SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Grade 1 winners Bayern, Mr Speaker, Tonalist and Wicked Strong head a list of 15 horses nominated for the 145th running of the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers for 3-year-olds on August 23.
Tonalist captured the Grade 2 Peter Pan and Grade 1 Belmont Stakes before running second in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga to Wicked Strong, winner of the Grade 1 TwinSpires.com Wood Memorial.
Bayern is coming into the Travers off victories in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational and Grade 2 Woody Stephens, while Mr Speaker won the Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational on grass at the Travers' 1 1/4-mile distance in his most recent start.
Also nominated are Wildcat Red, winner of the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth and Grade 3 Hutcheson and placed in both the Grade 1 Florida Derby and Grade 1 Haskell, and Canadian classic winner Coltimus Prime, who took the second leg of his country's Triple Crown, the Prince of Wales Stakes on July 29 at Fort Erie.
Rounding out the nominees are Grade 2 Jerome winner Noble Moon; Grade 3 Dwyer winner Kid Cruz; Long Branch winner Irish You Well; V.E. Day, Charge Now and Viva Majorca, first, second and fourth, respectively, in the Curlin at Saratoga on July 25; Kentucky Derby runner-up Commanding Curve; Ulbanbator, second in the Grade 3 Matt Winn; and maiden winner C J's Awesome.
Viva Majorca and Ulanbator, both being pointed to the Grade 1 Travers, had five-furlong works over the main track for trainer Ian Wilkes Monday morning.
Owned by Saratoga socialite Marylou Whitney, whose Birdstone won a memorable edition of the Travers 10 years ago, Viva Majorca went out just after the renovation break and was clocked in 1:00.67 under jockey Julien Leparoux, third-fastest of 22 horses at the distance.
"It was a great breeze," Wilkes said. "It was a very crisp work. I did a little longer work with him. I let him stride into the pole a little more today, and he still finished up strong and galloped out strong. It was just what I thought he needed. He's a good horse, and he's moving forward."
Monday's work was the second for the bay Tiago colt since closing to be fourth, beaten a length, in the 1 1/8-mile Curlin on July 25, where he lost inside position at the top of the stretch and had to steady before swinging wide for a belated run. V.E. Day won by a head over Charge Now, who was neck in front of Protonico. It was three-quarters of a length back to Viva Majorca.
"It was just a little bad racing luck there, but that's racing. He finished real strong," Wilkes said. "Distance isn't going to be an issue for this horse; he ran awfully well in the Curlin. He ran a tremendous race and got beat a length. He justified looking at [the Travers]. At the moment, I'm looking at that. We'll see how he trains and moves forward. If something's not quite right, we won't go.
"He just lacks a little seasoning, that's the biggest thing. He's had one stakes race, one two-turn race. Now I'm looking at stepping into the real deep end. I'm a little behind in seasoning, but sometimes talent overcomes that."
The Travers would be the fourth straight graded stakes for Ulanbator, most recently fifth in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy on July 26. He was also third in the Grade 3 Dwyer and second in the Grade 3 Matt Winn since breaking his maiden at Gulfstream Park in March.
A homebred of Vermont resident Mary Ann Charlston, Ulanbator went five furlongs in 1:03.39 at 6 a.m. It was his second work since the Jim Dandy, following a half-mile in 49.45 seconds on Aug. 5.
"I didn't feel like he needed a harder work today. He's run a little more than [Viva Majorca] and I just did a longer, lighter work with him today," Wilkes said. "We'll look at the Travers, as well, for him. If he's doing well, we might take a shot. He's got to step his game up. Both horses have to, to have any shot.
"With this horse, you're looking at a case where the owners are from around here, they have one horse and a chance to run in the Travers. You have to give them every opportunity. If the horse tells me he's not doing good and not training good, no, I won't go."
Grade 1 Travers prospect Kid Cruz worked five furlongs in 1:02.45 over the main track Monday, the 16th best of 23 works at the distance.
Trainer Linda Rice said the winner of the Grade 3 Dwyer on July 5 and third behind Wicked Strong and Tonalist in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy on July 26 was caught going a half-mile in 49 4/5 seconds and galloping out six furlongs in 1:15 2/5.
The son of 1999 Travers winner Lemon Drop Kid has been on a heavy racing schedule, and Rice said there is not much more to do before the Travers. He had a race a month from March to July and then strung the Dwyer and Jim Dandy together on 19 days rest.
"I was pretty aggressive with him, going from the Preakness to the Easy Goer to a month later going to the Dwyer to three weeks later in the Jim Dandy," she said. "I don't think I'm going to give him a strong breeze schedule. I've run him enough. So, my choice before was to either not run in the Jim Dandy and train seven weeks into the Travers, and I chose to run. I think he's coming in quite well."
In his career, Kid Cruz has gained the reputation of a one-run closer; it started in his fourth race, the 1 1/8-mile Private Terms at Laurel Park, when he dropped back 18 lengths after six furlongs in 1:14.92 and gobbled up ground to win by four lengths.
In his past two starts, however, things have been changing with Kid Cruz. He ran just three lengths off the pace of Captain Serious in the Dwyer and then actually broke on top in the Jim Dandy before being surrounded by horses and backing off, only to rally well in the stretch.