Though his owners would rather have Big Brown bypass the Travers for the Haskell Invitational in New Jersey, the New York Racing Association isn’t giving up on the idea of seeing the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner in Saratoga Race Course’s signature event.
Whether or not he runs in the Aug. 3 Haskell, held one week
after Saratoga’s hometown Travers prep, the Jim Dandy, the possibility remains that Big Brown could come back 20 days later in the Mid-Summer Derby.
Michael Iavarone of majority owner IEAH Stable announced plans over the weekend to send Big Brown to the Haskell, despite repeatedly saying before and
after the colt’s shocking loss in the
June 7 Belmont Stakes that the Travers would be the next goal.
Trainer Rick Dutrow Jr., meanwhile, favors the Travers because of its history as the oldest stakes race for 3-year-olds in the country, first run in 1864, widely considered an extension of the Triple Crown.
“I spoke to Rick Dutrow about three or four days ago, and I think all along, his main goal was the Travers,” NYRA racing secretary P.J. Campo said Monday afternoon during the association’s annual upstate gathering at the Desmond Hotel
& Conference Center to preview the impending Saratoga meet.
“It seems evident that the Travers is a big race to him, and one he’d like to win. There are a lot of variables between now and the Haskell, and the Haskell to the Travers. He’d have to be training well going into the Haskell; if not, he has a lot of options. I think he’s made it evident that if he runs well in the Haskell and comes out of it well, the Travers is a good target for him.”
The Aug. 23 Travers highlights the 140th summer of racing at Saratoga, which opens July 23 and runs six days a week, excluding Tuesdays, through Labor Day, Sept. 1.
With a syndication deal worth a reported $50 million waiting for him, Big Brown will be retired at the end of 2008, putting his upcoming starts at a premium. Both the Haskell and Travers are Grade I races with a purse of $1 million.
Iavarone believes Monmouth Park’s speed-favoring racetrack would be a better fit than Saratoga for Big Brown, and feels the weather would be cooler on the Jersey shore, where he would only have to run 11⁄8 miles, a furlong shorter than the Travers.
Monmouth Park also offers a $25,000 bonus for any horse that wins a Triple Crown race and runs in the Haskell, a $50,000 windfall for Big Brown’s connections.
“Having announced a syndicate deal, I think it’s very important from a business sense to get this horse a win,” NYRA chairman and CEO Charlie Hayward said. “We run the races. We’ll put up the money, and if you win the race, you’ll get it. You don’t get any money for showing up, and you never will. That’s just not how we do it at NYRA. I wish the IEAH guys well. I really hope the horse comes back and runs well, and we’d love to see him run at NYRA.”
Da’ Tara, upset winner of the Belmont at odds of 38-1, and stablemate Anak Nakal, who dead-heated for third, are both being pointed to the Travers by Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito.
Belmont runner-up Denis of Cork, third in the Derby, is also eyeing the Travers, and his trainer, David Carroll, will have stalls at Saratoga for the first time this summer.
One-time top Derby candidate Pyro, who recently won the Northern Dancer at Churchill Downs for trainer Steve Asmussen, is another candidate. Trainers Todd Pletcher of Ready’s Echo and Behindatthebar, Dallas Stewart of Macho Again and Eoin Harty of Colonel John will also be on the grounds this summer, and none of their horses have been ruled out.
“To me, timing is everything,” Campo said. “The Jim Dandy to the Travers is four weeks, and there’s a lot of opportunity here for these guys to run. I think a lot of it
depends on Big Brown and what he does and where he runs.”
Last summer, Street Sense became the first Derby winner since Thunder Gulch in 1995 to run in the Travers. In the last 20 years, four horses have won the Haskell and Travers: Forty Niner (1988), Holy Bull (1994), Coronado’s Quest (1998) and Point Given (2001).