The Travers Stakes is referred to as the Midsummer Derby. Its backdrop has been Kentucky Derby-esque, too.
Like the Run for the Roses, today's 140th running of the Grade I, $1 million Travers at Saratoga Springs, N.Y., has been hit by defections. Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra bypassed it in favor of the Woodward Stakes on Sept. 5 at Saratoga. Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird is out because the gelding hadn't fully recovered from recent throat surgery.
That opens the door for Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird in thoroughbred racing's oldest major race in America, a 11/4-mile test for 3-year-olds. The Travers tops six stakes on the 13-race card, joined by Grade I $300,000 events Ballerina and King's Bishop, Grade II $200,000 Ballston Spa, Grade III $100,000 Victory Ride and $80,000 Lure. The Ballerina, King's Bishop and Travers will be televised on ESPN.
Summer Bird (sixth) and Hold Me Back (12th) are the only Kentucky Derby runners in the seven-horse field. The early 8-5 favorite is Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby winner Quality Road, who will go 10 furlongs for the first time. Quality Road's last start was a record-setting effort in the 61/2-furlong Amsterdam on Aug. 3 at Saratoga, his first race under trainer Todd Pletcher.
"Quality Road is a very talented horse," Summer Bird trainer Tim Ice said. "He was going to be the Kentucky Derby favorite had he run (out with a quarter crack). He is kind of unproven at 11/4 miles. Coming from 61/2 furlongs, he's going to have to step it up a little bit. I know (Pletcher) will have him ready, but Summer Bird is going to be just as ready as any of them to run. He is starting to figure it out. He's run a couple big races, but I still think he has a lot left (and) going to show just how good he is."
Kensei, stablemate to Rachel Alexandra, can prove himself after Grade II wins in the Jim Dandy and Dwyer.
Another challenger is Tampa Bay Downs graduate Warrior's Reward, who finished eighth in the Tampa Bay Derby on March 14 in Oldsmar.
Mine That Bird trainer Bennie ''Chip" Woolley Jr. was looking forward to the Travers. "I feel that it's the most important race behind the Kentucky Derby for a 3-year-old," he said. "It is very disappointing to reach this point, have your horse doing well and not be able to make the race."
Mine That Bird's next race is expected to be the Goodwood Stakes on Oct. 10 at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif. In the King's Bishop, Big Drama starts for Clearwater resident Harold Queen.
More horses: Justenuffhumor overtook Cowboy Cal inside the 16th pole to win the $200,000 Bernard Baruch Handicap on the turf at Saratoga. … Calder Race Course features its Juvenile Showcase today at Miami Gardens. There are six stakes totaling $700,000.