At this time of year, there are major grade 1 stakes every weekend. The Breeders’ Cup has many of these on a “win and you’re in” list of races that horsemen point for.
The two biggest ones this week are the Travers at Saratoga and the Pacific Classic at Del Mar.
The Travers on Saturday drew a field of 10 headed by Bayern (2/1) for trainer Bob Baffert. He won the grade 1 Haskell at Monmouth Park last out going wire to wire. There were questions that day about his stamina to go nine furlongs. Now he’ll be asked to go 10 furlongs.
The colt I like, once again, is Wicked Strong (7/2). Regular readers know I picked him to win the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, to no avail. I came back with him in the Jim Dandy, which he won as a prep for the Travers.
Trainer Jimmy Jerkens fitted Wicked Strong with blinkers that day and he looked like a new horse. I think he still has room to improve, which is bad news for his foes.
There will be support for Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist (3/1) who ran second to Wicked Strong in the Jim Dandy.
A long shot that I’ll be using is Commanding Curve (15/1). He looked like a short horse in the Jim Dandy and should improve. His claim to fame was being second in the Derby to California Chrome.
Arguably the two best 3-year-olds in the country, California Chrome and Shared Belief, are staying in Southern California.
Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome is back in training with a target of the Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 20. Trainer Art Sherman plans on one prep race before the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita.
Shared Belief (5/2) is favored on Sunday in the Pacific Classic. His task is much more difficult than the Travers horses as he is facing his elders who are more mature physically and mentally than he is.
The fact that Shared Belief drew the outside post 11 is no bargain either. The one benefit is at 1¼ miles jockey Mike Smith will have a long run to the first turn to gain good position.
Smith chose to ride 2-year-old Eclipse champion Shared Belief over last year’s Pacific Classic winner Game On Dude (3/1). The decision was based simply on age and future earnings.
Both horses are geldings that will keep racing as long as they remain healthy. Shared Belief is 3, Game On Dude is 7. Thus, Shared Belief should have more rich paydays ahead of him than Game On Dude who is getting on in age.
This is more than a two horse race. Two price horses that I like are Majestic Harbor (9/2) and Toast of New York (10/1).
Majestic Harbor was an upset winner of the Gold Cup last out at Santa Anita. He looks like a horse that has gotten better with age for trainer Sean McCarthy.
Toast of New York won the UAE Derby at Meydan this spring and clearly loves a synthetic surface. He ran unplaced in the Belmont Derby last out, which could serve as a perfect prep race for this.
Richard Eng’s horse racing column is published Friday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @richeng4propick.