By Richard Rosenblatt
The early news concerning the 150th edition of the Runhappy Travers (G1) on Aug. 24 came from California and two-time Triple Crown winning trainer Bob Baffert on Thursday: Game Winner, one of the likely favorites, won’t run because he’s developed a cold.
The later news came from New Jersey and trainer Jason Servis: Maximum Security, who finished first in the Kentucky Derby (G1) but was DQ’d for interference and most recently won the Haskell Invitational (G1), won’t run because he’s not eating well or putting on weight.
What’s a Midsummer Derby to do?
Not to worry. Even with the decisions that will keep two of the most well-known 3-year-olds away from Saratoga Race Course, and even with none of the Triple Crown race winners around (Country House, War of Will, Sir Winston), the Travers is still the Travers – and a formidable field (plus a fantastic undercard) will provide plenty of betting options.
Less than a week before the post-position draw, the likes of Jim Dandy (G2) winner Tax, Wood Memorial (G2) winner and Belmont Stakes (G2) and Jim Dandy runner-up Tacitus, ever-improving Dwyer (G3) winner Code of Honor, and Triple Crown-race runners Everfast and Owendale are among the probables. The field could be in the 10-12 range when entries are taken.
On Thursday, the news was disappointing. Baffert, a three-time Travers winner, said: “He’s going to be fine, but it’s the timing.”
The decision comes two days after the three-time Grade 1 winner and 2-year-old champion in 2018 posted a six-furlong workout in 1:12 at Del Mar. He won the Los Alamitos Derby (G3) in his most recent race.
“He worked great, but today he had a little temperature,” said Baffert. “There’s been a little virus going through the barn. He was my second one this week. I hope it stays away from the others.”
No decision has been made on when the colt owned by Gary and Mary West would run next.
Later, Servis said Maximum Security, also owned by the Wests, hopefully will be ready to run in the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) on Sept. 21. Maximum Security would likely have been the favorite for the Travers.
“I don’t like where he’s at. He’s not eating the way I want him to eat and he’s not carrying the weight I’d like to see him carry,” said Servis in making the announcement. “I just want to make sure he’s 100 per cent for his next race and he’s not there right now.”
Maximum Security has been stabled at Monmouth Park since the Derby.
“With Game Winner out, if Maximum Security was 100 per cent I’d go to the Travers,” said Servis. “But he’s just not back to where he was.”
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.