By Jarrod Horak
Travers week has arrived and the stakes schedule is off the hook. We have the Grade 2 Ballston Spa on Thursday, the Grade 1 Personal Ensign on Friday, five Grade 1 races including the Travers on Saturday, and six New York-bred stakes on Sunday. Let’s start with the weekday stakes, and I will be back with a look at the big weekend races later this week.
John’s Call – August 23 – Race 7 – 1 5/8 miles turf
This marathon turf race is all about stamina and Pioneering Spirit is the 5-2 morning line favorite. He has risen up the ranks rapidly. He rallied to win his last four starts on turf. The son of American Pharoah graduated in a flat mile maiden claimer on May 11, and clicked right back in a starter allowance affair at 1 1/8 miles on June 4. He captured an entry level affair at 1 1/4 miles on June 24, and was sharp in a local optional claiming affair at 1 3/8 miles on July 27. Linda Rice claimed him away from Todd Pletcher for $40k on March 24, and he has banked almost $200k this year. The razor sharp gelding is the one to hold off under his winning pilot Jose Ortiz.
British Royalty can run all day, and he is actually cutting back in distance after a show finish in the Belmont Gold Cup (G2) at two miles. He also finished second in that race last year. He captured the Breeders’ Stakes at 1 1/2 miles on turf as a sophomore, and that was the third leg of the Canadian Triple Crown. He was also second in the Singspiel (G3) at 1 3/8 miles on turf at Woodbine last fall. The main concern is his lack of a winning spirit. He is 2-for-18 lifetime and Kazushi Kimura is in from Woodbine to ride.
Tawny Port moved to the Christophe Clement barn on July 30 and he slowly weakened in the stretch after chasing the pace from second. That was the Bowling Green (G2) at 1 3/8 miles and Rosario knows him now. He should be forwardly placed and might move forward in his second start after a layoff. Last year, he captured a pair of Grade 3 races on dirt, the Lexington at Keeneland and Ohio Derby at Thistledown.
Sy Dog is interesting at 5-1 on the line for Graham Motion. He captured the Central Park as a juvenile and the Transylvania (G3) last year. He moved forward in a show finish at Colonial Downs in his second start this year on Aug. 3, and this is his longest and toughest career test.
Good Skate, Serifos, early runner Burning Bright, pace player Tide of the Sea, and first time gelding The Reds complete the turf field. Mystic Night is entered for main track only purposes.
Pioneering Spirit is the most likely winner but he probably won’t offer much value. British Royalty looks like a good bet to hit the board. Tawny Port meets easier and might have more to offer in his second start on turf. Sy Dog makes his third start of the year and still has some upside, and the price might be right.
Grade 2 Ballston Spa – August 24 – Race 9 – 1 1/16 miles inner turf
Chad Brown holds all the aces in this race. He has four entrants including likely favorite Technical Analysis. His talented mare is 4-for-5 with a runner-up finish at Saratoga. She captured the Lake George and Lake Placid in 2021. Last year, she was second in the Diana (G1) and first in the Ballston Spa (G2). She was the favorite in the restricted De La Rose on Aug. 2, and she got to the front and kept on going under her regular pilot Jose Ortiz.
Consumer Spending won her last two Grade 3 turf routes at Monmouth Park (Eatontown, Matchmaker). Chad Brown’s filly does some of her best work at this distance on turf and figures to stalk the pace under Joel Rosario.
Fluffy Socks ran her stablemate Technical Analysis to a half-length in this race last summer. She started her current campaign with a win in the Grade 2 Distaff Turf Mile, and ran last in the local Diana (G1) on July 15. Her winning rider Irad Ortiz Jr. is back in the irons and she will try to get involved late.
Speak of the Devil is the final Chad Brown trainee and she has not been the same since a strong last-to-first victory in the Distaff Turf Mile (G2) in 2022. She might not mind some give in the ground. She won a pair of flat mile turf races on heavy ground at St. Cloud in France in 2021. Flavien Prat sticks with the late striding mare.
