Two of the year’s most important races are this weekend in the $1 million Travers Stakes at Saratoga on Saturday and the $1 million Pacific Classic Stakes at Del Mar on Sunday.
The Travers is for 3-year-olds and is called the Midsummer Derby. A Travers victory means more to me than a win in the Kentucky Derby, even though the Churchill Downs race is vastly more popular.
The Travers often is the final decider for the Eclipse Award in the division. This year no 3-year-old has taken charge, as different colts have won the major Grade 1 races: Orb (Kentucky Derby), Oxbow (Preakness Stakes), Palace Malice (Belmont Stakes) and Verrazano (Haskell Invitational).
Oxbow is out injured, but the other three are in the Travers field. Verrazano (2-1) clearly is the hot horse. After a miserable try in the Derby, he steamrolled to two nine-length wins in the Pegasus and Haskell. The Travers goes through him.
Palace Malice (5-2) is not as visually impressive as his stablemate, Verrazano. Todd Pletcher trains both colts. All Palace Malice does is win, and he is a proven, gritty racehorse.
The people’s choice probably will be Orb, because he won the Derby. But his races in the Preakness and Belmont were subpar.
The Pacific Classic is for older horses, and a bulky 13-horse field will try favored Game On Dude (5-2).
The reason for so many challengers to Game On Dude is twofold. First, the 1¼-mile marathon probably is not his best distance. Many trainers are willing to bet that it’s a furlong too far.
And despite the fact Game On Dude has traveled — and won — around the country, Del Mar is not his favorite track. He ran second to Dullahan in the Pacific Classic last year, and that loss cost Chantal Sutherland the mount. Joel Rosario will ride Game On Dude for the first time Sunday.
Dullahan (7-2) is back to defend his title. He has had a checkered career, but the one constant is his three wins have come over synthetic surfaces. He prepped when third in the grassy Arlington Handicap and could be cycling forward to a big effort.
Delegation (8-1) is a most interesting long shot from the Mark Casse barn. He’s stabled at Woodbine, so his career has been mainly racing over its synthetic surface. Delegation was classy enough to run third in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile last fall. At that price, he’ll be on all my tickets.
Terrific supporting stakes are on each track’s undercard, too. I’ll offer one more play of the day.
At Saratoga, I like My Happy Face (3-1) in the Test. She is cutting back in distance from the Coaching Club American Oaks to this seven-furlong race. It’s a handicapping angle I use a lot and with success.
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.