How do you turn a poor meet into a successful one? Win the Travers.
Will Take Charge, trained by Wayne Lukas — who had saddled just one winner from 41 prior starters at the meet — nailed long-time leader Moreno at the wire to capture the 144th Travers by a nose.
Orb, who loomed a serious threat throughout the final three furlongs, finished third, while Palace Malice, who stumbled badly at the break and was last early, ran on well to finish fourth.
Beaten a total of 45 lengths in this year’s three Triple Crown races, Will Take Charge showed signs of heading in the right direction with his solid second in the Jim Dandy here in last. Lukas removed the blinkers that day — and kept them off for the Travers — and that likely was a key.
He’s a big colt who could have a bright future. In defeat, Moreno ran very well. He led every step of the way except the last one, appearing to wait on horses late. It was a brutal beat.
Orb, who was coming off an 11-week layoff, looked great in the paddock. He had every chance to win, but hung through the stretch.
The colt with the biggest excuse was Palace Malice, who had used his natural speed to win both the Belmont Stakes and the Jim Dandy. When the gates opened on Saturday, he stumbled badly, completely losing position. Considering his natural running style and where he was early, Palace Malice ran quite well, and may have been best.
The favorite, Verrazano, did not run well. He sat a perfect outside stalking trip through conservative fractions, but was empty at the quarter-pole while finishing seventh.
Lukas was winning the Travers for the third time, his first since Thunder Gulch in 1995, while jockey Luis Saez won his first Travers in his initial try.
Todd Pletcher trained the favorite — Forty Tales — for the King’s Bishop. No surprise. Pletcher won the King’s Bishop with Capo Bastone. Big surprise. Rallying from far off the pace over a track favorable to speed, Capo Bastone collared leader Mentor Cane in deep stretch and went on to a two-length victory at 28-1.
A dismal seventh in last, an effort which caused John Velazquez to abandon him, Capo Bastone was training extremely well, according to Pletcher, and ran to his works under Irad Ortiz, Jr.
For decades, the Grade I Test Stakes was run on the second day of the meet. Annually, that was one of the quietest days of the, then, 24-day session. It was a terrific decision by NYRA to move this important stakes to Travers Saturday.
In front of the 47,597, California invader, Sweet Lulu, battled back along the inside to capture the 88th Test by a head. Making her first-ever start on dirt, Sweet Lulu stalked the quick early pace of Baby J, took over from that one approaching the quarter-pole, came under immediate pressure from Wildcat Lily, was headed at the eighth-pole by that one, but came back on courageously to prevail over her.
My Happy Face, who was spun wide off the final turn, rallied for third. Sweet Lulu is a wonderful looking — and talented — filly who, with only four career starts, still has plenty of upside potential.
Pace made the race in the grassy Ballston Spa, as Laughing, under an outstanding ride from Jose Lezcano, surprisingly went wire-to-wire to defeat Pianist by a neck.
The winner of the Grade I Diana here in last, Laughing set a conservative pace (23.89, 48.41 and 1:12.39) while being stalked throughout by Pianist, who I thought would be in front early. The two sat 1-2 throughout, and raced head-and-head for the final half-mile.
The winner is unbeaten in three starts this year while never being favored, and, ironically, has beaten Chad Brown-trained fillies each time. Favorite Hungry Island, who was compromised by the pace, finished a non-threatening fourth.
Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin’s hot streak continued in the second when favored Celebrated Talent overcame a bobble shortly after the start to win.
The son of Bernardini comfortably stalked the pace of long shot Bellamy Chief, took over in upper stretch, opened the lead, then held off a late run from second-choice Tiz Chris to prevail by a head. McLaughlin has won six races in the past four days, with this being the first on dirt.
When Bobby’s Kitten won the third race at even money, the result was pretty much expected. But the way he won was not. Coming off a debut where he was last for much of the race before rallying for third, Bobby’s Kitten scored wire-to-wire.
According to his trainer, Brown, the colt was quiet in the paddock, leading a worried Brown to tell substitute rider Jose Ortiz to warm the colt up vigorously. That caused Bobby’s Kitten to come running out of the gate, getting an opening quarter-mile in a fast 22.78.
With Ortiz giving him a breather racing into the far turn, the field closed in. But Bobby’s Kitten had plenty left to win, easing away by nearly three lengths, then galloped out quite strongly.
Brown’s grass horses do not normally run in this manner, so he has to teach the talented 2-year-old to be a racehorse. This colt has the ability to be a major factor in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.
The next start for Bobby’s Kitten — who is named for Brown’s mentor, Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel — is likely to be the Oct. 6 Pilgrim Stakes at Belmont Park.
Jockey Joel Rosario, who will be sidelined for about six weeks with a fractured bone in his left foot, was originally named on three winners Saturday. Rosario currently is second in the standings, behind Javier Castellano, with 41 winners. Jose Lezcano rode three winners on the 14-race card.
In attendance on Saturday was golf legend Arnold Palmer, along with his wife, Kit. Making his first visit to the Race Course, Palmer, a seven-time major champion, said, “I just flew up from Latrobe (Pa.) and love it here. I’ll be back.”