The last stages of night still blanketed Saratoga Race Course when Wonder Gadot was roused from sleep and tacked up for her last serious Travers workout early Friday morning.
There was no question who would be in the saddle, as Chris Garraway has been her regular exercise rider since they shipped from Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto earlier in the meet.
When it comes to who will be in the saddle for the $1.25 million Travers itself on Aug. 25, though, Team Casse is still in the dark.
Wonder Gadot final breeze for the Travers (exercise rider Chris Garraway) pic.twitter.com/nqD6OuYNyG— Mike MacAdam (@Mike_MacAdam) August 17, 2018
Trainer Mark Casse said that, because Hall of Famer jockey John Velazquez won’t be available to ride Wonder Gadot, he has had to assemble a short list of candidates for which owner Gary Barber will have final say. Casse said they’ll probably announce their decision on Monday, a day before the Travers post position draw.
The list includes Hall of Famer Mike Smith, Florent Geroux and 23-year-old Tyler Gaffalione.
Geroux rode Catch a Glimpse to victory in the 2015 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf for Casse and Barber, and they brought Gaffalione to Saratoga last year to ride Salty in the Alabama, where she was third.
“I’ve said this all along that the next Johnny V is Tyler Gaffalione,” Casse said. “It wouldn’t be surprising if you might see Tyler. He hasn’t done much up here, but he’s been a go-to guy for us who has gone all over the place. He’s out this weekend in California riding for Gary. We have a lot of confidence in Tyler.”
Casse has already given his input on the subject and will leave the final decision to Barber.
No matter who they pick, Wonder Gadot is “pretty easy” to ride, Casse said, which Garraway can attest to.
“She has gears,” he said with a grin after the filly ripped through four furlongs in a bullet 47.60 while most people were still in bed Friday.
Velazquez has a long-standing professional relationship with trainer Todd Pletcher, so Casse understands why he would stick with Vino Rosso.
Velazquez has ridden Wonder Gadot in most of her non-Woodbine stakes and was aboard for victories in the first two legs of the Canadian Triple Crown, the Queen’s Plate and the Prince of Wales.
“Of course, we would love to have Johnny,” Casse said. “But we knew going in, politically, it was probably not going to be possible. I would not read anything into it. I’ve personally talked to Johnny on many occasions, and I think he feels she has as good a chance as anybody.
“We knew it, we’re OK with it and we understand. I have the same issue when I’m in Toronto. Patrick Husbands has ridden a thousand winners for me, and people know that ultimately he’s going to ride for me.”
Smith, meanwhile, “is definitely on the list,” Casse said with a dry grin. “I would say that there’s a shot.”
For the second year in a row, the Travers could field a full starting gate, and two European horses, Mendelssohn and Seahenge from the barn of Aidan O’Brien, are in the mix now.
They shipped back to Ireland after finishing third and fifth, respectively, in the Dwyer at Belmont Park on July 7.
Mendelssohn’s rollercoaster season includes a victory by a whopping 18 1/2 lengths in the UAE Derby in Dubai, after which he was battered around right out of the starting gate in the Kentucky Derby and finished last of 20.
O’Brien’s colts are scheduled to arrive at Saratoga on Tuesday.
Besides Wonder Gadot and those two, probable Travers horses are Bravazo, Catholic Boy, Good Magic, Gronkowski, Hofburg, King Zachary, Meistermind, Tenfold, Trigger Warning and Vino Rosso. California-based Axelrod is possible.
Frostie Anne won at Saratoga for the second time in six days and the sixth time in a row since March 31 when she held off Land Mine by a half-length in Friday’s Saratoga Dew.
“She’s usually very headstrong and difficult in the mornings, but the last eight weeks she’s been very good, relaxed and comfortable,” trainer Rudy Rodriguez said. “You always are concerned when they come back from short rest, but we’ll freshen her up from here and go forward.”
In the other stakes on the card, Kendrick Carmouche guided 22-1 betting long shot Chattel to his second straight win in the $100,000 Skidmore turf sprint.
He beat Swamp Rat by 3 1/4 lengths for mid-Atlantic-based trainer Brandon McFarlane. Chattel jumped into stakes company off a maiden win at Laurel Park on July 13.