Chad Brown, on home track, has 2 favorites for Travers

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (AP) Chad Brown’s roots run deep at the Travers Stakes.

“It’s the biggest race for me. It’s my home track,” said Brown, a trainer who grew up in nearby Mechanicville, New York. “It’s very special to me. Going to Saratoga as a kid, and going to many Travers growing up, it would mean … a lot to me personally to be able to win this race.”

The 39-year-old Brown has a great shot at a breakthrough victory in the $1.25 million Midsummer Derby on Saturday. He has the top two favorites in Kentucky Derby runner-up Good Magic and Gronkowski for the 1\-mile Grade 1 test for 3-year-olds at Saratoga Race Course.

Good Magic, fresh from his victory in the $1 million Haskell, will break from post position 9 with jockey Jose Ortiz. Gronkowski, the surprise runner-up to Triple Crown winner Justify in the Belmont Stakes in his first start with Brown, goes from post No. 3 with jockey Joel Rosario.

“Real happy with both posts,” said Brown, whose best finish in six previous Travers starts was with Gift Box, fourth two years ago. “It’s a strong field. Either of these horses will have to run their A race.”

A field of 11 is entered for the 149th edition of the oldest major race in the country. Good Magic, last year’s Juvenile champion, was listed at 2-1 and Gronkowski at 4-1.

Wonder Gadot is the first filly entered in the Travers since Davona Dale finished fourth as the favorite in 1979. She is the third choice at 5-1, with jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard for the first time. Wonder Gadot is coming off wins in the first two legs of Canada’s Triple Crown – the Queen’s Plate and Prince of Wales Stakes.

The rest of the field includes: Jim Dandy Stakes winner Tenfold, with jockey Ricardo Santana Jr., and Catholic Boy, with Javier Castellano, both 8-1 choices; Vino Rosso, with John Velazquez, at 10-1; Bravazo, with Luis Saez, and Mendelssohn, with Ryan Moore, both 12-1 choices; King Zachary, with Robby Albarado, at 15-1; and 30-1 longshots Meistermind, with Manny Franco, and Trigger Warning, with Irwin Rosendo.

Trainer Bob Baffert, winner of the last two Travers, does not have an entry.

This summer Saratoga has been Brown country in a big way. Heading into Friday’s card, he led Todd Pletcher in wins – 33 in 113 starts to 16 in 96 for Pletcher – as Brown seeks his second training title in three years. In 2016, Brown saddled 40 winners to end Pletcher’s streak of six straight Saratoga training titles.

“I have great assistants, a great staff,” Brown said. “I enjoy working with horses. I enjoy working with people. I have great clients that give us great horses to work with.

“You have to have everything in place. If you don’t have all of those things, one can’t work without the other, so I work hard at maintaining those things.”

Among the entries, Wonder Gadot is the most intriguing. The Canadian-bred daughter of 2002 Travers winner Medaglia d’Oro will be trying to become just the eighth filly to win the Travers, a tall task. Lady Rotha was the last, in 1915, and she won by disqualification.

Trainer Mark Casse is up for the challenge, as is owner Gary Barber.

“Gary is never afraid to step out of the box,” Casse said. “We believe the 1 \ miles really suits her. We get five pounds. We have an extra week off. Why not? We’re all right with trying to make history.”

Wonder Gadot, named after “Wonder Woman” actress Gail Gadot, has eight starts this year heading into the Travers and Casse knows she’s more than able to hold her own against the colts.

“On numbers and ability, I think it’s a very competitive race, but I think we have as good a chance as anybody,” Casse said. “She doesn’t have any quit in her. I really feel … that she’s as good as any of them, and to be able to accomplish something that hasn’t been accomplished in a hundred years, I mean, I think it makes sense and Gary thinks it makes sense. When you go and look in the paddock, she may be the biggest, strongest horse in the race.”

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Breeders’ Cup spots on the line this weekend, top trainers hold keys to 2-year-old tests

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Sometimes, in assessing stakes races, it is best to look at the history of the race and see if there is a dominant factor in that history. This weekend’s racing features both the Champagne Stakes and the Miss Grillo Stakes, two Win and You’re In races for the Breeders’ Cup (coverage begins Saturday at 4 pm ET on NBC). For both races, you need to look no further than the “winning trainer” column, which provides some unavoidable facts:

  1. Since 2004, Todd Pletcher has won the Champagne Stakes a record-setting six times.
  2. In recent times, Chad Brown has asserted himself in this race, winning 3 of the last 6 runnings.
  3. In the 14 runnings of the Miss Grillo since 2008, Chad Brown has been the winning trainer 8 times.

All observations and handicapping of these two races must begin with these facts. Is there something that makes horses from these barns better than others? Not necessarily. But history tells us that these two barns have high-quality and expensive horses and they tend to get them to peak at this time of year. You can try to beat them at the betting windows, but be aware of the history that you are running into.

Further research brought up some interesting notes about these two races and their Breeders’ Cup divisions.

First, a look at the 2-year-old colt division. Since 2004 (when Todd Pletcher won the first of his 6 Champagne Stakes), three 2-year-olds have won the Champagne, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the 2-year-old Eclipse Award. They were War Pass (2007), Uncle Mo (2010) and Shanghai Bobby (2012).  Pletcher trained Uncle Mo and Shanghai Bobby, and Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito handled War Pass.

RELATED: Kentucky Derby modifies qualifying, elevates prep races

Looking at the 2-year-old turf fillies, the dominance of Chad Brown is even more striking. Since 2008, when Chad Brown captured his first Miss Grillo and the first running of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, four 2-year-old fillies have captured the Miss Grillo and the Juvenile Fillies Turf. They were Maram (2008), Lady Eli (2014), New Money Honey (2016) and Newspaperofrecord (2018). All four fillies were trained by Chad Brown.

