Eric Guillot trotted out his best material on Wednesday.
Todd Pletcher will trot out his best on Saturday.
Guillot, the voluble Cajun trainer from New Iberia, La., known for casting voodoo spells on opponents, was the life of the party at the draw for the $1 million Travers.
His latest hexes will need to be extra powerful to keep Pletcher from the winner’s circle, as Pletcher will saddle the top two choices on the morning line, Haskell Invitational winner Verrazano and Belmont Stakes and Jim Dandy winner Palace Malice.
Verrazano drew the No. 3 post and is 2-1 in the nine-horse field, and Palace Malice will break from No. 8 and is the 5-2 second choice, ahead of the 4-1 Kentucky Derby winner, Orb.
Asked on Monday if he was aware of the voodoo doll in his likeness, Pletcher deadpanned: “Yes. That concerns me a little bit. I haven’t seen it, but he was showing it to my dad the other day. That’s not good.”
Guillot’s horse, owned by Mike Moreno’s Southern Equine Stable, likely will be the primary pace factor as he breaks from post 6.
The trainer held court during and after the draw, explaining why he bought an action figure representing Pletcher and stuck pins in its head.
“It comes from my ancestry,” he said. “My great grandmother did witchcraft stuff with the hands and the palms and the tarot cards. When they’d get a wart on their hand, they’d do a prayer with a rosebush. It’s all about the mindset, you know what I mean? Mind over matter. If it don’t matter, I don’t mind.
“I bought it at Wal-Mart, believe it or not. Wally World, as we call it in Louisiana. Wally World had the perfect one. I was looking for a Ken doll, but it was too buff for Todd. He’s not as buff like he used to be. They had the Twilight guy with the piercing blue eyes and the blond hair. It’s awesome.”
Pletcher has been enjoying Guillot’s antics as much as anyone, and comes into the Travers brimming with confidence.
He has a Hall of Fame jockey on each of his horses and has won the Travers twice, with Stay Thirsty in 2011 and Flower Alley in 2005.
Verrazano (John Velazquez) has moved past a 14th in the Kentucky Derby to win his last two races by a combined 19 lengths, and Palace Malice (Mike Smith) won the Belmont and Jim Dandy in convincing fashion.
“It’s a good position to be in,” Pletcher said. “Like I’ve said all along, it’s good to have two horses of that quality. They’ve performed well all year, and seem to be peaking now. The Travers is a very important race, and Saratoga is a very important meet to us, so it’s good to have two strong representatives.”
Guillot said he is happy with his post position, especially because he has Verrazano to his inside.
His non-stop cavalcade of jokes included a vow to put bear grease in Moreno’s tail to repel any horses coming from behind.
But, like Pletcher, he also has confidence in his colt, who rolled by seven lengths to win the Dwyer, and led for most of the Jim Dandy.
Despite setting a fast pace, he held well for third as Will Take Charge got up for second behind Palace Malice.
“The scenario is, as soon as they smell the bear grease in his tail, on the first turn, I’ll be three [lengths] in front and they’ll sit back,” Guillot said. “Then they’ll get confident on the backside and get to the bear grease again. They test for everything else in New York, but they don’t test for bear grease.
“It’s the same deal [as the Jim Dandy]. No sub-24’s. Every quarter has to be 24 [seconds] and change. If they let me get off with that, this horse has a high, high cruising speed. He’s more efficient than Santa Claus on Christmas Eve.”
“There’s going to be bear grease in his tail, right?” Pletcher said. “He’s a character; he’s fun, though.”
Trainer Shug McGaughey said he would have preferred getting a post more to the outside for Orb.
He’s counting on the mile-and-a-quarter distance and the possibility of a fast pace from Moreno to set it up for Orb, who again will be ridden by Joel Rosario.
“Like Todd, if I had the six, seven or eight, I would’ve been a lot more happy, but we’ve got a long way to go, we can save some ground and hopefully, there’ll be a pace where we can get out on time,” McGaughey said.
Godolphin Racing has them all surrounded, as Romansh drew the rail and stablemate Transparent is all the way outside in the 9 post.
Transparent finished first and Romansh was second in the Curlin, but a disqualification gave Romansh the win.
They ran in the Darley Stable silks, and were elevated to Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin royal blue for the Travers.
There are two significant rider changes for the Travers.
Trainer D. Wayne Lukas will go with Luis Saez in place of Junior Alvarado on Will Take Charge.
Alvarado was also the regular rider on Romansh, but with meet leader Javier Castellano available, Godolphin and trainer Tom Albertrani snagged him.
“That’s the basketball coach coming out,” Lukas said. “I get a gut feeling about who’s playing well and who isn’t, and I like to match them up a little bit. That’s not to say that Junior didn’t ride a real good race, but I thought maybe Luis would fit this horse a little better, be a little more aggressive, tougher race … I made an executive decision.”
He downplayed the significant of the post positions because of the distance of the race.
“I think it’s going to spread out a little bit,” he said. “I don’t think everybody’s going to be bunched into that first turn. It’ll mean a little on the break and a little on who’s in the back, who’s doing what and what they’re thinking about as they’re trying to get position. It gives these guys [media] something to write about, but it’s not that big a deal.”
The Travers horses will be subject to early out-of-competition blood testing for banned substances and 24-hour monitoring at their trainers’ own barns and stalls on the grounds.
The New York State Gaming Commission is also requiring the submission of veterinary records for participating horses for three days leading up to the race, which were to be published on the commission’s website starting Wednesday.