SARATOGA SPRINGS — Travers Day “goes by so fast,” Bob Baron said, at least up until the point when your horse is running in one of the big races on the card.
Then it slows down, as Baron of Voorheesville experienced last year. For a few moments, anyway. Fortunately for him and his family, Promises Fulfilled never slowed down, taking the lead out of the starting gate and winning the Grade I Allen Jerkens by a length and a quarter.
That completed a sweep of the graded stakes sprints for 3-year-olds at the meet, an Amsterdam-Allen Jerkens double that gave Baron and his family the thrill of a lifetime.
They’re looking for another big Travers Day, when the Dale Romans-trained Promises Fulfilled returns to the Saratoga Race Course main track for the Grade I Forego to kick off a string of six graded stakes leading up to the $1.25 million Travers.
“I think he has a big shot,” Baron said Thursday morning. “He’s training great, he’s had a good summer here, put a little weight on … he looks good.”
“Bob’s one of my best friends, so it’s good to work with him, and he’s out every morning with me and we talk on a daily basis,” Romans said. “It’s always rewarding to win, but it’s maybe a little more special when it’s a guy from around here.”
Baron played quarterback at RPI and started coming to Saratoga in the 1960s, a few years before he graduated.
The owner of two Albany-based construction trucking companies, he began buying racehorses in the 1990s. By the time he picked up an unnamed yearling at the Keeneland September sales in 2016, he and his wife of over 40 years, Debbie, chose to name it for the happy and fruitful life they had enjoyed.
Then Promises Fulfilled delivered, again and again.
He was 15th in the Kentucky Derby to eventual Triple Crown winner Justify in 2018, at which point Romans wheeled him back to sprint distances. A string of victories in the Amsterdam, Allen Jerkens and Phoenix at Keeneland took Promises Fulfilled to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, where he was fourth to Roy H.
“If you told me we were going to do that at the beginning of the summer, I’d be kind of looking at you like, ‘Eh,'” Baron said. “But I think he likes this track. He does well up here, so that was a great year, and I’m quietly optimistic that he’s going to run big on Saturday.”
He’ll need to, since Mitole, the 4-5 morning-line favorite, is in the six-horse Forego field.
Promises Fulfilled was fourth to X Y Jet in the $2.5 million Dubai Golden Shaheen, then ran into Mitole twice, finishing third to him in the Grade I Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby Day and fourth to him in a loaded field for the Grade I Met Mile on Belmont Stakes Day.
Promises Fulfilled came back four weeks later to win the Grade II John A. Nerud at Belmont Park on July 6.
The Steve Asmussen-trained Mitole, meanwhile, was blasting his way through a seven-race winning streak capped by the Met Mile, but suffered a loss to Imperial Hint in the Grade I A.G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga on July 27. Promises Fulfilled skipped that race to recharge from his rigorous first half of the year.
“We haven’t beaten him yet,” Romans said of Mitole. “But I think we’re a little bit better than we were last time. We’ll just see what happens. Yeah, he [Mitole] got burned up last time, but if he wasn’t 100% and doing right, Steve wouldn’t have him in here. He’s too smart and too good a horseman, so you’ve got to consider the best Mitole’s going to be there.”
“He’s not running him if he’s not ready,” Baron said. “I think it’ll be a very good race, and I think that’s why it’s a short field, because of who’s in the race. We’re not afraid of him. We’re running. We’ve always said we were running, so we’re not going to change our plan now.”
“He bounced out of it in good shape,” Asmussen said. “Similar thing, is Saratoga his spot? Handicapping-wise, Saratoga isn’t for everyone. Some horses excel here, some don’t, necessarily. But I’m pleased with how he is training, and I think he deserves the opportunity.”
Promises Fulfilled will break from the rail under Luis Saez, who has ridden him in eight of his last nine races (Robby Albarado had the mount in the Golden Shaheen).
“We don’t want to miss the break,” Romans said. “He’s got to come away from there running. If he breaks like he did last time, we’re in good shape.”
And if he wins, there will be another raucous Travers Day celebration from the Baron family.
“You think it’s going to be a long day, and it seems to go by so fast, up to your race,” Baron said. “And I had a lot of family here, a lot of grandkids, I was so excited for them, and then we ran extremely well in that race. And the kids were just jumping up and screaming along with their grandfather. It’s just a day you can’t explain.”