There are owners and breeders who will spend a lifetime hoping to experience a sliver of the highs Prince Khalid Abdullah's Juddmonte Farms has enjoyed just in 2011.
The powerhouse operation campaigns the undefeated European champion Frankel — widely considered the best horse in the world. And in the past 10 days, Juddmonte runners have finished 1-2 in the Group I Prix Jean Romanet and the stable's signature Judd monte International Stakes. So the farm's pink and green silks might be the most feared sight in many starting gates right now.
But one of the few races on either side of the ocean that has eluded Juddmonte over the years is Saratoga's Grade I, $1 million Travers Stakes.
Should Saturday be the day Juddmonte crosses that one off its list, it will — for more than the obvious reasons — resonate as one of the farm's crowning achievements.
With only a maiden win from four prior starts to his credit, Juddmonte's homebred Raison d'Etat might have the lightest credentials in the 10-horse Travers field. But a quick look at his bloodline shows why the inexperienced bay colt is set to face classic winners Shackleford and Ruler On Ice and Haskell champ Coil.
Raison d'Etat is the product of leading sire A.P. Indy and Juddmonte's multiple Grade I winning mare Sightseek — who broke her maiden at Saratoga and won the 2003 Grade I Go for Wand Handicap at the Spa.
A.P. Indy offspring tend to develop late, and Sightseek didn't make her career debut until July of her 3-year-old season. Not surprisingly, Raison d'Etat is still maturing, but his 73/4-length maiden victory at Belmont on June 18 and runner-up effort in the Curlin Stakes on July 29 showed his owner and trainer Bill Mott there was enough upside to merit a try against Grade I company.
"He ran once last year, but then he just started to wake up in the spring," said Garrett O'Rourke, manager of Juddmonte USA. "He had bad luck first time out, won impressively second time out and, when I went to see him when he ran in the Curlin, God, I was impressed. He was always a good-looking horse, but he's so mature now.
"We're taking a shot but taking a shot because his form, his sheet figures, everything suggests he's close. I think we're going to try and find out if the signs he's showing and the pedigree he has can all shine through on Saturday."
Though Raison d'Etat was beaten 23/4 lengths by Turbo Compressor in the 11⁄8-mile Curlin, it was a good effort, considering the way the pace scenario fell apart.
Instead of being pressed on the front end as expected, Turbo Compressor was allowed to run a half-mile in a leisurely :49.67. But Raison d'Etat was still able to close well from off the pace to finish 51/4 lengths clear of third-place finisher Prime Cut.
By contrast, the Travers should have ample early speed in the form of Shackleford, Stay Thirsty and Coil. So getting favorable fractions should be the least of Raison d'Etat's problems.
"In my opinion, that race turned into a 6-furlong sprint, and that is not his forte," O'Rourke said. "But a mile and a quarter should be and, hopefully, we'll get a faster pace."
Should Raison d'Etat pull off the upset Saturday — and given the parity of the 3-year-old division this year, that is not so far-fetched — the post-race celebration will likely be drenched in sentimentality.
In addition to the seven Grade I wins Sightseek earned for Juddmonte during her days on the track, the chestnut mare has been a farm favorite since the time she could stand and nurse because of her amiable temperament.
When Sightseek won the 2004 Grade I Beldame in her final career start, even her hardboot trainer, the late Bobby Frankel, openly wept. Raison d'Etat already boasts his mother's build and sweet disposition and, if he can channel some of her talent, more emotions are certain to be stirred.
"It's an advantage to know the family, but there is also a pride that comes with it, too, because you have such familiarity with them," O'Rourke said. "Definitely, around here on the farm, there is a lot of pride left over from the days of Sightseek winning all of her Grade Is. We would be absolutely delighted for Raison d'Etat (if he can win the Travers)."