Notes & Quotes From Travers’ Stakes Day

From the Media Team at NYRA:

(Catholic Boys romps to win in the G1 Travers Stakes at Saratoga / Photo Courtesy of NYRA & Coglianese Photo)

G1 Travers Stakes:

Jonathan Thomas, trainer of the winner Catholic Boy:

“It just doesn’t get any better,” said Jonathan Thomas, who trains Catholic Boy for Robert LaPenta, Madaket Stables, Siena Farms and Twin Creeks Racing Stables. “I’m just so proud of this horse, and Javier [Castellano] was incredible. We’ve always believed that he’s a top talent, despite the surface. He’s a much stronger, mature horse and this really shows that patience helps.”

Javier Castellano, rider of the winner:

“I basically enjoyed the ride,” said Castellano, who previously won the Travers with Keen Ice (2015), V. E. Day (2014), Stay Thirsty (2011), Afleet Express (2010) and Bernardini (2006). “I give all the credit to Jonathan Thomas, the way he’s been training the horse. Turf and dirt. He’s so good, that horse. I’ve never seen a horse like that in my life. He can run on turf, dirt; I think he’s amazing. He won Grade 1 on the turf and a Grade 1 on the dirt, he’s only 3 years old, you don’t see too many like that. I’ve been blessed to be part of it.”

T.J. Comerford, assistant trainer of the runner-up Mendelssohn:

“This was a big improvement,” said T. J. Comerford, assistant to Aidan O’Brien, of Mendelssohn, last year’s Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf winner and this year’s Grade 2 UAE Derby winner who subsequently finished 20th in the Kentucky Derby and third in the Grade 3 Dwyer at Belmont. “Aidan planned on bringing him here, and he stuck to his guns. Aidan could have easily run him on the turf at home, but he stuck with it over here. It just shows he’s coming back to his best. I’m sure he’ll be back [in the United States] soon.”

D. Wayne Lukas, trainer of third-place finisher Bravazo:

“He’s been through the whole series. He’s keeping it honest. Nobody’s stealing anything, and he’s beaten some pretty good horses,” said Lukas of Bravazo, second behind Good Magic in the Grade 1 Haskell prior to the Travers. “I’d like to see it a jump or two longer, he might have gotten second. I liked the way he ran. He continues to add to his income and his resume.”

Chad Brown, trainer of Good Magic and Gronkowski:

“[Good Magic] didn’t break well and from there he was in trouble,” said trainer Chad Brown, whose Gronkowski finished 1 ¾ lengths in front of the favorite. “Given the way the track’s playing, you’ve got to be very forwardly placed the last two days on both surfaces. I didn’t feel good right away. We wanted him no worse than third early, that’s his running style, and especially given the way the track bias has been. When he didn’t get there, I didn’t feel too good about it.”

(Glorious Empire / Photo Courtesy of NYRA & Coglianese Photo)

G1 Sword Dancer Stakes:

The win also marked the first Grade 1 for winning trainer James ‘Chuck’ Lawrence II, who is based at the Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Maryland.

James “Chuck” Lawrence II, trainer of the winner Glorious Empire:

“I’m trying to get my voice back,” Lawrence said. “We knew this horse had this kind of talent, it was just a matter of getting it to come out.”

“I thought the 23[-second] quarter[-mile] got us, but then he really slowed it down for Julien [Leparoux], luckily. When he slowed it down, I was pretty happy and I just kept yelling throughout the turn, ‘Julien, let him go, let him go,'” Lawrence said. “I knew he was fit, it was just a matter of getting the wire to come fast enough. He responded at the top of the lane. That was really special.

“This is my first Grade 1 and we’re going to bask in it,” he added. “Of course, the Breeders’ Cup is going to be a big option, but we’re going to take it day by day and see how the horse is and everything. After this, that’s going to be our big goal. Our big goal before was just to win a race at Saratoga with him, so he’s exceeded our expectations.”

Julie Leparoux, rider of the winner:

“He traveled very good for me, and he’s got that kick, you know, and at the end he just exploded,” Leparoux said. “He obviously loves the track. He won two here this year and one last year. The first quarter was fast, but he settled very nicely and picked up the pace pretty quickly.”

G1 Personal Ensign Stakes:

Bob Baffert, trainer of the winner Abel Tasman:

“She’s just phenomenal,” said Baffert of Abel Tasman, who then saddled Marley’s Freedom to victory in the Grade 1 Ketel One Ballerina in the next race. “She’s just getting better with age and she’s brought us so much satisfaction. I could have easily run her at Del Mar, but I wanted to come to Saratoga. It doesn’t get any bigger than this, when you can win here in front of all these people on Travers Day.”

On the alleged interference in the stretch and the objection filed by rider Jose Ortiz, who finished second on Elate:

“I didn’t see that [contact] during the race,” said Baffert. “I thought she was going to get by us there, but I could tell by the way Mike was riding he wasn’t really worried. As soon as she saw her, Mike said she just took off. She’s an incredible mare. She was champion and she’s one of the best I’ve ever trained, and she just keeps showing it.”

Mike Smith, the rider of the winner:

“Down the stretch, we came together. [That was] the reason for the foul, but we didn’t knock each other outside,” said Smith. “We just came together nice and easy and then after that, we actually did the same thing again when she came [over]. It didn’t cost either filly anything and the best filly won today. What a gallant race she ran today. It was a really big race.”