A review of charts from the Champagne back to 2004 (the year of Todd Pletcher’s first winner in the race) reveals that he had 20 starters, with 6 wins, 3 seconds and 1 third. That means he has won 30% of the time and been in the money 50%.

A review of the charts from the Miss Grillo dating back to 2008 (Chad Brown’s first winner in the race) shows that he has had 23 starters, with 8 wins, 1 second and 4 thirds. That means he has won approximately 35% of the time and been in the money 56%.

RELATED: Olympiad cruises to Jockey Club Gold Cup victory

Storylines to Watch for 2022 Champagne Stakes

So, what does this mean for this year’s editions of these two “Win and You’re In” races for the 2022 Breeders’ Cup?

In the Champagne, it seems that the dominant trainers in the sport are putting forth the major contenders.

  • 2021 Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox is likely to start Verifying, who was a solid winner at Saratoga as a big favorite in his only career start.
  • The sport’s all-time winningest North American trainer is Steve Asmussen, who is rapidly closing in on 10,000 career wins. Asmussen, who won this race in 2020 with Jackie’s Warrior, will send out Gulfport, a very impressive son of Uncle Mo. Gulfport won his first two races by an average winning margin of almost 10 lengths. Then, he had some real misfortune in his next two starts, finishing 2nd in both races at Saratoga. In the Saratoga Special, he had major traffic problems that led to losing several lengths at the top of the stretch. As the favorite in the Hopeful, he endured a wide trip on a sloppy surface to be 2nd best again. With a clean trip, he will be a major contender in the Champagne.
  • As previously stated, Chad Brown has won the Champagne in 3 of its last 6 runnings. He is likely to enter Blazing Sevens, who is a son of Good Magic, the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner. After a big win in the first race of his career at Saratoga, Blazing Sevens endured a wide trip on a sloppy track in the Hopeful Stakes, and he should improve here, especially on a fast track.
  • The horse who beat Gulfport in the Hopeful was Forte, trained by the 6-time winner of this race, Todd Pletcher. The stretchout to a one-turn mile in the Champagne would have seemed to be made to order for his closing kick. At entry time, Pletcher chose to not enter Forte in the Champagne Stakes, in all likelihood because he plans to enter the horse in the Breeders’ Futurity next Saturday at Keeneland. The Breeders’ Futurity is a Win and You’re In race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and can be seen on CNBC.

RELATED: Taiba wins $1 million Pennsylvania Derby for Baffert

Storylines to Watch for 2022 Miss Grillo Stakes

Moving on to the Miss Grillo, Chad Brown is likely to enter Free Look, who was an impressive late-closing winner of a Maiden race in her second career start. In her first start, she was a victim of a slow pace, and the best she could do from the back of the pack was close to be 3rd. She seems to be a horse who is likely to improve with more racing. Free Look is a daughter of the leading sire Tapit.

Two others to watch in the Miss Grillo are Be Your Best and Pleasant Passage. Be Your Best is undefeated in two starts for trainer Horacio DePaz. Her last start was the P.G. Johnson Stakes, and she displayed the stalking style that has led to wins in both of her starts. Another with a license to improve is Pleasant Passage, from the barn of legendary trainer Shug McGaughey. In her only career start, she rallied up the rail and endured a stretch battle to get up for a narrow win. She has outstanding grass breeding, and the experience of that win should work in her favor in this race.

It is hard to predict outcomes with lightly-raced 2-year-olds. What we do know is that two horses will win their way into two Breeders’ Cup races on Saturday. That’s the great thing about these “Win and You’re In” races… they are running for something other than purse money, and it often produces some outstanding outcomes.

Lookahead to 2022 Breeders’ Cup

These races lead up to two of the 14 championship races on November 4th and 5th. For those who have never watched an entire Breeders’ Cup, get ready for the rush of witnessing a world championship event every 35 minutes or so. It’s like the Olympics of our sport. Be ready to watch and wager, and you’re sure to come away with some great memories. If you pick some winners, you might come away with a nice profit, as well. The Breeders’ Cup…there’s nothing like it!

Pegasus on Jan. 28, Florida Derby on April 1 at Gulfstream

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. — Gulfstream Park announced the schedule for the 2022-23 Championship Meet, highlighted by the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on Jan. 28.

Also on Pegasus day: The $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational, as well as the $500,000 Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf.

Gulfstream’s top Kentucky Derby prep race, the $1 million Florida Derby, will be run on April 1 as part of a card with 10 stakes races. Other top 3-year-old preps at Gulfstream in early 2023 include the $150,000 Mucho Macho Man on Jan. 1, the $250,000 Holy Bull on Feb. 4 and the $400,000 Fountain of Youth on March 4.

The Pegasus is returning for a seventh time. The format has changed several times in the race’s infancy; the purse structure for the Pegasus World Cup no longer requires owners to put up $1 million apiece for a spot in the starting gate for what was, at its inception, the world’s richest race with a purse that reached $16 million.

This much has remained constant: Winning the Pegasus changes a horse’s resume. No Pegasus winner has ever finished worse than sixth in the yearlong earnings among North American horses, and two past winners – Arrogate and Gun Runner – are two of the three highest-earning thoroughbreds in U.S. history.

Gulfstream’s Championship Meet runs from Dec. 26 through April 2, featuring 60 stakes races, 35 of them graded, and worth a combined $13.6 million.