1. Early Voting
A Kentucky-bred son of hot sire Gun Runner, this Klaravich Stables–owned colt has won three of his four starts for Brown. After breaking his maiden at Aqueduct in his career debut in December, Early Voting won the Grade 3 Withers then finished second to Mo Donegal in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial. Skipping the Kentucky Derby in favor of the Preakness, he was successful in his first start outside New York with a 1¼-length victory over Epicenter at Pimlico. Brown decided to also pass on the 1½-mile Belmont to prepare for the summer races—with the Travers being the primary target. The four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer has yet to win the Midsummer Derby, but Early Voting is capable of changing that.
Trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, Epicenter was closing in on victory in the Derby before Rich Strike’s late stretch run stole the show at Churchill Downs. Two weeks later, Epicenter again suffered a tough defeat, coming in second to Early Voting in the Preakness. Those losses, however, haven’t soured Asmussen on Epicenter. The Kentucky-bred son of Not This Time has proven he belongs with the heavyweights with three graded wins in addition to his strong showings in the first two Triple Crown races. A Travers victory would not be unexpected.
3. Jack Christopher
Also trained by Brown, this Kentucky-bred son of Munnings didn’t compete in any of the Triple Crown races but is nonetheless as highly regarded as any of the classic winners. Undefeated in four starts, Jack Christopher won his career debut at Saratoga last summer and has since added graded stakes victories in the Champagne (G1), Pat Day Mile (G2), and a 10-length romp in the Woody Stephens (G1). The only question this horse needs to answer involves his distance capabilities, as he has yet to race beyond one mile. The talent, however, is obvious. There is a possibility this is the best horse in Brown’s barn, which is as deep and talented as any in North America.
4. Mo Donegal
Mo Donegal has a slight credential advantage on his fellow classic winners entering the summer. He easily defeated Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike in the Belmont Stakes and owns a victory against Early Voting in the Wood Memorial. After giving Pletcher his fourth Belmont win, Mo Donegal will take aim at the Travers with a prep in the Jim Dandy also likely. Both of Pletcher’s previous Travers winners—Flower Alley in 2005 and Stay Thirsty in 2011—won the Midsummer Derby after prepping in the Jim Dandy, so expect Pletcher to follow that proven formula with Mo Donegal. A bay son of champion Uncle Mo bred in Kentucky, Mo Donegal will also bring some local flavor to Saratoga this summer: He is owned in part by Skidmore College graduates Ken Freirich and Ray Bryan through the Donegal Racing partnership. His other owner, Mike Repole, campaigned Uncle Mo and won the Travers with Stay Thirsty.
5. Rich Strike
Was Rich Strike a one-hit wonder? He’ll get his chance to prove otherwise, but the jury is certainly out on this one. Yes, the Derby victory was one of the biggest shockers in the history of the Run for the Roses, but he failed to validate the effort by finishing a lackluster sixth in the eight-horse Belmont field. Trainer Eric Reed believes the Kentucky-bred son of Keen Ice (who upset Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the 2015 Travers) is better than he showed in the Belmont and will take him straight to the Travers without a prep race. A former claimer who had only one win in seven starts prior to the Derby, Rich Strike will certainly be a wild card when the gate opens for the Travers.