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Features - RACING

Verrazano made easy work of the Haskell Invitational in July. He has had a near perfect career with his only loss coming in the Kentucky Derby (Photos by Eclipse Sportswire).

By Tom Pedulla

With so many top-tier horses at his disposal and as many high-powered owners backing them, trainer Todd Pletcher and his staff constantly find themselves scrutinizing condition books to look for racing opportunities at tracks near and far.

The goal, whenever possible, is to keep stablemates from competing against each other. Because his operation does such an exceptional job of that, Pletcher began this week as the runaway leader in earnings among trainers in North America with $17,049,944. Graham Motion ($9,578,503) and Bob Baffert ($9,565,796) ranked second and third, respectively.

But there can be no keeping Pletcher’s finest 3-year-olds, Palace Malice and Verrazano, from entering the starting gate together on Saturday for the 144th running of the $1 million Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.

The odds attest to the gaudy credentials of each. Verrazano, a winner every time but one in seven career starts, is the 2-1 favorite. Palace Malice, bidding to join 1969 Horse of the Year Arts and Letters as the only horses to sweep the Belmont Stakes, Jim Dandy and Travers, is the second choice at 5-2 to complete that feat. He is followed in the morning line odds by Kentucky Derby winner Orb at 4-1, conditioned by Shug McGaughey.

“You always try to do what’s best for each individual horse and each individual owner, and I think the Travers is the right race for both horses,” Pletcher said. “It’s kind of as simple as that. I’m as excited to see it as everyone else. They’re two horses that are doing unbelievably well and coming off really, really good races.

“It’s going to be interesting. I think it’s going to be a fun race to watch. It’s shaping up to be a great Travers.”

It would not be shocking to see Pletcher’s tandem slugging it out for the lead as they turn for home. Their running styles can be that similar.

“Ideally, they’re horses that want to stalk an honest pace,” the trainer said. “I think we should get an honest pace in here, and they’re both going to be laying just off the main speed.”

Palace Malice and Verrazano are a credit to Pletcher in that they appear to be surging at a time of year when they might be expected to show some wear and tear. Palace Malice, who reacted poorly to the addition of blinkers in the Kentucky Derby and ran himself to exhaustion after setting impossible fractions, could not have been more impressive in the Belmont and the Jim Dandy.

PALACE MALICE FOLLOWED HIS BELMONT STAKES VICTORY WITH A WIN IN THE JIM DANDY

Palace Malice Travers Inside

“It seems like, in the period of time from the Kentucky Derby to the Belmont, that he kind of stepped his game up another notch,” said Pletcher. “For whatever reason, he’s become a little more professional and learned to put himself in a good position and deliver that closing punch. I guess you could say it all came together after the Derby, but the talent has always been there.”

Verrazano’s worst performance came at the worst time, when he ran 14th in the Derby. But he has rebounded strongly since then and dominated the mile-and-an-eighth Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J., in his last start. He earned a 116 Beyer speed figure for that race, highest of any 3-year-old and the second-highest mark this year for a horse of any age. Game On Dude was awarded a 117 when he topped the Santa Anita Handicap much earlier this season.

Pletcher is well on his way to his 10th training title at Saratoga. He previously took the Travers with Flower Alley in 2005 and with Stay Thirsty in 2011. With two big shots ahead, there may be no keeping him from a third triumph in the famed “mid-summer Derby.”

$1 million Travers Stakes

Saturday, Saratoga Race Course, Race 12, 5:46 p.m. ET

3-year-olds, 1 1/4 miles (dirt)

PP

Horse

Jockey

Trainer

Odds

1

Romansh

Javier Castellano

Tom Albertrani

12-1

2

Orb

Joel Rosario

Shug McGaughey

4-1

3

Verrazano

John Velazquez

Todd Pletcher

2-1

4

Golden Soul

Robby Albarado

Dallas Stewart

20-1

5

Will Take Charge

Luis Saez

D. Wayne Lukas

10-1

6

Moreno

Jose Ortiz

Eric Guillot

12-1

7

War Dancer

Alan Garcia

Kenny McPeek

15-1

8

Palace Malice

Mike Smith

Todd Pletcher

5-2

9

Transparent

Irad Ortiz Jr.

Kiaran McLaughlin

10-1

All carry 126 pounds.

 

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