(Scotland / Photo Courtesy of NYRA)
From the NYRA Media Team:
LNJ Foxwoods’ Kentucky homebred Scotland will have history on his side when he tackles Grade 1 Kentucky Derby winner Mage, Grade 1 Preakness hero National Treasure and Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets victor Arcangelo in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers at Saratoga Race Course.
This will be just the fourth time in its 154-year history that the three Triple Crown race winners will meet in the Travers. In each of the three previous instances, they were beaten by a horse that was not on the Triple Crown trail.
Sun Briar (1918), Runaway Groom (1982) and West Coast (2017) all delivered upsets in the Travers. To add his name to the list, Scotland will also have to defeat Grade 1-winning stablemates Forte, the Champion 2-Year-Old Colt of 2022 that is the Travers program favorite, and Tapit Trice; as well as graded stakes-winner Disarm.
Scotland will be making just his fifth start and first against graded company in the Travers, but is coming in off back-to-back wins including a 3 1/4-length triumph in the July 21 Curlin, both his Saratoga and two-turn debut.
“Well, we couldn’t have picked a tougher spot,” Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott said. “I think it’s a great race. You’ve got the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont winner plus the Champion 2-year-old and another one that’s coming off a couple good races. It’s a good field. You can’t ask for much more than that. They’re all here.
“By this time of year with your 3-year-olds, the ones that have made it and are tough enough to make it this far are usually a pretty high-quality type of horses,” he added. “A lot of horses [got] eliminated in the Derby or the Preakness or the Belmont and people discovered, ‘Well, we don’t need to be running against Forte or the group that’s in there.’ They sometimes go to different spots. It becomes a really good, usually a seasoned, quality group of horses.”
Such is the case in the Travers, where Scotland and Tapit Trice are the longest shots on the board at morning-line odds of 12-1. By Good Magic, who ran ninth in the 2018 Travers, Scotland went unraced at 2 before graduating at first asking in a seven-furlong maiden sprint March 4 at Gulfstream Park.
Scotland was beaten a nose when second to subsequent Ellis Park Derby winner Tumbarumba in an open seven-furlong allowance April 23 at Keeneland, and returned with a one-mile optional claiming victory June 3 at Churchill Downs in his Curlin prep.
“We think he’s a good horse and he’s been training well and he’s shown us that he deserves an opportunity,” Mott said. “So, he’ll get his chance.”
Mott dominated the Saratoga trainer standings winning or sharing eight titles in 10 years between 1992 and 2001. He has had 11 starters in 10 Travers, running both Vision and Verse (second) and Unbridled Jet (eighth) in 1999. Mott also finished second with Hold Me Back in 2009 and Tacitus in 2019, and puts the Travers near the top of his bucket list.
“Absolutely,” he said. “There wasn’t many there that I really wanted and hadn’t won. I wanted to win the Met Mile and we got that taken care of [with Cody’s Wish]. I’ve always been fascinated by that race and even if I didn’t have horses in it, I’d want to watch because I think it’s a great race.
“We’ve finished second in the Travers a few times,” he added. “I’d love to win it.”
Mott will have starters in three stakes on the Travers undercard. He entered both reigning Champion Male Sprinter Elite Power, riding an eight-race win streak, and High Oak in the Grade 1, $500,000 Forego; will give Grade 1-winning multi-millionaire Channel Maker a sixth straight start in the Grade 1, $750,000 Resorts World Casino Sword Dancer, and Caramel Swirl in the Grade 1, $500,000 Ballerina.
The Sword Dancer and Ballerina are ‘Win and You’re In’ qualifying races for the Grade 1, $4 million Longines Turf and Grade 1, $1 million Filly & Mare Sprint, respectively, November 4 at Santa Anita.
Channel Maker earned his way back to the 1 1/2-mile Sword Dancer, a race he won in 2020, with a front-running two-length triumph in the Grade 2 Bowling Green July 30 at Saratoga. All 10 of the 9-year-old gelding’s wins have come in stakes, seven graded, including other Grade 1 triumphs in the 2018 and 2020 Joe Hirsch Turf Classic and 2019 Man o’ War. He is approaching $4 million in purse earnings.
“I can’t say enough. What can you say? He just sort of seems like an oddity in this day and age that he’s able to stay around and still be in somewhat close to top form,” Mott said. “There were plans that if he hadn’t have run well last time that he’d be retired, but as long as he’s doing well [he’ll run]. I don’t think any of us want to see his form go five races beaten double digits or something like that. That’s not going to happen.”
Winchell Thoroughbreds has three chances to dethrone a Champion on Travers Day
Lining up against three defending Eclipse Award-winning Champions at Grade 1 level is no easy task, but Winchell Thoroughbreds will have three golden opportunities on Saturday’s loaded Travers Day program at Saratoga Race Course.
Winchell Thoroughbreds will be well-represented as they send out Grade 1 winner Gunite for a rematch against 2022 Champion Male Sprinter Elite Power in the Grade 1, $500,000 Forego. Echo Zulu, a Champion in her own right, will be joined by stakes-winning millionaire Wicked Halo, as they square off against Goodnight Olive – last year’s Champion Female Sprinter – in the Grade 1, $500,000 Ballerina.
After winning last year’s Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers with eventual Champion 3-Year-Old Male Epicenter, Winchell Thoroughbreds will seek their second straight Travers triumph with graded stakes winner Disarm, who will face three American Classic winners and 2022 Champion 2-Year-Old Forte. All the Winchell-owned horses are by 2017 Horse of the Year and leading North American sire Gun Runner and conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen.
