TRAVERS STAKES | PURSE: $1 MILLION | GRADE 1 | 3-YEAR-OLDS | 1 1/4 MILES
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- The last two Preakness winners to have run in the Travers won the race. Three of the last four Belmont Stakes winners that competed in the Travers also were victorious.
The field for Saturday's 142nd Travers at Saratoga includes Preakness winner Shackleford and Belmont Stakes winner Ruler On Ice. But New York Racing Association linemaker Eric Donovan believes there are at least two other horses who the betting public will find more appealing.
Donovan installed Jim Dandy winner Stay Thirsty as the 5-2 morning-line favorite followed by Haskell winner Coil at 3-1 for Saturday's $1 million Travers, which drew a field of 10. Shackleford, who was beaten a neck by Coil as the 3-2 favorite in the Haskell, was made the 9-2 third choice followed by Ruler On Ice (6-1).
Donovan said the 1 1/4-mile distance of the Travers may not be Shackleford's best distance while he noted that Ruler On Ice was almost 25-1 in the Belmont and his third-place finish in the Haskell didn't necessarily validate that performance.
"I thought we would be favorite," said Dale Romans, trainer of Shackleford who drew post 10 for the Travers. "But it's a tough field. This is one person's opinion; we'll see what the public thinks."
Kelly Breen, the trainer of Ruler On Ice, who drew post 4, said he didn't care what the odds were.
"The horse can't read the board so it doesn't matter to me," said Breen, who won't ship his horse from Monmouth to Saratoga until Friday or Saturday.
Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Stay Thirsty -- who won the Jim Dandy by four lengths and earned a career-best 106 Beyer Speed Figure in the process -- believes the odds could be based on the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately theory as well as the fact that this year's Triple Crown series "maybe didn't wow anybody."
"Anytime you have a different winner of each leg, it takes a little luster off perhaps," said Pletcher, whose Stay Thirsty will start from post 9.
Stay Thirsty is a two-time winner over Saratoga's main track and will be ridden by two-time Travers-winning rider Javier Castellano.
The knock on Shackleford may be his ability to get 1 1/4 miles. He got away with a relatively easy lead in the Kentucky Derby -- running six furlongs in 1:13.40 and a mile in 1:37.49 -- but eventually faded to fourth behind Animal Kingdom, Nehro, and Mucho Macho Man, none of whom are in this field.
"He won going a mile and three-sixteenths, he got beat by three horses going a mile and a quarter in the most grueling race in American racing," Romans said. "I don't think [distance] is going to be something we can use for an excuse and I think he's better today than he was Derby Day; he's just gotten bigger and stronger over the year."
The key to Shackleford's success in the Travers may be how much pressure he receives early. Breaking from post 10 will likely force jockey Jesus Castanon to hustle Shackleford away from the gate, putting him in a forward position that he relishes anyway. It's a matter of whether anyone challenges him and when.
"I don't think there's anybody quick enough to get in front of him, if we want the lead," Romans said. "From the 10-hole we might try to go and try to open up a couple and see what happens."
Coil, a son of 2001 Travers winner Point Given, rallied from last to get up by a neck over Shackleford in the Haskell. Coil had been dealing with an eye injury that had trainer Bob Baffert thinking of not running the horse in the Travers until the colt worked a sharp half-mile here on Tuesday.
"It seems like we have it under control," Baffert said of the eye injury. "He worked very fast. When he works like that he usually runs well."
"Baffert said Coil, who will break from post 7, will not race with the protective eye cup on Saturday.
Also entered in the Travers were Bowman's Causeway, Rattlesnake Bridge, Moonshine Mullin, Malibu Glow, Raison d'Etat, and J W Blue.
Baffert did not enter West Virginia Derby winner Prayer for Relief, saying the horse needed more time.
The Travers will go as race 10 on a 12-race card that begins at 11:35 a.m. The Travers and the Grade 1, $250,000 King's Bishop which features the return of 2010 2-year-old champion Uncle Mo, will be televised live on NBC Sports in a one-hour broadcast beginning at 5 p.m. Eastern.