The Ballston Spa field also includes Group 3 winner Jumbly (GB), Perfect Sting winner Evvie Jets, Matchmaker runner-up Surprisingly, 1-for-13 filly Sister Bridget, and late running Matchmaker show finisher Gam’s Mission. Into Happiness is the lone main track only entrant.
Technical Analysis is the one to catch and is a strong prominent throughout threat in her current form. Evvie Jets and/or Sister Bridget could apply early pressure. Fluffy Socks is the most likely upsetter if the pace heats up.
Smart N Fancy – August 25 – Race 3 – 5 1/2 furlongs turf
Roses for Debra is the deserving favorite and she is a win machine. She is 6-for-8 overall and has been untouchable since moving to the Christophe Clement barn this year. She easily captured all three turf sprints from off the pace including the Caress (G3) at this course and distance on July 22. Irad Ortiz Jr. got to know her last time and she could easily run past this group.
Bubble Rock looks like the target once again. She set the pace and missed by a nose in the Intercontinental (G3) on June 9, and showed the way early and held the show in the local Caress last time. She reconnects with Joel Rosario and she seems to respond to his handling.
Poppy Flower traded stakes decisions with Bubble Rock in the License Fee and Intercontinental at Belmont Park earlier this year. She was a flat fourth in the Caress last time but that race did not set up for her. She reunites with her winning rider Jose Ortiz and can get involved late if the pace is honest.
The field also includes consistent check earner Can’t Buy Love, multiple stakes winner Train to Artemus, and longshot Talkin Typsy. Self Isolation and Bluesfield are entered for main track only purposes, and both have won their fair share on dirt.
Roses for Debra is strictly the one to beat. Bubble Rock might be able to turn the tables on the favorite if she gets clear early. Poppy Flower is a decent sort but the race flow might work against her.
Grade 1 Personal Ensign – August 25 – Race 9 – 1 1/8 miles dirt
This race goes straight through talented Todd Pletcher trainee Nest. She is a perfect 3-for-3 at Saratoga. She cruised in the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) and Alabama (G1) last summer, and looked sharp in her Grade 2 Shuvee return last month. Irad Ortiz Jr. should have her in a great stalking spot behind the inside speed Idiomatic, and she should get the jump on her main rivals.
Clairiere is an outstanding closer for Steve Asmussen. She frequently puts in a strong late run and has banked more than $3 million in her career. She was no match for Nest in the Shuvee but that 4-horse affair did not set up for her. This is not her preferred course or distance. She is 1-for-5 at Saratoga and was unplaced in this event last year. She is just 1-for-7 at 1 1/8 miles.
Secret Oath tries to bounce back for D. Wayne Lukas. Last year’s Kentucky Oaks winner settled for the place behind Nest in a pair of local Grade 1 stakes races last summer. She traded places with Clairiere earlier this year in the Azeri (G2) and Apple Blossom (G1). She missed by a neck in the La Troienne (G1) at Churchill on May 5 and was given a freshening after finishing up the track in the Ogden Phipps (G1) at Belmont on June 10. She fired a local training track bullet for this engagement on Aug. 12, and she reconnects with her 2022 pilot Luis Saez.
Idiomatic won her last two graded dirt routes in the Shawnee (G3) and Delaware Handicap (G2). Brad Cox’s early-pressing filly should impact the pace from the inside post and we will find out how good she is in this spot. She has never seen a classy field like this.
Sixtythreecaliber won the Grade 3 Comely last year and placed in the Shawnee and Lady Jacqueline in 2023. She has some ability for Tom Amoss but this is a tall task.
Malloy cruised to an easy win in a race originally scheduled for turf at Hawthorne last time. This field is way better and she is not fast enough to compete with these.
Here is how this race should play out. Idiomatic sets a controlled tempo from the inside post and Nest tracks the pace from second. Secret Oath and Clairiere will try to get involved from off the pace. Nest seemingly has every advantage and should win this if she makes progress in her second start of the year. Idiomatic always fires trifecta shots and might be able to complete the exacta given the expected race flow. Secret Oath has been energetic in her training and should return to form. Clairiere will put in her usual solid late run.
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