Afleet Express wins Travers by a hair

Javier Castellano, right, on Afleet Express said after the close finish he and Jose Lezcano, on Fly Down, laughed but "were worried."
Javier Castellano, right, on Afleet Express said after the close finish he and Jose Lezcano, on Fly Down, laughed but "were worried." ASSOCIATED PRESS

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — Afleet Express was making his bid, coming off the far turn, moving away from the rail and gaining the lead from Miner's Reserve just past the eighth pole in Saturday's $1 million Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.

The "Midsummer Derby" was far from over. Fly Down had begun moving, too, passing horses on the outside as he made the turn for home. By the time the two colts hit the sixteenth pole, they were just about even, battling side by side, stride for stride over the final 110 yards.

With a crowd of 45,764 cheering, the colts seemed to reach the finish together; it took a photo to show Afleet Express had won by a nose.

"If he had been beaten by a nose, it would have been hard to swallow," a relieved trainer Jimmy Jerkens said. "When (Fly Down) came up to him, it looked like he was slowing down, almost hitting the rail. ... But when he saw that horse, it looked like he straightened up and gave it a go."

Nick Zito, who trains Fly Down and is having a tough Saratoga meet with just two winners so far, was discouraged but said his colt put in a big effort.

"That's another second," Zito said, referring to Fly Down's runner-up finish in the Belmont. "They're all tough. Sometimes, like I say, you've got to be content. When I saw the replay I thought the other horse had the bob. ... It was unbelievable."

After the horses crossed the finish, Afleet Express's jockey Javier Castellano said he glanced at Fly Down's rider, Jose Lezcano.

"We were laughing, but our faces were kind of worried," Castellano said. "I said, 'What do you think?' I guess I wanted to say, like (race caller) Tom Durkin, 'Too close to call.'"

Jerkens, the son of Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens, called the victory the biggest of his career.

'Yes, this is it," he said. "It's at Saratoga, so it's extra special."

Afleet Express missed the Triple Crown races after developing a hip injury, but won the Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth in June and finished third despite a troubled trip in the Jim Dandy Stakes at the Spa on July 31.

"I had a beautiful trip," Castellano said. "That photo could have gone either way, and I'm very lucky it went my way."

A diverse field of 11 3-year-olds lined up for the 11/4-mile Travers, ranging from Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver to the runners-up in the Derby, Preakness and Belmont as well as a maiden winner making his second start.

Super Saver finished 10th for his third straight defeat since winning the Run for the Roses May 1.

"We were able to ... get decent position at the break," Super Saver's trainer Todd Pletcher said of his colt, who started from the No. 11 post, "but just came up empty."

Calvin Borel, who was aboard Super Saver, added: "My confidence was high going in, but then I had nothing. He just wasn't there."

Preakness runner-up First Dude was third, 6¾ lengths behind Fly Down, followed by Afleet Again, Jim Dandy winner A Little Warm, Friend Or Foe, Miner's Reserve, Derby runner-up Ice Box, 3-1 favorite Trappe Shot, Super Saver and Admiral Alex.

Admiral Alex was attempting to win the Travers after winning his first career start on July 31.

First Dude has now finished third in three consecutive Grade I races — the Belmont, the Haskell and the Travers.