The late Fendall Clagett would have been proud.
Thirty years ago he spent many early morning hours at Bowie Race Track with Steven Brandt, a thoroughbred enthusiast who wanted to learn the horsemen's side of the business. Clagett was the man to be around, an icon on the Maryland racing circuit who died on Christmas Eve in 1989.
Brandt worked with Clagett and his trainer for no pay, proving to be a splendid student. Brandt's shining moment comes today when his Kid Cruz faces several of the sport's top 3-year-olds in the Grade I $1.25-million Travers Stakes at Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
The Travers, a 1¼-mile test called the Mid-Summer Derby, features a star studded 10-horse field that includes Grade I winners Bayern (Haskell Invitational), Mr Speaker (Belmont Derby), Tonalist (Belmont Stakes) and Wicked Strong (Wood Memorial). Kid Cruz starts from post 8 with jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. The Travers is Race 12 at 5:45 p.m.
Brandt, 56, claimed Kid Cruz on Nov. 22 for $50,000 in his maiden win at Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. In seven subsequent starts, he has four stakes victories, highlighted by the Grade III Dwyer on July 5 at Belmont Park. Rick Boylan and Brandt, a St. Pete Beach married couple, are majority owners of the Kentucky-bred colt.
"I remember specifically telling Rick maybe 30 years ago that I just knew in my heart that we were going to a big race," Brandt said. "I said we were going in the Triple Crown. … I didn't feel in my heart we're going to win it, but there was nothing that told me that we wouldn't. Thirty years later, we're here in the Travers."
Kid Cruz finished eighth in the Preakness Stakes. He comes off a third in the Grade II Jim Dandy on July 26 at Saratoga. Kid Cruz is the first Travers starter for trainer Linda Rice, who can become the first woman to win the 145-year-old race.
"It's amazing we could be so lucky with (Kid Cruz)," Brandt said. "It's really a credit to Linda, because I think she's a superb horse person. She knew within a month or so (after the claim) that he was a pretty good horse, and we had a chance of going to some big races.
"I think we have a very legitimate shot (today). If they let Bayern go out on the lead, which I think they'd be absolutely crazy to do, then (Bayern) probably wins wire-to-wire. But I don't think that's going to happen."
Kid Cruz is taking the same path as his sire, 1999 Belmont Stakes winner Lemon Drop Kid, who was second in the Jim Dandy and won the Travers.
"I would love for (Kid Cruz) to win this race," Brandt said. "I'm not going to sell him, send him to stud, or syndicate him. I'm going to run him next year, too. We've even talked about the Breeders' Cup (Nov. 1 at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif.). But I try not to look that far down the road."