By Nicholas Godfrey
USA: Highlight of another top-quality US programme on Saturday is the Travers Stakes, in which Tiz The Law seeks to underline his credentials as the number one three-year-old in the country.
In this topsy-turvy season, the $1 million ‘midsummer derby’ takes place before both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes – but after the Belmont Stakes, where Tiz The Law (Barclay Tagg/Manny Franco) added to his Florida Derby triumph with another emphatic victory.
Revised US Triple Crown for 2020
Sackatoga Stable’s New York-bred is favourite for the Kentucky Derby on September 5, a race his popular connections won with Funny Cide back in 2003.
First, though, comes the Travers at the venue known as the ‘Graveyard of Favorites’, where his chief rivals is late-maturing Los Alamitos Derby winner Uncle Chuck (Bob Baffert/Luis Saez), who is trading as second favourite for the Kentucky Derby with British bookmakers.
He looks sure sure to be a warm order given the identity of his trainer, whose three previous winners include Arrogate – but, somewhat notoriously, not American Pharoah, who was stunned here by Keen Ice after his Triple Crown in 2015. Progressive Country Grammer (Chad Brown/Irad Ortiz) won the Peter Pan Stakes last time out.
After her spectacular 19-length Acorn Stakes romp, Kentucky Oaks favourite Gamine (Bob Baffert/John Velazquez) cuts back in trip for the Test (10.39pm BST), while six-year-old Come Dancing (Carlos Martin/Javier Castellano) is out for a repeat success in the G1 Ballerina (8.42pm BST) against last year’s Oaks winner Serengeti Empress (Tom Amoss/Luis Saez).
Shall we talk about it?
Travers Stakes G1 $1m 1m2f, dirt, 3yo (11.15pm BST)
Country Grammer: “He’s a May foal and he was always destined to fill out and get stronger as he goes along. He’s looking for more ground. He’s going to have to step it up obviously on short rest and the fact that it’s a much tougher race. But the horse, physically, is doing everything you want him to do. We’re excited to participate and give him a shot.” Chad Brown (trainer)
Max Player: “He was closing ground at the end of the mile and an eighth in the Belmont, so I’m hoping the extra distance only works in his favour. It would be great if we had an honest pace in this race, so it would set up better for a horse coming from off the pace.” Linda Rice (trainer)
Tiz The Law: “He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do; we’ve been very fortunate. I don’t think any distance makes a difference for this horse. From what I’ve seen, I just don’t have any feeling that he can’t handle it. I’ve never seen him take a deep breath; I’ve never had him out of breath after a workout. His lungs settle right down and nothing seems to be a hazard. I could be all wrong in that. It might change in another eighth of a mile, I don’t know, but I’ve got no reason to worry about it.” Barclay Tagg (trainer)
Uncle Chuck: “He’s quick – he’s a big, tall horse but he’s really quick on his feet. He’s got a tremendous stride. That’s why I thought the mile and a quarter would suit him well but Tiz The Law looks unbelievable. I watched his last work and he looked tremendous, so Uncle Chuck will have to step it up. He’s only had two races, but they were pretty impressive. The talent is there, he’s just still figuring it out and putting it together.” Bob Baffert (trainer)
Test Stakes G1 $300,000 7f, dirt, 3yo fillies (10.39pm BST)
Gamine: “We’re keeping her one turn. I would have liked to stretch her out one more time, but the timing wasn’t just right for it. She’s doing really well. She’s a really exciting filly, so hopefully she runs as well as in the past and then we can run her in the Kentucky Oaks.” Bob Baffert (trainer)
Perfect Alibi: “She’s not a very good work horse, which made it difficult coming off the long layoff [in the Acorn]. It was such a crazy race and the one filly [Gamine] was so awesome, it’s hard to say what happened. I’m not sure what to expect this weekend, but the good thing is that she has shown she likes Saratoga. I’m hoping being at Saratoga will push her along and help her run a little better. We thought about finding an easier spot, but we know how much she likes it there.” Mark Casse (trainer)
Venetian Harbor: “She’s been beaten by two very good fillies going long, which is probably more what those fillies wanted to do, so we’ll see how she runs here with a cutback in distance. She’s settled in really well and she’s a smart filly. She’s very well-balanced. She’s a nice filly with a good mind and she tries hard.” Aimee Dollase (assistant to trainer Richard Baltas)
Ballerina Stakes G1 $300,000 7f, dirt, 3yo+ f/m (8.42pm BST)
Come Dancing: “She really seems like she’s thriving. She loves Saratoga. She’s put on some weight since her last race and everything has gone pretty good. We haven’t had any setbacks, haven’t missed any training, so I’m excited about the opportunity for her to do something special and hopefully get back-to-back Ballerinas. That would be like a dream.” Carlos Martin (trainer)
Serengeti Empress: “The move to shorten up to seven-eighths has a lot to do with last summer at Saratoga. That was a really good seven-eighths race for her, so we feel that this might be something that we can use to our advantage. That was last year and it’s this year now. A lot will be made of what Serengeti is right now compared to what she was last year at this time. That’s a fair question. All I can tell you is that she is doing well and we’re very comfortable with trying her at seven-eighths.” Tom Amoss (trainer)
• Visit the NYRA Saratoga website
• Find out more about the Tiz The Law team at the Sackatoga Stable website