At 2-5, `Oro' is rated near-lock in Travers

Recent Jim Dandy breeze convinces oddsmakers

Horse Racing

August 22, 2002|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- Bobby Frankel winced. His Medaglia d'Oro had just been anointed the 2-5 favorite in the 133rd running of the Travers Stakes on Saturday at Saratoga.

"Nobody's 2-5," Frankel said yesterday at the post-position draw for the "Mid-Summer Derby." "Nobody's a cinch in any race. They still have to run around there."

Medaglia d'Oro, a survivor of the Triple Crown battles, is the Travers favorite because last time he ran around Saratoga, three weeks ago in the Jim Dandy Stakes, he won by 13 3/4 lengths.

In addition, War Emblem, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, remained in California for the Pacific Classic on Sunday at Del Mar, and Sarava, winner of the Belmont, is resting after fracturing the cannon bone in his right foreleg.

Nancy Alberts, the Maryland trainer, owner and breeder of Magic Weisner, considered the Travers for her Laurel-based gelding, but opted for the Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 2 at Philadelphia Park.

"I would rather go someplace close and convenient," Alberts said.

That, too, was the trainer Bob Baffert's stated rationale for keeping War Emblem in California, even though the top-rated 3-year-old will have to run against older horses.

"If I could beam him up there, I'd run in the Travers," Baffert said. "It's probably the softer spot, running against 3-year-olds. But that double ship is pretty tough."

Baffert flew War Emblem cross country three weeks ago for the Haskell Invitational Handicap at Monmouth Park in New Jersey. He didn't want to tax War Emblem with another long journey, even though he swept the Haskell and Travers last year with the California-based Point Given.

Without War Emblem, Sarava and Magic Weisner, the Travers, one of the country's most prestigious races, offers a nine-horse menu of mostly lean meat. Only two entrants have won graded stakes, and one of the two hasn't raced since April.

Repent, who spent much of the winter and spring as an early favorite for the Kentucky Derby, sustained a minor ankle fracture while running second to War Emblem on April 6 in the Illinois Derby. Repent's trainer, Ken McPeek, selected the 1 1/4 -mile Travers for Repent's comeback.

"He'll run better off the layoff," McPeek said.

Trainers D. Wayne Lukas and Nick Zito, well-known for their handling of 3-year-olds, entered two each in the Travers. Lukas' pair, Gold Dollar and Shah Jehan, neither of whom has won a stakes, are both 20-1.

Zito's Quest, who finished second in the Jim Dandy but was disqualified to eighth for interference, is 12-1, and Nothing Flat, who finished nearly 26 lengths tardy in the Jim Dandy, is 15-1.

Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens, who has never won the Travers, entered Puzzlement. The respected Jerkens withheld his late-speed dynamo from the Belmont so he could focus on the Travers.

Based at Fair Hill in Maryland, trainer Michael Matz will saddle Saint Marden, the most lightly raced horse in the field. The Saint Ballado colt has won two of his four races, both by more than seven lengths -- a maiden special weight at Delaware Park and an allowance at Saratoga.

The only horse in the Travers under 10-1 other than Medaglia d'Oro and Repent is Like A Hero, the California-based son of Pleasant Colony who finished seventh in the Belmont. His trainer, Beau Greely, conceded favoritism to Medaglia d'Oro, but added: "We're not here to run second. We're here to win it."

Travers Stakes

Where: Saratoga Race Course, Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

When: Saturday

Post time: 5: 55 p.m.

Purse: $1 million

Grade: I

Distance: 1 1/4 miles


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