SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. -- Saturday is Travers day at Saratoga, but even a race as prestigious as the Travers may have to share some of the spotlight on this particular Saturday with the Grade 1 King's Bishop, which features the much-anticipated return of reigning 2-year-old champion Uncle Mo.
The $250,000 King's Bishop is one of two Grade 1 races -- along with the $250,000 Ballerina -- that will precede the Travers on Saturday's 13-race program. The card also includes the Grade 2 Ballston Spa on the turf and the Victory Ride for 3-year-old fillies going six furlongs on the main track.
Everything has fallen into place for trainer Todd Pletcher since Uncle Mo returned to his barn in July, and they continued to do so at Wednesday's post position draw for the seven-furlong King's Bishop. Uncle Mo, who has not started since finishing third in the Grade 1 Wood more than four months ago, drew post position 7 in a field of eight 3-year-olds, while his chief competition, Flashpoint, will break from the rail.
"I'm really happy with the post," said Pletcher. "Your biggest fear is to draw the 1 hole, which makes you have to commit early. Breaking outside gives us a little bit of flexibility."
Pletcher's colleague Wesley Ward, who took over the training of Flashpoint shortly after his fourth-place finish in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, was noticeably disappointed when informed by phone that his horse had drawn the rail.
"The 1 hole is never really a good thing, is it," Ward asked rhetorically after learning of his draw. "A lot now will depend on the break and the first few strides. I really would have liked to have been a little more outside and had some different options."
Flashpoint has trained extensively at Aqueduct for the King's Bishop. He is undefeated at distances of seven furlongs or under and will be making his first appearance since cruising to a seven-length victory in Monmouth Park's Grade 3 Jersey Shore on July 3.
Uncle Mo and Flashpoint will be joined in the King's Bishop by Amsterdam winner Caleb's Posse, Runflatout, Dominus, Poseidon's Warrior, Justin Phillip, and Cool Blue Red Hot.
The biggest question hanging over the draw for the Ballerina was whether trainer Stanley Hough would enter his speedy, multiple graded stakes winner Tar Heel Mom. The answer, ultimately, was yes, as Tar Heel Mom was one of seven older fillies and mares to pass the box for the Ballerina, along with two-time Grade 1 winner Sassy Image, Hilda's Passion, Hour Glass, Tamarind Hall, Bronx City Girl, and Devil by Design.
Hough spent the past week weighing the pros and cons of entering Tar Heel Mom in the Ballerina but said if she was entered, that in all likelihood, she would run.
The presence of Tar Heel Mom, an easy 5 3/4-length winner of the Grade 2 Honorable Miss Handicap on Aug. 7, and three time Grade 2 winner Hilda's Passion should assure a lively pace in the Ballerina. A fast pace should play into the hands of Sassy Image who comes into the race off a last-to-first victory in Calder's Grade 1 Princess Rooney Handicap.
The Victory Ride drew a field of 10 3-year-old fillies, the majority of whom have done their best on or with the lead. Among that group are Roman Treasure, who finished third after setting the pace in the Grade 1 Test here earlier this month, A Z Warrior, winner of the Grade 1 Frizette last fall at Belmont Park, and the red hot Jealous Girl.
Mekong Melory and Aviate, fourth and fifth behind Zagora in the Grade 1 Diana here one month earlier, top a field of nine filly and mare grass specialists signed on to go 1 1/16 miles over the Mellon Turf Course in the $200,000 Ballston Spa. They will be joined by the red-hot Romacaca, who brings a four-race win streak down from her Monmouth base; the 2009 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf winner, Tapitsfly; along with Miss Keller, Daveron, Desert Sage, Trix in the City, and Strike the Bell.