SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Albeit uniquely, trainer Bill Mott was able to cross winning the Kentucky Derby off his bucket list when his longshot Country House was elevated to first from second by the Churchill Downs stewards following the controversial disqualification of Maximum Security.
Saturday, Mott will try to cross winning the Travers off his bucket list when he sends out probable favorite Tacitus against 11 3-year-olds in the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers – Saratoga’s marquee race, which is being run for the 150th time – and do something only two other horsemen have done.
Should Tacitus win, Mott would become just the third trainer to win the Kentucky Derby and Travers in the same year with different horses. In 1918, Henry McDaniel won the Derby with Exterminator and the Travers with Sun Briar. In 1925, William Duke won the Derby with Flying Ebony and the Travers with Dangerous.
“I’ve already done the Derby now I got to try and do the Travers,” Mott said Thursday morning. “Now, we just got to do it a different way if we can.”
Tacitus needs a different type of trip from post 6 in the Travers than he had in the Belmont Stakes, where he raced five wide and finished second to Sir Winston. He also needs a little bit better fortune than he had in the Jim Dandy, when he stumbled badly at the break and finished second to Tax.
“I think we’re just looking for that breakout race and for him to have his day in the sun, so hopefully the Travers will be that day,” Mott said earlier this week at the post-position draw. “I don’t think anybody owes us anything. Nobody stumbled but him last time; nobody made him do it. He had the wide trip in the Belmont, but stuff happens, right? We’ll hope things go better for him this time.”
Mott is adding blinkers to Tacitus’s equipment. He has trained very well in them, including a five-furlong workout in 1:00.69 last Saturday. Jose Ortiz was up for that work and said he thinks the blinkers make Tacitus better.
While Mott is seeking his first Travers victory, trainer Shug McGaughey is seeking his fourth. McGaughey sends out Code of Honor, who was moved from third to second in the Kentucky Derby and who comes off a win in the Grade 3 Dwyer on July 6 by 3 1/4 lengths. McGaughey purposely skipped the Jim Dandy with Code of Honor to have a fresh horse for the Travers.
“He needs to be ridden right. He’ll get ridden right,” said McGaughey, who has John Velazquez aboard Code of Honor. “He’s a one-run horse. You got to be patient with him, get him a trip. In the Derby, he was compromised a little between when [Maximum Security] came back over a little, but I think he flinched a little and it took away from his run a little bit.”
Code of Honor is owned and bred by William S. Farish, as is Highest Honors, who breaks from post 3, one slot outside of Code of Honor. Highest Honors, trained by Chad Brown, has made only three starts and steps into the Travers off a 1 1/2-length win in the restricted Curlin Stakes here on July 26. Despite his limited experience, Highest Honors has Brown excited that he could win his first Travers.
“I’ve been planning for this race for a long time,” Brown said. “I’ve always thought he wanted a mile and a quarter, and he couldn’t possibly be training any better.”
Jose Ortiz has ridden Highest Honors in all three of his starts, but is committed to ride Tacitus. Luis Saez, the regular rider of Maximum Security, will ride Highest Honors.
Brown also sends out Looking At Bikinis, who set the pace before fading to third when racing along a dead rail in the Curlin. He figures to be a forward presence on Saturday under six-time Travers-winning rider Javier Castellano.
The main speed of the Travers looks to be Tax, the winner of the Jim Dandy. Tax drew post 12, and his trainer, Danny Gargan, believes that will force jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. to come away from the gate running.
“There’s a long run down the stretch. I don’t think we’ll have a problem getting over,” Gargan said. “If we can get a half in 47, 48, it’ll be perfect. If everyone gets scared and takes back, I’ll slow it down.”
Trainer Bob Baffert has won three Travers, including two of the last three with Arrogate and West Coast. He called an audible on Monday and decided to ship Mucho Gusto, the Haskell Invitational runner-up, from California for this race. Joe Talamo is here to ride.
Owendale, the Ohio Derby winner; Laughing Fox, fifth in the Preakness; and Everfast, second in the Preakness are all stone-cold closers who would benefit from some pace.
Owendale has been training steadily at Churchill Downs, from where he shipped to run well in his last three starts.
“His works have been phenomenal,” said Cox, including an Aug. 10 workout that Cox said he went five furlongs in 1:00.60 and out six furlongs in 1:13.40, but was not recorded by Churchill Downs clockers. “The bottom line with this horse is he’s doing as good as he can do.”
Endorsed, a son of 2002 Travers winner Medaglia d’Oro, ran a creditable second in the 1 1/8-mile Curlin, stretching out from a six-furlong allowance win in June, his first start of the year.
Scars Are Cool enters the Travers off a maiden win going 1 1/8 miles here on July 21. On Thursday morning, he blew out three furlongs in 36.13 seconds over the Oklahoma training track.
Chess Chief was the runner-up in the West Virginia Derby at odds of 35-1 for Dallas Stewart. He picks up the services of Mike Smith.
The Travers goes as race 11 on 13-race card that begins at 11:35 a.m. and includes six other graded stakes. The Travers will air on FOX during a one-hour broadcast starting at 5 p.m. Eastern.
This story was originally published on DRF.com.