SARATOGA SPRINGS — You never know.
We won’t see Triple Crown winner Justify at Saratoga Race Course this season. This, we know.
But this is Saratoga, which means that at some point during the 150th racing meet, which kicks off on Friday with a 10-race card, something remarkable will happen.
Maybe this year it will be a filly in the Travers, the track’s signature race to be held on Aug. 25. The last time a filly ran in the Travers was 1979, when Hall of Famer Davona Dale finished fourth.
Female horses don’t run against males as often as they did decades ago, but “Why not?” as Brad Cox said on Wednesday morning.
Cox is in a position to speculate about such a possibility because he trains Monomoy Girl, the leading 3-year-old filly in North America. For now, she has a tough enough task in front of her, facing Midnight Bisou in Sunday’s Coaching Club American Oaks, but with the 3-year-old male division in disarray, the Travers (instead of the Alabama) could be a viable option for Monomoy Girl.
It is a big long shot that she would take the Travers route, but … you never know.
Monomoy Girl schooled in the gate and galloped main track. CCA Oaks at Saratoga on Sunday pic.twitter.com/GOLRoKfaoC
— Mike MacAdam (@Mike_MacAdam) July 19, 2018
“Who knows? It would be something we could look at,” Cox said. “Some of the 3-year-old colts kind of went by the wayside. We’ll see what happens.”
Among those is Justify, who became the 13th Triple Crown winner when he took the Belmont Stakes to remain undefeated in six career starts. A minor physical issue delayed his return to hard training, so trainer Bob Baffert announced that he would miss the Travers.
A variety of others in what looked like a powerhouse class in the spring — like Magnum Moon, Audible and Bolt d’Oro — have uncertain futures or are out of racing for good.
Still, this is Saratoga, which produces the best racing on the continent, thanks to tradition as well as an unending menu of stakes races with big purses. The New York Racing Association will offer 69 stakes worth a total of almost $19 million.
“Even when you don’t have that American Pharoah or Justify or Gun Runner, that marquee horse, Saratoga always has a way of bringing excitement,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “There’s going to be some big, fun races here.”
Pletcher will be hard-pressed to repeat the training title he won by one victory over Chad Brown last season, Pletcher’s 13th at Saratoga.
As long as the weather cooperates to some degree, Brown will benefit from the busy turf racing schedule; one of Pletcher’s strengths historically has been with juveniles.
“We exceeded expectations last year,” Pletcher said. “I didn’t feel like we had a barn that was sitting on 40 wins. We had some things fall right for us during the course of the meet, some races that came off the turf when we needed them to, stay on the turf when we needed them to.
“And we had guys like [owner] Mike Repole who let us place horses where they had a good chance of winning. So it all seemed to fall into place, but it’s hard to think that would happen again this year.”
The chase for the jockey championship looks to be another brother duel between Jose and Irad Ortiz. Combined the brothers have won the last three, with Jose taking the title named after Angel Cordero Jr. the last two seasons.
No matter how the trainer competition plays out, both Pletcher (Vino Rosso) and Brown (Good Magic, Gronkowski) should be competitive in the Travers picture.
Monomoy Girl, who has won three straight Grade I races and four straight overall, is so highly regarded that she was invited to run in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on July 29.
“Who knows, maybe one of these fillies will show up in the Travers,” Cox said. “Why not? We kind of thought about it. We were invited to the Haskell and thought about it.
“But right now, coming off the layoff, I thought with the plan we set out going back to last fall and the spring, this [CCA Oaks] would be a good race for us moving forward.
“She’s the best horse I’ve had. We’ve won four Grade I’s, and she’s responsible for three of them. She’s been huge for us and our barn. The goal is to make her a champion.”
Saratoga is where champions are made — and undone, if temporarily.
American Pharoah won the Triple Crown in 2015 but lost the Travers to Keen Ice.
The winners of the Triple Crown races last year — Always Dreaming, Cloud Computing and Tapwrit — ran in the Travers, and lost, to West Coast, who also beat them out for the 3-year-old male Eclipse Award.
Of the 12 equine Eclipse Awards, 10 of them were won by horses who ran at Saratoga. Horse of the Year Gun Runner swept the Whitney and Woodward, and Lady Eli, World Approval, Forever Unbridled and Abel Tasman also won Spa stakes.
Among the juvenile champions, Good Magic finished second in his career debut at Saratoga, and the filly Caledonia Road broke her maiden in her career debut.
Brown and Jose Ortiz also won Eclipses.
NYRA raised general admission prices this year for walk-up purchases.
Advance tickets remain $5 for the grandstand and $8 for the clubhouse, but at the gate those prices are $7 and $10, respectively.
All reserved seats have been sold out for Travers Day, when attendance will be capped at 50,000. Advance general admission is $10 for the grandstand and $25 for the clubhouse, with a $5 hike for each on Travers Day if there are any tickets still available.
Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 518-395-3146 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.
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