Travers day features pair of Md. streaks 9 straight wins posted by 'Quest,' Secret Firm

August 28, 1998|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- They should have sent a bus from Maryland with a cheering section for Travers day.

Stuart S. Janney III, who lives in Butler, is majority owner of Coronado's Quest. The 3-year-old colt going for five straight wins will vie for favoritism with archrival Victory Gallop in tomorrow's $750,000 Travers Stakes at Saratoga.

Yesterday, Coronado's Quest drew the No. 3 post position in a field of eight entered in one of the nation's most prestigious races -- the Grade I Travers, the country's oldest major stakes for 3-year-olds.

Two races before the Travers, the 3-year-old Secret Firm -- going for his sixth win in a row -- will challenge Favorite Trick, last year's Horse of the Year, in the $200,000 King's Bishop Stakes. Secret Firm is owned, trained and ridden by Marylanders.

"If two Maryland guys win the one and the two on Travers day, wouldn't that be fabulous?" said Bill Beatson, of Annapolis, who owns 50 percent of Secret Firm.

He, with fellow Annapolitans Phyllis and Bill Dixon, bought the colt last year at Timonium for the bargain-basement price of $18,000.

Secret Firm has won five straight races -- four in Maryland and one at Saratoga. Although he probably won't be one of the favorites in the exceptionally tough Grade II field, a win would not raise an eyebrow among his Maryland connections. Right?

"Oh, yes," said H. Graham Motion, the horse's Laurel Park-based trainer. "Otherwise we wouldn't run him in there."

Secret Firm has another Maryland connection, too: jockey Edgar Prado, the state's leading rider, as well as leader of North American jockeys in wins.

Secret Firm has not lost since finishing third in his first start last September at Colonial Downs. Last month at Laurel Park, he tied the track record for seven furlongs in 1 minute 21 2/3 seconds.

"If Edgar had just tapped him on the shoulder, he could have broken the record," Motion said. "He's one of the fastest horses I've ever had."

Secret Firm won the Grade III, six-furlong Amsterdam Stakes in a dead-heat here Aug. 7, providing Motion one of his two graded-stakes victories of the Saratoga meet. His Caveat Competor won the Grade III Lake George Stakes by a nose.

"It would have to be a highlight for me," Motion said of the stakes wins. "You come up here and hope just to win a race. It's exciting just running at Saratoga."

The King's Bishop is seven furlongs, perhaps Secret Firm's best distance, although Favorite Trick will be favored.

How Favorite Trick will respond, though, to seven-eighths mile after running four straight races at 1 1/16 miles or farther is the question of the race. Favorite Trick is trained by Bill Mott and ridden by Pat Day.

"I have a tremendous amount of respect for Bill Mott and Favorite Trick," said Beatson, a developer, real estate investor and minority owner of the Baltimore Orioles. "But with Secret Firm, we know what he can do at seven furlongs. And he loves Saratoga.

"So I'm cautiously optimistic. I just hope that when they turn for home, it's us and Favorite Trick battling down the stretch. It couldn't get much better than that."

The stretch duel nearly everyone anticipates in the Travers should involve Coronado's Quest and Victory Gallop, which finished one-two in the $1 million Buick Haskell Invitational Handicap at Monmouth Park three weeks ago.

After that 1 1/8 -mile race, Victory Gallop's trainer, Elliott Walden, said he believed his horse would hold the advantage in the Travers, which is an eighth of a mile longer.

Yesterday, he tried to ensure that by entering a rabbit, Sheila's Flag. His sole purpose would be to set a fast pace and, in theory, set up the late run of Victory Gallop.

"I'm not sure 'fast' is as accurate a word as 'honest,'" Walden said. "He's in there to ensure an honest pace, if we decide to run him."

Walden said he would decide tomorrow morning whether to start Sheila's Flag. Shug McGaughey, trainer of Coronado's Quest, shrugged when asked about the rabbit.

"It doesn't bother me. It helps me," McGaughey said. "I think if [Coronado's Quest] is back of horses, he's better. He relaxes better when he has something to run at."

Mike Smith will again ride Coronado's Quest, but Gary Stevens won't be aboard Victory Gallop. Stevens underwent arthroscopic surgery Tuesday on his left knee for a meniscus tear sustained Sunday at Del Mar.

Instead of Stevens, Victory Gallop will be ridden by Alex Solis, who rode him to victory in the Arkansas Derby and to second place in the Kentucky Derby.

Although losing a top jockey on the eve of a major race can't please any trainer, Walden seemed unconcerned as he explained:

"Alex rode him very well in the [Kentucky] Derby and Arkansas Derby. He's been victorious on him. I don't have any problem with Alex riding him."

NOTE: At Saratoga yesterday, Hokan edged Romantic by a neck in the $108,500 New York Turf Writers Cup, completing Saratoga's 2 3/8 -mile, 17-fence steeplechase course in a record 4: 12.

Eskimo Cove set the previous mark of 4: 12 1-5 in 1995.


Travers Stakes field

PP Horse, Trainer, Jockey, Last race, Odds

1 Grand Slam, D.W. Lukas, J. Bailey, 3rd Haskell, 6-1

2 Dice Dancer ...... H.A. Jerkens.. J.L. Samyn, 1st allowance, 12-1

3 Coronado's Quest, S. McGaughey, M. Smith, 1st Haskell, 8-5

4 Archers Bay, T. Pletcher, P. Day, 6th Jim Dandy, 10-1

5 Deputy Diamond, S. Schulhofer, J. Santos, 2nd Jim Dandy, 15-1

6 Raffie's Majesty, H.J. Bond, J. Chavez, 3rd Jim Dandy, 12-1

7 Victory Gallop, E. Walden, A.Solis, 2nd Haskell, 7-5

8 Sheila's Flag, E. Walden, E. Coa, 5th Long Clover, 7-5

Notes: Victory Gallop and Sheila's Flag coupled in wagering; all carry 126 pounds.

Travers Stakes

When: Tomorrow

Where: Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

Post time: 5: 10 p.m.

TV: ESPN, 4: 30 p.m.

Purse: $750,000

Grade: I

Distance: 1 1/4 miles

Favorite: Victory Gallop

Pub Date: 8/28/98

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