It was awkward, trainer Jimmy Jerkens said.
It was uncomfortable.
It’ll probably happen again.
While one of his ownership groups was crushed by defeat, another was jubilant in victory in the last stride of the 145th Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday.
In an unusual finish, the uncoupled stablemates V.E. Day and Wicked Strong nearly hit the wire at the same time for the same trainer.
The photo showed V.E. Day a short nose ahead of Wicked Strong, giving owner Magalen Bryant the victory and spoiling the day for Centennial Farms when it had appeared they were headed to the winner’s circle.
Although the Pennsylvania Derby is an option, Jerkens said it is more likely that his colts will get a rematch in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park on Sept. 27. That’s also the obvious option for Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist, who finished third in the Travers.
V.E. Day, a son of English Channel, has won four straight, and is coming into his own at what could be a fortuitous time of year.
Jerkens said he wouldn’t have qualms about sending either of his colts against older horses in the Jockey Club Gold Cup. One prominent race restricted to 3-year-olds still on the calendar is the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at Parx on Sept. 20, but running there would cut the comeback time from five weeks to four.
“I really don’t know. I’d like to stay in New York if I could,” Jerkens said. “I guess the Jockey Club Gold Cup wouldn’t be out of the question. I’m really not interested in the Pennsylvania Derby, even though there are a few enticing incentives. It’s kind of close, and I haven’t had much luck going over there. They’ve got nice big, lucrative races right in your backyard.”
Jerkens said V.E. Day and Wicked Strong each had a hard race, but came out of the Travers in good order.
“From what I can see, they look about as good as you could hope for a race like that,” he said. “They’re not drooping. They were walking regular. Maybe not quite as energetic, but not anything that you’d say that in another day or two, they’d be right back to their old selves again.”
He said the celebration was muted because his barn had a busy day on Sunday, with workouts and three entries during Sunday’s Saratoga Showcase Day card.
“Even though you feel great about winning, you don’t want to have to try to go do a day’s work while you’re hung over,” he said with a chuckle. “I’ll never forget it for the rest of my life. You couldn’t write a script like this. It’s something I’ll cherish for a long, long time.”
Jerkens was referring to the exhausting week as a whole.
Besides getting two horses ready for the Travers, he filled in for his father, Hall of Famer Allen Jerkens, during an emotional Red Jacket Walk of Fame ceremony on Friday.
Then there were mixed emotions after the Travers, because where one owner was rewarded, the other was thwarted at the last second.
“It was very awkward, there’s no question about it,” Jerkens said. “But people have to be good sports. That’s bound to happen somewhere along the line. Neither one could expect the other not to run just because one was in there. All of the owners pay a lot of training bills leading up, and you can’t deny one a chance to run in a race like the Travers just because the other one’s in there.”
V.E. Day just broke his maiden in May, but Jerkens said he showed indications during his workouts that there was tremendous upside.
He started as a turf router and is bred for the grass, but is 3-for-3 on conventional dirt.
His high opinion of Wicked Strong was not changed by the Travers outcome, either.
“I thought Wicked Strong was going to hold on,” Jerkens said. “His last two strides, it’s like he re-broke. You see it, he just lengthened. Those last two strides were gigantic. It didn’t look to me like Wicked Strong was weakening much. Maybe a little, but not like he was dying. And he galloped out pretty good, too.”
Jerkens also had high praise for Javier Castellano’s winning ride on V.E. Day.
Jose Lezcano had been his regular rider, but he was on Mr Speaker in the Travers, having ridden that colt six straight times leading into Saturday.
Jerkens warned Castellano that V.E. Day tends to lug in, so he prepared for that by going to the left stick as they straightened out in the stretch.
“He’s in such a zone,” Jerkens said of Castellano. “He’s been making all the right moves all meet. He’s putting horses in the right spots. He has a natural knack, and he’s been in so many high-pressure spots at this stage of his career that it’s almost become second nature of where he should be at what time. That’s what the great riders do.”
Trainer Christophe Clement said Tonalist came out of the Travers well and that he will need a few days before deciding what the next step would be, although the Jockey Club Gold Cup is a strong possibility.
He said he wanted to talk to jockey Joel Rosario about the fact that Tonalist was so close to Bayern on the lead early in the race.
“I would’ve preferred to be two or three lengths further back, but we can’t change it, we have to live with it,” Clement said. ”