There was no one at Wednesday’s post-position draw for the $1 million Travers to speak on behalf of Pyro, not that it mattered.
In the largest Travers field in nearly two decades, the odds spoke for him.
Trained by Steve Asmussen, Pyro was made the 7-2 program favorite for the 11⁄4-mile Travers, to be run for the 139th time Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.
A dozen horses were entered for the the Mid-Summer Derby, eight of them graded stakes winners. If all 12 start, it will be the largest Travers field since Rhythm was first of 13 in 1990.
The record for a Travers field is 14, set in 1977.
“I’ve been coming here a long time, and I honestly can’t remember the last time we had 12 in the Travers,” New York Racing Association President-CEO Charlie Hayward said. “There’s been some discussion about the quality of the field, but we’ve got a tremendous number of graded stakes winners in the race. I think it’s going to be one of the most exciting and contentious races we’ve had in some time.”
Pyro is coming off a runner-up finish to Macho Again in the Grade II Jim Dandy, Saratoga’s local Travers prep, on July 27, earning his second straight Beyer Speed Figure of 101.
A narrow second choice on the morning line is Canadian classic winner Harlem Rocker, listed at 4-1. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Harlem Rocker is 4-0 in his career on conventional dirt tracks, the lone loss coming over the Polytrack at Woodbine in Canada.
In his last start, Harlem Rocker won the Prince of Wales, the second leg of the Canadian triple crown. He was assigned a Beyer of 90 for that race, 16 points below his career high set winning the Grade III Withers in April.
“Both horses are very good horses,” NYRA linemaker Eric Donovan said. “It’s a big field, very evenly matched, and it was hard to come up with a favorite. I went back and forth between Harlem Rocker and Pyro for a while.
“If the speed figure came back a little higher for Harlem Rocker, it might have been an easier choice to make him the favorite, since he’s undefeated on dirt. I’m not sure he’s a household name, whereas Pyro went through all the 2-year-old races last year and the Triple Crown campaign. He came with a good finish last time, he was favored in the Jim Dandy, and Steve Asmussen’s doing well.”
Mambo in Seattle, winner of the $90,000 Henry Walton overnight stakes at Saratoga on the Jim Dandy undercard, is the third choice at 5-1. He represents the second consecutive Travers starter for trainer Neil Howard, who nearly upset Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense with Grasshopper last summer.
“It’s a very contentious race, from Harlem Rocker and Pyro right on down,” Howard said. “I think it’s going to be a great renewal.”
Macho Again, owned in part by Saratoga Springs residents Roger and Joyce Locks through the West Point Throughbreds syndicate, is looking to become the fourth straight Jim Dandy winner to sweep the Travers.
In from California are Grade I winner Colonel John, and Tres Borrachos, who beat Colonel John in the Grade II Swaps July 12 over Hollywood Park’s Cushion Track. Colonel John has only run once on dirt, finishing sixth in the Derby.
Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito will be represented by three horses, Belmont winner
Da’ Tara, Fountain of Youth winner Cool Coal Man, and allowance winner Amped, a surprise entrant who, like Da’ Tara, is owned by Robert LaPenta.
There were some other draw surprises, led by the entry of Tizbig. Trained by Hall of Famer Allen Jerkens, Tizbig was fifth in the Henry Walton and ran second in a second-level allowance here on Sunday.
Another Hall of Fame trainer, Bill Mott, did not enter You and I Forever but did include Grade II winner Court Vision. He is owned by IEAH Stables, the same group that owns majority interest in Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown, who is sitting out the Travers.
IEAH also backed out of the Travers with Acai, a recent allowance winner who had also been considered for the race.
“We knew he’d be a long shot in the race,” IEAH partner Michael Iavarone said. “We felt like the mile and a quarter might be too much for him, and when we decided to run Court
Vision, that kind of sealed the deal.
“[Big Brown] just ran in the Haskell, so he needs a little bit of a break. We’ll be looking at the Breeders’ Cup Classic pretty soon.”
Rounding out the field is Tale of Ekati, winner of the Grade I Wood Memorial in April who ran second in the Grade II Sanford at Saratoga as a 2-year-old.