The Special sets record with Travers edition

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The race marketed for years as the “Mid-Summer Derby” rarely resembles its 10-furlong counterpart run annually on the first Saturday in May. 

The Travers Stakes and Kentucky Derby do share plenty in common – they’re both for 3-year-olds at 10 furlongs and are the signature events of their respective host track’s seasons. A major difference – aside from an attendance cap of 50,000 for today’s event at Saratoga and the come one-come all crowds frequently in excess of 160,000 at Churchill Downs – is the makeup of the race itself. The Derby field frequently consists of 20 horses, an average of 19.4 horses the last 10 years in fact, while the average Travers field over the same period is just under half that, 9.3 starters since 2006. 

The 2016 edition of the Travers will bring that average up, with a bulked up field of 13 set to go to the post for the 147th running of America’s oldest stakes race for 3-year-olds. A field of 14 was originally entered before Friday’s scratch of Majesto and if that field stood intact it would have matched the 14 that ran in 1977. 

The full field features every top 3-year-old in training in the country not named Songbird or Nyquist. Preakness winner Exaggerator, who can all but lock up the divisional championship with his fourth Grade 1 win of the season, leads the field that also includes the first two from the Belmont Stakes in Creator and Destin, Jim Dandy winner Laoban and the first three from the Curlin Stakes in Connect, Gift Box and Forever d’Oro. 

Chad Brown, Saratoga’s leading trainer through the first 31 days of the meet and trainer of three of the Travers entrants, understands the history of the race and recognizes its importance.

“It would be the top,” said Brown, who sends out Connect, Gift Box and My Man Sam. “It would definitely be the highlight of my career to win the Travers.”

Bob Baffert is back a year after Triple Crown winner American Pharoah lost to Keen Ice. He’s won the race before, in 2001 with Point Given, and so has Todd Pletcher, who won in 2005 with Flower Alley and 2011 with Stay Thirsty and tries for a third with Destin. 

Five of the jockeys in the race have won the race, including Javier Castellano the last two and three others since 2006. He hopes for another aboard Destin.

“After the Triple Crown you get up here and you start thinking about winning the Travers,” Castellano said Thursday morning. “It’s the race up here and I’ve been blessed to do it five times. 

The Travers goes as the 11th of 13 races on Saturday’s loaded card that begins with an early post time of 11:35 a.m. The Travers, along with the Grade 1 Sword Dancer Invitational featuring turf superstar Flintshire, will be broadcast live on NBC during its broadcast from 4:30 to 6 p.m.

The card features seven stakes and each are previewed on the following pages of his record-sized edition of The Saratoga Special you hold in your hands. 

Continuing a tradition that started the first year we produced The Special we’ve previewed every stakes, with a comment from someone associated with every horse for your reading pleasure.

Check it out in Saturday’s digital edition of The Saratoga Special presented by Keeneland Sales.