Bill Mott, trainer of runner-up Elate:

“Very disappointing. Very disappointing,” he said.

Jose Ortiz, rider of Elate:

“I think [Abel Tasman] should have come down, 100 percent,” he said. “I think [Elate] ran a great race. Both fillies did, but, c’mon. Last year he bumped me, this year he bumped me again, and I should have won both of them.”

G1 Ballerina Stakes:

Bob Baffert, trainer of the winner Marley’s Freedom:

“Winning her last two races was pretty impressive,” said Baffert, who won the Grade 1 Personal Ensign one race earlier with Smith and Abel Tasman. “The quality is there and you have to come to Saratoga if you are looking for a championship. That is why I brought her, to see how she fits [and] this is a pretty good field.

“[It was an] unbelievable race today,” he added. “When I saw her at the top of the stretch on the outside, I felt pretty good. She had an extra gear, that’s how she works. She and Abel have been working unbelievably. I didn’t think she would win by that far.”

“When I got her, she was in great shape,” said Baffert. “She just came off a very big impressive win and I really can’t take a lot of credit for that. She came to me in great shape, and running really well and I just kept her in that form.”

G1 Forego Stakes:

Ron Moquett, trainer of the winner Whitmore:

“To run that well here, he’s as consistent as they come and he tries every time,” said trainer Ron Moquett, who co-owns Whitmore with Robert LaPenta and Head of Plains Partners. “He’s made a career out of outrunning his trainer and I just hope he keeps doing it. He’s a cool dude. He’s fun to be around. He’s a challenge. He brings that same tenacity on the track.

“He [Santana] has confidence in him. You know you live by the sword you die by the sword. Last time, we didn’t make it. This time we look like geniuses.”

It appears Whitmore will run next in the Phoenix Handicap at Keeneland on Oct. 6:

“We’ll probably look at the Keeneland race, he liked that track, he liked that race, and we’ll go from there,” he said.

Ricardo Santana, Jr., rider of the winner:

“We got a perfect trip,” Santana said. “That was the trip I wanted. We saved all the ground, and we got lucky that a whole opened on the turn for home. That’s when I let him run and he was feeling good today. Last time we got in a little trouble and today we got a clean trip. Everything was perfect and we’ll take the victory.”

Mike McCarthy, trainer of runner-up City of Light:

“I thought the race kind of shaped up as we planned,” McCarthy said. “It looked like leaving away from there the ground kind of broke out from him a little bit. He broke real hard and kind of went down half a step and then gathered himself up. I think had we drawn inside it might have been a lot different but he was traveling comfortably throughout, he cut the corner and put in a run but the other horse had already gotten away from him. He put in a super effort; I can’t be upset with that.”

G1 H. Allen Jerkens Stakes:

Dale Romans, trainer of both the winner, Promises Fulfilled, and the runner-up, Seven Trumpets:

“That was very special,” Romans said. “Of course, most people in the game know that Allen [Jerkens] and I were very close. He was a good friend and mentor in life. Everybody knows what a great horse trainer he was, and he was a better person. It’s an honor to win this race and I think to get up for second we might have had a little divine intervention.”

“When they put the second quarter up, I wasn’t worried,” Romans said. “I thought that was slow for him. He’s been going 43 [seconds] the last two races. He’s special. It’s just going to be who has the most stamina and we know the kind of stamina he has to win.

“I’m very proud of Seven Trumpets,” he added. “At 35-1, I can’t believe he was that big a price. Two good horses and a lot to look forward to down the road.”

Luis Saez, rider of the winner:

“It was pretty nice,” Saez said. “I was the speed in the race and my plan was to break and run him from there. He looked like he was very comfortable when he came to the stretch, he stretched the lead and took off.”

G2 Woodford Reserve Ballston Spa:

Jose Ortiz, rider of the winner Quidura:

“Perfect trip,” said Ortiz. “We wanted to go to the lead, but it didn’t matter I had the whole inside, if I wasn’t going to go, but once I led her there, she kept going.”

Chad Brown, trainer of the winner:

“We bought her at the sale last year and gave her plenty of time off,” said Brown. “She’s had two starts this year. In her last start, it was on really soft turf that she doesn’t like and she still almost won. Coming off that race, she was training strong and got the firm ground she liked. The track helped her today. The other ones it hurt. It was very, very firm today.”





The horse broke well today,” Gaffalione said. “I had the horse inside, Dunph, going to the lead and then (Gun It) showed a little bit of speed. When I saw they were intent on going I just tried to get him back and got him to relax. He came back to me nicely and settled well down the backside. Got a little keen going into the far turn and wanted to move a little early. But I didn’t want to take too much away from him so I tried to sit as long as I could. He was waiting on horses down the lane but I kept him at task and there was plenty of horse there.”

“Mark (Casse, the trainer) and his team have done a great job,” Gaffalione said. “They’ve had a ton of confidence in this horse the whole way. It’s just an honor to be able to ride the horse. He’s just so professional, trains great and he’s a pleasure to be around.”

Tyler Gaffalione, Rode of War of Will to victory in the G2 Risen Star Stakes at the Fair Grounds
  • Gene McLean

    Gene McLean

    Gene McLean began his professional career in 1977 as a sportswriter and columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader in Lexington, Ky., and was recognized as one of the state’s best writers, winning the prestigious “Sportswriter of the Year” honor in 1985. Now the President and Publisher of The Pressbox, McLean sets ...

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