Things couldn’t have went much better for the favorites over the weekend as two prep races for the Travers Stakes took place, setting the stage for what should be a terrific battle at Saratoga on August 25th. The Travers Stakes is known to some as the “Midsummer Derby” and is an important part of the season for three-year-olds, as this race sets the stage for the Breeders’ Cup. The horse of the year in the division is still far from settled and the fall races may play a big role in who captures that crown, though it would seem I’ll Have Another is the favorite, despite retiring with an injury just before the Belmont Stakes.
On a sloppy track at Saratoga Park, Godolphin Racings Alpha went off as the 9-5 favorite and he didn’t disappoint. The Kirian McLaughlin trained colt broke from the gate well and moved to the front of the field, setting a patient pace. Alpha was able to lead from wire to wire, holding off an early challenge from Teeth of the Dog, and then beating back Neck n Neck, who came on strong at the top of the back stretch. He took the victory by two lengths and finished the one and 1/8 mile affair in 1:50.47, with Neck n Neck finishing second and the Bob Baffert trained Liaison finishing third after rallying from the back of the field.
On Sunday, Monmouth Park hosted the Haskell Invitational, and for the third consecutive year, a Bob Baffert thoroughbred took home the victory. Paynter, who has had a very spotty career to this point, won his first graded race, on a beautiful day in New Jersey against a six horse field. Paynter did not come off the start very well, as Gemologist took the early lead. Gemologist led the field to the ½ mile mark, which is right where Nonios and Paynter started their challenges. It was Nonios who took over the lead first, as he barreled past the Todd Pletcher trained Gemologist, and Paynter soon followed. The trio ran together around the turn, but at the top of the stretch Nonios and Paynter separated themselves with Paynter eventually pulling away for the win and Gemologist fading as an also-ran. The victory for Paynter earned him $600,000 and put him over the $1 million mark for his career, which didn’t start until he turned three. From here, he is almost certain to run in the Travers Stakes. Two horses that were expected to have an impact coming into the race brought up the rear of the field. Gemologist and Dullahan, who finished third in the Kentucky Derby, face uncertainty about where they will be headed from here.