: Closer
Notes: Keepmeinmind was named after a song by the Zac Brown Band … Diodoro, a 47-year-old native of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, has about 2,750 victories since hanging his shingle in 1995, including nine in graded stakes … Keepmeinmind was Diodoro’s first Kentucky Derby runner and will be his first Travers starter… The ownership group for this colt – Moody, Bennewith and the late B. Wayne Hughes’ Spendthrift Farm – have yet to be represented by a Travers Stakes winner… Laoban, who died at age 8 at WinStar Farm in May, raced nine times with a single win coming in the 2016 Jim Dandy at Saratoga.
4 DYNAMIC ONE
By Ed McNamara
Todd Pletcher is masterful at training horses to excel off extended layoffs, which is what Dynamic One did July 30 in Saratoga’s 1 1/8-mile Curlin Stakes.
When Irad Ortiz Jr. turned into the stretch he was loaded, and Dynamic One coasted to a 1 3/4-length win that made him a Travers contender. He hadn’t raced since finishing 32 1/4 lengths behind Medina Spirit on May 1 in the Kentucky Derby.
“Todd sent him to Fair Hill to clear his head a little after he was 18th in the Derby,” co-owner Mike Repole told usracing.com. “Todd said he’d always trained like a 1-percenter but wasn’t showing it. After the Curlin, Irad asked why we didn’t run him in the Jim Dandy.”
The next day, Essential Quality overcame massive ground loss to win the Jim Dandy, and Dynamic One will get his chance against the leading 3-year-old in the Travers. Trainer Brad Cox said he thinks Essential Quality prefers 1 1/4 miles to 1 1/8, so Dynamic One will have to improve upon his Curlin performance to compete with the heavy favorite. Racing analyst Andy Serling gives him an outside chance for the upset.
“No question that Dynamic One didn’t face any horse like Essential Quality in the Curlin,” Serling said, “but I wouldn’t discount him off that effort for a trainer who knows how to win big races.”
It was only the second win for Dynamic One in seven career starts, although he was unlucky to lose the Wood Memorial by a head to stablemate Bourbonic.
“He’s growing up mentally,” Ortiz said. “He went by and he kept going. Before he’d look around and play around.”
Dynamic One went from last to first in the Curlin after stalking in his three best races prior to that. That versatility will give Ortiz options against the 7-for-8 Essential Quality, who has won on the lead, from just off the pace and from far back.
“We always felt like there was a lot of talent there,” Pletcher said. “It’s taken (Dynamic One) a little while to mentally put it all together, but the Curlin was his most professional race.”
Betting advice: If Dynamic One can repeat it and Essential Quality regresses after hard-fought wins in the Belmont Stakes and Jim Dandy, Pletcher might get his third Travers trophy. I won’t be risking a lot while opposing Essential Quality, but a moderate win bet on Dynamic One and an exacta box with the favorite feels like a reasonable strategy. I’d also use both in any pick 3, pick 4 or pick 5 you play.
2021 Travers Stakes Entries: Dynamic One
Post position: 4
Trainer: Todd Pletcher
Jockey: Irad Ortiz, Jr.
Owner: Repole Stable, Phipps Stable and St. Elias Stable
Career record: 7-2-2-0
Career earnings: $260,120
Best Equibase speed rating: 103
Pedigree: Union Rags-Beat the Drums, by Smart Strike
Running style: Closer/stalker
Notes: Staying 10 furlongs should be no problem for Dynamic One, a son of Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags. Dynamic One also is a grandson of Smart Strike, the sire of champions English Channel and Curlin. English Channel won the 1 1/2-mile Breeders’ Cup Turf, and two-time Horse of the Year Curlin took the Breeders’ Cup Classic and the Dubai World Cup, both at 1 1/4 miles … Pletcher, a recent inductee to the Hall of Fame, won the Travers with Flower Alley (2005) and Repole’s Stay Thirsty (2011) … Ortiz was reunited with Dynamic One in the Curlin after riding him in his first three starts. Kendrick Carmouche was aboard when the colt broke his maiden by 5 1/4 lengths next time out, and Irad’s brother, Jose, rode him in the Wood Memorial and the Derby.
5 MILES D
By Richard Rosenblatt
If trainer Chad Brown wins his first Travers on Saturday with Miles D, it will be considered one of the biggest upsets at a track known as the “Graveyard of Champions.”
That champion would be Essential Quality (2-year-old Eclipse Award winner), currently the nation’s top 3-year-old, and the 4-5 favorite for the Mid-Summer Derby at Saratoga.
“He’s obviously a bit of a longshot in the race, so he’s going to have to step up,” Brown said of what will be his 12th starter on the biggest day of the Saratoga meet. “I’m thankful to have a horse in the race and hopefully he runs the race of his life and will be right there.”
The lightly-raced Miles D is making the fourth start of his career. A son of two-time Horse of the Year Curlin, he ran fourth in his only race as a 2-year-old and broke his maiden at Belmont on June 12 in his 3-year-old debut.
He stepped up and ran second to Dynamic One in the 1 1/8-mile Curlin on July 30 at the Spa. Dynamic One is also entered in the seven-horse Travers field.
Can he challenge Essential Quality? We don’t think so.
