Travers field a hollow shell of what might have been

awincze@herald-leader.comAugust 22, 2012 

Alpha with Rob Massey up for morning exercises at Churchill Downs on Thursday May 3, 2012 in Louisville, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

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  • Travers Stakes

    When: 5:46 p.m. Saturday

    Where: Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

    Purse: $1 million

    TV: NBC-18

  • Travers Stakes field

    PP Horse Trainer Jockey Odds

    1 Speightscity Gary Contessa Irad Ortiz 30-1

    2 Five Sixteen Dominick Schettino Rosie Napravnik 15-1

    3 Golden Ticket Ken McPeek David Cohen 20-1

    4 Stealcase Mark Casse Shaun Bridgmohan 15-1

    5 Street Life Chad Brown Jose Lezcano 5-1

    6 Alpha Kiaran McLaughlin Ramon Dominguez 5-2

    7 Atigun Ken McPeek Mike Smith 12-1

    8 Neck 'n Neck Ian Wilkes Leandro Goncalves 9-2

    9 Liaison Bob Baffert Rafael Bejarano 8-1

    10 Nonios Jerry Hollendorfer John Velazquez 4-1

    11 Fast Falcon Nick Zito Junior Alvarado 20-1

Three and a half months ago, they were being lauded as perhaps the best representation of a generation horse racing had seen in years — overflowing with brilliance that would only be enhanced with time.

Fast forward to the present and this year's 3-year-old male class finds itself reduced to remnants, losing its latest top-flight members the week of one of its most defining races.

So while the main objective for the 11 sophomores entered in Saturday's Grade I, $1 million Travers Stakes at Saratoga is to polish their own credentials, they are also running to restore some collective pride.

One day after Grade I winner Bodemeister was retired because of a shoulder injury, attrition claimed another when the connections of juvenile champion Hansen said Wednesday the colt would miss the Travers and probably be retired because of a tendon injury to his left front leg.

With nine of the horses who ran in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile coming back to win graded stakes prior to the Triple Crown, plus Kentucky Derby and Preakness 1-2 finishers I'll Have Another and Bodemeister looking like freaks in the making, there was good reason to think the foal crop of 2009 would be a force beyond this season.

Of the top 10 finishers in the Kentucky Derby, however, only Dullahan (third), Liaison (sixth), Rousing Sermon (eighth) and Daddy Nose Best (10th) are actively in training with I'll Have Another and Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags joining Bodemeister in retirement.

Along with Liaison, Godolphin Racing's multiple graded stakes winner Alpha is the only other entrant from the first Saturday in May who made it to the "Midsummer Derby" and stands as the 5-2 morning-line favorite for Saturday's 11/4-mile Travers.

"I'm sorry for the connections of Hansen, it's not easy for any of us to have to go through what they're going through," said Kiaran McLaughlin, trainer of Alpha. "It would be nice for us if we happen to win (the Travers), or whoever happens to win it, because this is a very important race for 3-year-olds. It would be nice to have some good news in that category instead of negative news.

"There are some nice horses in here that are developing late for the second half of the season."

Aside from his 12th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby and 11th-place run in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Churchill Downs, Alpha has not been worse than second in his six other career starts and is 2-for-2 over the Saratoga main track.

In winning the Grade II Jim Dandy over a sloppy surface last time out, the son of Bernardini showed a new dimension when he ditched his stalking ways and headed every point of call en route to a 2-length triumph. The absence of the front-running Hansen all but guarantees Alpha will be forwardly placed again out of post No. 6, and few are better at controlling early fractions than his jockey, Ramon Dominguez.

"Gary Contessa (trainer of Speightscity) said he's going to go like hell from the No. 1 hole but we'll see how it unfolds," McLaughlin said. "With Hansen out of there, it changes the pace a bit, but we'll most likely be in the first three going into the first turn.We're happy we're the favorite, but it's going to be a good horse race."

Jim Dandy Stakes runner-up Neck 'n Neck has made huge strides in his mental development, according to trainer Ian Wilkes, and could be one to watch in the stretch if he gets a dry track and more pace to target.

Morning-line second choice Nonios, who has been no worse than third in six starts, was second to Paynter in the Grade I Haskell Invitational on July 29 in his first try over a dirt track.

"We try not to bring our horses anywhere we don't think they have a good chance, and I don't think we're being foolish or frivolous with him," said Jerry Hollendorfer, trainer of Nonios.

Alicia Wincze Hughes: (859) 231-1676. Blog: horseracing.bloginky.com.

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