Chad Brown wasn’t “just happy to be here” last year, as they say.
Hindsight is 20-20, and in retrospect, he sort of wishes he hadn’t been here.
“Here” is the Travers Stakes, the $1 million high point of the Saratoga Race Course meet.
The Mechanicville native saddled his first-ever Travers starter as a head trainer in 2011, Bowman’s Causeway, something of a thrill for Brown at his hometown track.
The Ontario-bred Bowman’s Causeway never showed any evidence that he belonged in the race once the gates opened, though, clunking along to finish seventh, 101⁄2 lengths behind Stay Thirsty.
Brown comes right back this year with another Travers starter, Street Life, and this time he believes he’s much better equipped to win it.
“If I knew Bowman’s Causeway was going to run like that, I wasn’t even going to run,” Brown said on Thursday morning. “I’ve got a lot of horses to run on Travers day, I’ll be there. But if I enter a race at Saratoga, it’s because I think I can win.”
Street Life comes into Saturday’s mile-and-a-quarter Travers off a win in the mile-and-an-eighth Curlin at Saratoga on July 27.
He’s a son of 2007 Kentucky Derby and Travers winner Street Sense and is the 5-1 third choice on the morning line.
Brown scored the first Grade I of his career last year, when Zagora, who is the 5-2 favorite in the Ballston Spa on Travers day, won the Diana at Saratoga.
He also counts Maram’s win in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf as one of the biggest victories of his career, but “winning the Travers would be tops.”
This year, it’s up to Street Life to get that done.
Like six others in the 11-horse field, he hasn’t won a graded stakes, but he didn’t miss by much in finishing third behind Gemologist and Travers favorite Alpha in the Peter Pan at Belmont Park.
After an unthreatening fourth in the Belmont, he skipped the Jim Dandy, the traditional Travers prep, and ran in the Curlin the day before.
On a sloppy track, he found himself on the outside of a shoulder-to-shoulder wall of four horses who swept wide off the second turn, but he was clearly the best and pulled away to win by 13⁄4 lengths over Five Sixteen, who also comes back in the Travers as a 15-1 long shot.
Jockey Jose Lezcano hand-rode Street Life in the final strides.
“This particular horse, he does come from off the pace,” Brown said. “He’s not really motivated early in his races. But he’s starting to catch on a little bit. It seemed like in the Curlin, he kept himself a little closer. But he’s going to benefit from a stronger pace up front, if he can get it.”
Trainer Gary Contessa said Speightscity will definitely fire from the rail, but it remains murky whoever else may choose to push the pace.
That makes it even more important for Street Life to stay in closer contact early. That’s something Bowman’s Causeway, more of a deep closer, could not do at any point last year.
Prior to the Travers, he raced in two legs of the Canadian Triple Crown, finishing fourth in the Queen’s Plate on synthetic and a strong-closing second in the Prince of Wales on Fort Erie’s conventional dirt main track.
“On paper, I thought my horse was coming off a good number in Canada on a dirt track,” Brown said. “So I thought if he just came forward a bit off that number, he would’ve been right there, and actually he went the other way.
“Just being in the Travers doesn’t really give me a charge, so I was really disappointed my horse didn’t show a better effort last year.”
Street Life is a dark brown colt owned by Magnolia Racing Stable and Hidden Brook Farm.
Magnolia is the nom de course for Bob and Janice McNair, who own the Houston Texans and campaigned Congaree before getting out of the sport temporarily.
The colt was unraced at 2, then broke his maiden second time out before winning the $75,000 Broad Brush at Aqueduct in March.
He finished well out of it in the Wood Memorial, canceling any ideas of making the Kentucky Derby.
A third behind Mark Valeski and Right to Vote sent him to the Belmont.
“It feels, coming into the race, that we have a better chance of winning the race,” Brown said. “Last year, we took a shot with a horse that was on the improve, and it didn’t work out. This year, the difference is we have a horse who’s a little more tested against this competition, running fourth in the Belmont and third in the Peter Pan and has a stakes win at Saratoga on the dirt.
“This horse gives us a lot of reason to believe we have a better shot this year.”