2021 Travers Stakes Entries: Miles D
Post position: 5
Trainer: Chad Brown
Jockey: Flavien Prat
Owners: Peter Brant, Robert LaPenta
Career record: 3-1-1-0
Career earnings: $77,280
Top Equibase speed figure: 100
Pedigree: Curlin-Sound the Trumpets, by Bernardini
Running style: Closer
Notes: Brown is 0-for-11 in the seven Travers he’s been part of – his best finisher was Gift Box, who ran fourth in 2106 … Prat picks up the mount after a strong Triple Crown run – he won the Preakness aboard Rombauer; finished second about Hot Rod Charlie in the Belmont Stakes; and was third aboard Hot Rod Charlie in the Kentucky Derby.
By Richard Rosenblatt
A better post position in the Travers may or may not help Masqueparade come up with a better finish than third in the five-horse Jim Dandy last month, but trainer Al Stall, Jr., makes his case for improvement:
“I love the draw. It’s completely different than the Jim Dandy draw,” he said after his colt drew the No. 6 post in a seven-horse field for the 152nd edition of the Mid-Summer Derby. “Being on the outside, we can chase some speed. If there’s no speed, we can lay very close. He can be more comfortable.
“In the Jim Dandy, he was trapped inside between speed horses (Dr. Jack and Weyburn), so we couldn’t get anything done because they were shuffling us back and we were last on the backside. Now he can float away from there and see how things go. He’s got good natural speed, so I really like where we are. I think he deserves a chance.”
Masqueparade had won three in a row, including the Ohio Derby leading up to the Jim Dandy, so Stall must feel his colt has a decent chance, even against odds-on choice Essential Quality. A top three finish is a good possibility.
2021 Travers Stakes Entries: Masqueparade
Post position: 6
Trainer: Al Stall, Jr.
Jockey: Miguel Mena
Owner: FTGGG Racing
Career record: 7-3-0-2
Career earnings: $494,208
Top Equibase speed figure: 108
Pedigree: Upstart-Cry War Eagle, by Any Given Saturday
Running style: Stalker
Notes: Stall saddles his first Travers starter; he won the 2010 Whitney with Blame, the only horse to beat the Hall of Fame mare Zenyatta (in the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Classic) … Mena, who rides predominantly at Ellis Park and Indiana Grand, has been aboard for all Masqueparade’s starts.
7 KING FURY
By Margaret Ransom
King Fury has had a bit of a rocky road in his eight-race career. After an eye-popping, off-the-pace victory at Churchill Downs in his debut a year ago, he has had mixed success in stakes company, winning the Lexington Stakes and another listed stakes.
He narrowly made the field for the Kentucky Derby only to be scratched after spiking a fever the day before and has not won a race in two starts since, though he did finish a decent second in the Ohio Derby. In his last start, though, he clearly declared that a turf career was not in his future by beating just one in the Saratoga Derby Invitational three weeks ago.
Tossing that effort out, the son of Curlin returns to the main track, though maybe not a softer spot.
King Fury, under Jose Ortiz, worked 5 furlongs in 1:01.13 on Saturday (Aug. 21) in his final pre-race drill for the Travers.
“It was a solid breeze,” trainer Kenny McPeek said. “We caught him in a minute. It was a nice solid maintenance breeze. The horse can run all day. He’s coming into the race great. I think a mile and a quarter will be right up his alley.”
“He’s a horse that won’t have any trouble with the distance. He fits fine. The horses that ran in the Jim Dandy, he’d actually beaten the horse that ran second [Keepmeinmind] in the Ohio Derby and he had a troubled trip when he did that. If he jumps to another level, I think we’re good. The turf race was probably a bad idea in hindsight.”
2021 Travers Stakes Entries: King Fury
Post position: 7
Trainer: Kenny McPeek
Jockey: Jose Ortiz
Owners: Three Chimneys Farm (Goncalo Torrealba) and Fern Circle Stables (Paul Fireman)
Career record: 8-3-1-0
Career earnings: $362,769
Top Equibase speed figure: 99
Pedigree: Curlin-Taris, by Flatter
Running style: Frontrunner/stalker
Notes: McPeek has sent out seven Travers starters, his Golden Ticket dead-heated for the victory with Alpha in 2012 … Colt is named for heavyweight champion boxer Tyson Fury … McPeek paid $950,000 for King Fury as a Fasig-Tipton Saratoga Select yearling two years ago … Heider Family Stable, who bought the colt’s dam, Taris, privately after she retired … trainer Simon Callaghan previously purchased Taris for $2.35 million as a racing prospect at Keeneland in 2014 for his longtime clients, Michael Tabor, Derrick Smith and Mrs. John Magnier of Coolmore … Jockey Jose Ortiz has ridden seven Travers starters without a winner.
2021 Travers Stakes Odds
|1||Midnight Bourbon||9-2||Ricardo Santa Ana Jr.||Steve Asmussen|
|2||Essential Quality||4-5||Luis Saez||Brad Cox|
|3||Keepmeinmind||6-1||Joel Rosario||Robertino Diodoro|
|4||Dynamic One||6-1||Irad Ortiz Jr||Todd Pletcher|
|5||Miles D||12-1||Flavien Prat||Chad Brown|
|6||Masqueparade||8-1||Miguel Mena||Albert M.Stall Jr|
|7||King Fury||15-1||Jose Ortiz||Kenneth McPeek|