SARATOGA SPRINGS – Horse racing history is there for the taking for Wonder Gadot.
The filly named for Wonder Woman actress Gal Gadot will try to break a drought that’s lasted more than 100 years on Saturday afternoon at Saratoga Race Course.
The Queen’s Plate and Prince of Wales Stakes winner will attempt to become the eighth filly to capture the Travers Stakes and first since Lady Rotha in 1915. The last filly to run in the Midsummer Derby was Davona Dale in 1979.
The Travers will be part of a special two-hour broadcast beginning at 4 p.m. on NBC. A special three-hour Travers Day edition of Saratoga Live will be broadcast on FS2 beginning at 1 p.m. The Travers is scheduled to go to post at 5:44 p.m.
The 149th running of the feature race of the Saratoga meeting is filled with talented 3-year-olds, but no bigger story than the sporting try by owner Gary Barber and trainer Mark Casse, who decided to bypass the Alabama for the Travers.
"Gary Barber is never afraid to step out of the box," Casse said at the post position draw. "We believe the mile and a quarter really suits her.” In addition, the filly will have a five-pound weight break against the boys.
The connections also decided to skip last weekend’s Breeders’ Stakes at Woodbine despite Wonder Gadot having a chance to become the first Canadian Triple Crown winner since 2003. While Casse passed on history in Canada, he said those north of the border will give him a pass with a strong effortat the Spa.
“There were parts of me that felt bad that we weren’t there with Wonder Gadot, but I also feel like on Saturday, we’re going to be representing Woodbine and Canada and then hopefully everybody will forgive me if she runs well,” Casse told the racing media on Tuesday in a national teleconference.
While she has run well at longer distances, evidenced by her Canadian Triple Crown wins and her solid second-place effort in the Kentucky Oaks, she will be facing much tougher competition in the Travers.
She’s 0-for-5 in the United States this year and her last two wins were restricted to horses foaled in Canada, so she’s up against it on Saturday. There's also the likelihood that she’ll be overbet. Leading Saratoga rider Irad Ortiz, Jr. picked up the mount earlier in the week, when Curlin winner Hofburg dropped out of the race.
Chad Brown will send out the morning line favorite and Haskell winner Good Magic (2-1) and second choice in Belmont runner-up Gronkowski (4-1). Both horses will take their fair share of action at the windows.
Brown, the current leading trainer at the meet, will be seeking his first career Travers win after six previous tries. Good Magic comes into the race training well, but the classic distance might be at the outer skirts of his wheelhouse.
Gronkowski has been off since the Belmont and should be fresh coming into the race. Brown hopes he breaks well, something that cost him a few lengths in Elmont. “His works have been strong and I feel the horse is sharper now than he was coming into the Belmont,” said Brown. "Hopefully he leaves out of the gate in a much better position.”
One horse that could sneak up on this group is Catholic Boy (8-1) at a decent price. His last two efforts were victorious on the turf, including the Grade 1 Belmont Derby. He was on the Derby trail after an impressive win in the Remsen last December at Aqueduct, but went off the trail after a fourth-place finish in the Florida Derby.
“I think maturation has a lot to do with it. We take monthly photos and he’s always been an attractive horse, but he’s definitely stronger now than he was in March or April,” trainer Jonathan Thomas said. “He’s carrying better flesh and seems to be much stronger.”
The son of More Than Ready drew the outside post and returns to the dirt in hopes of capturing Saratoga’s biggest race. He would be the first horse to win the Travers from post No. 11. Thomas will give six-time Travers winner Javier Castellano a leg up on Catholic Boy, an edge he doesn’t mind having.
“We have nothing but the utmost confidence in Javier,” Thomas said. “He’s not only been fantastic in the afternoon for us, but he’s also breezed the horse. A lot of guys are interested in getting on top of a horse for a minute just scouting out how the horse feels, to have an idea what the best horse to jump on is. Javier’s actually been part of bringing this horse along the last few months, which has been really cool for me, because I’ve not experienced that with a rider before, especially one of his ilk.”
The win in the Belmont Derby let Thomas be creative to try the Travers and not take the safe route to the Secretariat at Arlington. He captured the elusive Grade 1 victory and now a chance at the Travers can lead to big things in the breeding shed.
Another horse that should benefit from the longer distance is Vino Rosso (10-1). He finished the Jim Dandy late after a lackluster start. Trainer Todd Pletcher said the Travers will provide a better opportunity for the son of Curlin to shine.
“He’s a horse that I think that has more talent than we’ve seen at times, a little bit inconsistent,” said Pletcher on Capital OTB’s Racing Across America on Thursday. “We’re going to make a couple adjustments with his shoes and some different things like that to give him better traction around the turn. We need him to put himself in a position that allows his closing kick to potentially get him there, which didn’t happen in the Jim Dandy."
Hall of Famer Johnny Velazquez will retain the mount on Vino Rosso, owned by Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable.
The race is set up to be one of the best Travers in years, with the filly attempting to make history. We’ll look for Catholic Boy to stalk the pace from his outside post and hold off a late closing Vino Rosso for the win. The Gronk should be coming late and will be in the mix with barnmate Good Magic.
Post Time Outlook: 1 – Catholic Boy; 2 –Vino Rosso; 3 –Good Magic; 4 – Gronkowski
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.