With the division leader sitting out Saturday's Grade I Travers Stakes, the oft-proclaimed Mid-Summer Derby represents an opportunity for some lucky sophomore to grab the spotlight.
Some in the 11-horse field are looking for redemption, some are seeking to prove they belong and some are looking to validate all their hype.
The jury may be out on the quality of this year's Travers lineup, but the depth of the entrants in the 11/4-mile test is right up there with any of the most recent races.
With Preakness Stakes winner Lookin At Lucky not in the race because of a fever he spiked shortly after his emphatic triumph in the Haskell Invitational this month, there is no shortage of players willing to take a shot at arguably the most prestigious 3-year-old race outside of the Triple Crown.
Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver will run, but his eighth-place finish in the Preakness followed by a fourth-place run in the Haskell was only good enough to make him the 6-to-1 third choice in the field behind Jim Dandy Stakes winner and 7-2 morning-line pick A Little Warm.
"Lookin At Lucky is not here, probably the top of his class, and with him not coming here, I think people look at the Travers and say, "Wow, my horse is arguably good enough to win the race and I'm going to take a try at it,'" said Tony Dutrow, trainer of A Little Warm. "I can see that type of attitude, philosophy, going into this race. It certainly looks like there's many, many nice colts in there that are all capable of running great."
Super Saver showed his capability when he romped to his Derby triumph. His two off-the-board efforts since, however, have some wanting to write off the son of Maria's Mon as a fluke should he fail to deliver a big effort Saturday.
Of his fellow contenders, though, Super Saver is the only one who has won over the Travers distance. And while he has never posted back-to-back wins in nine career starts, Super Saver has shown he can round into top form once he gets cranked up off a layoff.
"The second race off the layoff is typically his best," said Elliott Walden, racing manager of WinStar Farm, which bred and owns Super Saver. "We hope he learned something off the Haskell and will have a good race. He's got to step up. We'll let him do the talking. He's set up to run very, very well."
At the start of the year, A Little Warm seemed a prime candidate to be a top 3-year-old sprinter. A surprise runner-up finish in the 11⁄8-mile Louisiana Derby — his first try beyond 7 furlongs — elevated the status of the son of Stormin Fever, and a win Saturday would put him in the discussion as one of the top sophomores, period.
Following a winning effort in a 11⁄16-mile allowance test at Delaware Park on June 29, A Little Warm showed he could handle both two turns and better company when he notched a 13/4-length win in the Grade II Jim Dandy at Saratoga on July 31.
"He's a true two-turn horse," Dutrow said. "It took me a little too long to give him the opportunity at two turns. Actually it was the owner, Ned Evans, that wanted to do that in the Louisiana Derby where he got his first opportunity at two turns. And the horse has just been fantastic."
Trappe Shot, the second choice at 4-1, adds another intriguing layer to the Travers as he enters off a runner-up finish in the Haskell, his first try against Grade I company.
Despite his only victory coming in a maiden race, Dale Romans-trained First Dude has hit the board in the Preakness, Belmont and Haskell.
The front-running colt could be tested early by Nick Zito-trainee Miner's Reserve, but he gets blinkers for the first time as he tries to shed his bridesmaid label.
"(Jockey) Ramon (Dominguez) says it helps him focus on accelerating when he calls on him," Romans said of the decision to add blinkers. "We're waiting for him to break through and win one of these babies."