“It’s unusual for us to run in three Grade 1s on the same day, especially at Saratoga, but to win those three races and you have to beat a Champion in every race to win – that’s pretty tough. It’ll be a good day and hopefully things go our way in a couple of those races,” said Winchell Thoroughbreds’ racing manager David Fiske.
Gunite, who captured the Spa’s 2021 Hopeful and the Grade 2 Amsterdam last year, has finished second to Elite Power twice this season. After a four-length seasonal debut triumph in Oaklawn Park’s King Cotton, Gunite shipped to Saudi Arabia to finish 3 1/4 lengths behind Elite Power in the Group 3 Riyadh Dirt Sprint on February 25 at King Abdulaziz Racecourse. The earner of over $1.8 million enters from a narrow runner-up effort to Elite Power in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt on July 29 over sloppy and sealed conditions at the Spa. He held a 1 1/2-length advantage in the stretch drive, but was unable to stave off Elite Power’s late advance and was beaten a head.
“Gunite seems to be getting bigger and faster as a 4-year-old. Hopefully, at some point, we can see him turn the tables,” Fiske said. “Those two seem pretty evenly matched at the moment. With a small field it can be strategic and it turns into a rider’s race.”
When asked if he would like to see anything different this time around, Fiske quipped: “I’d like to see him win, that would be the first thing.
“Somewhere in upper stretch, I thought we had a big chance to win but Elite Power tipped out at the top of the stretch. He is a formidable individual, which is why he’s the Champion,” Fiske added.
Although there is still ground to cover for the remainder of the season, Fiske said there is a “possibility” that Gunite could return to action for his 5-year-old year.
Winchell Thoroughbreds, in partnership with L and N Racing, campaign 2021 Champion 2-Year-Old Filly and Ballerina aspirant Echo Zulu, who enters the prestigious seven-furlong test from a career-high 112 Beyer Speed Figure earned when capturing the Grade 2 Honorable Miss on July 26 at the Spa.
The 4-year-old bay has never lost at Saratoga, earning a debut win in July 2021 before capturing the Grade 1 Spinaway at the end of the year en route to prominent scores in the Grade 1 Frizette at Belmont Park and the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies at Del Mar.
After rounding out her sophomore season with a second-place finish behind Goodnight Olive in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint at Keeneland, Echo Zulu returned with vigor when capturing the Grade 3 Winning Colors on May 29 at Churchill Downs.
Echo Zulu’s 112 Beyer is the co-leading figure of any thoroughbred this year, tying the number registered by Cody’s Wish in the Grade 1 Hill ‘n’ Dale Metropolitan on June 10 at Belmont.
“I believe she’s been training better this year than she ever has before. We gave her a little time off over the winter and worked on her ankles a little bit and she’s come back fantastic,” Fiske said. “Of course, just like Gunite, she has run well at Saratoga since she was a 2-year-old. Both of them are stakes winners at 2, 3 and 4 and I think they both have a chance. It should be interesting.”
Wicked Halo, a 4-year-old gray filly, was cross-entered in the Ballerina as well as Friday evening’s seven-furlong Pink Ribbon at Charles Town. She was last seen posting a seventh overall stakes triumph in the Twin Bridges on July 23 at Ellis Park. Like Echo Zulu, Wicked Halo also is unbeaten at the Spa, having captured the 2021 Grade 2 Adirondack – a race won by her Tapit-sired dam Just Wicked in 2015 – before returning to Saratoga the following summer to win the Grade 2 Prioress. She followed with another graded score in the Grade 2 Raven Run in October at Keeneland before rounding out the trifecta in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.
Fiske expressed hope that adding blinkers will result in the change he is hoping to see with Disarm as he faces Forte, Grade 1 Kentucky Derby-winner Mage, Grade 1 Preakness-winner National Treasure and Grade 1 Belmont Stakes presented by NYRA Bets-winner Arcangelo.
Fourth in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby, Disarm returned to action to capture the Grade 3 Matt Winn on June 11 at Ellis Park before finishing fourth behind Forte in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy presented by DK Horse on July 29 at Saratoga. In all aforementioned starts, Disarm was piloted by Joel Rosario, who maintains the mount for the Travers.
“I think he was a little immature in the Derby. Joel said he wasn’t appreciating the kickback going down the backside all that much. He was kind of starting and stopping,” Fiske recalled. “He’s trained well, his speed figures no matter whose scale you use, seem to be getting better, and he seems to be getting better. The Travers looks like it’ll be the premiere 3-year-old race of the year. It’s unusual that you get the Derby, Preakness and Belmont winners; the horse that would have been the favorite in the Derby [Forte]. It’s pretty deep. I’m not surprised that it’s only seven horses, but they all have a legitimate chance to show up.”
Fiske said the addition of blinkers was made to get Disarm “a little more focused.”
“He’s always been relatively prominent and tends to be about three or four lengths off the pace, but Steve thinks there’s more talent there to pull out of him,” Fiske said. “I don’t know if that will appear on Saturday or if we’ll wait until next year to see it. Hopefully, the blinkers will make a difference.”
Gun Runner was campaigned by Winchell and Asmussen through an illustrious career that included six Grade 1 wins, earnings in excess of $15 million, as well as 2017 Champion Older Male and Horse of the Year honors. Gun Runner, North America’s leading third crop stallion, has already produced a Champion in Echo Zulu, last year’s Grade 1 Preakness winner Early Voting, as well as Grade 1 winners Taiba and Cyberknife.
“I think as fast as they were at two, it’s scary to think they get faster at 3 and 4,” Fiske noted. “He’s the gift that keeps on giving. Steve said one day that he’s done everything that we’ve asked him to and done it easily. Whether it was on the racetrack or in the breeding shed … I don’t even have the adjectives anymore to describe what he does for and means to all of us.”