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TrackNotes: Blue Skies, James Brown & Lucky Charms

Eat your Lucky Charms.

Ice the beer, bowl the chips, don your handi cap. Prepare for (mostly) blue skies.

It's Travers Day! I feel better than James Brown.

It's as good a day of racing as America has, featuring "The Summer Derby." Rivaling the Breeders' Cup, a modest upgrade from Belmont Day and half a length past Derby Day.

This year, the Travers card from beautiful Saratoga Race Course, Saratoga Springs, New York, presents the usual cast of six Grade Is and a Grade II turfer. Many of the top stars are not only happy to be here, there's also prestige and money to be earned.

Sure, the shit is still flying at Arlington Park, but we'll deal with that (again) another time.

TrackNotes has been vying all week for position to an afternoon of REAL racing!

Viadera is your morning line favorite in the stakes opener, The Ballston Spa (Grade II, 1-1/16 miles, 8.5 furlongs, fillies and mare four and up, $400,000, turf). The line maker is apparently tossing out her troubled fourth last out in the De La Rose Stakes here.

One of Bob Baffert's tainted drug-violation horses, Gamine, shows up in the Ballerina Handicap (Grade I, seven furlongs, fillies and mares, $500,000). She's a great horse, too bad she's trained by Baffert, who we hope does not show his face. He's running here through the power of a judge, who gave him temporary relief from NYRA's New York ban. Gamine, 3-5, will be carrying a highweight of 126 pounds. Her main competition might come from up-and-downer Ce Ce at 4-1 and 9-2 Sconsin, whose ace in the hole is Irad Ortiz Jr. Although it's the horse who has to run the race. She's in deep here.

The mighty warrior Whitmore returns in the Forego (Grade I, seven furlongs, $600,000). If he hasn't truly lost a step or two, he can definitely figure here.

Since his 104 Beyer Speed figure win in last fall's Breeders' Cup Sprint, the eight-year-old gelding has had four brave, tough beats, including a close third in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt last out here. He'll probably need a dream trip from Joel Rosario.

He'll face Mind Control, 7-2 who, classic Todd Pletcher, hasn't run since his Grade II win in the John Nerud July 4 at Belmont. Has Yaupon, 5-2, regained his form for Steve Asmussen with his 101 Beyer win last out in the Lite the Fuse Stakes at Pimlico? That was a nice comeback after the long trip home from an eighth in the Dubai Golden Shaheen. Firenze Fire, 6-1, will try to run back to his Runhappy (Grade III) and True North (Grade II) double, with triple-digit Beyers three back. His form is going backwards and I'm tired of him beating me.

One of the biggest showdowns of the day comes in the H. Allen Jerkens Memorial (Grade I, seven furlongs, three year olds, $500,000).

Life is Good, 8-5, brings his soap opera baggage to duel Jackie's Warrior, even money 1-1, who will be required to maintain his ascending form. The oddsmaker is pitting 'Good's inherent talent with Jackie's 102 Beyer in is last.

The soap opera begins when I bought an LG refrigerator and got burned by the marketing machine. The damn thing had it's own philosophy about refrigeration that really hurt my frozen ravioli. The retailer graciously gave me a different brand. E-mail me for the scoop. But not only can I not find any reference to the horse being named after a South Korean appliance company, he's really owned by the China Horse Club and WinStar Farm.

He was on his way to superstardom with three wins for Baffert under Mike Smith, including a 107, eight-length win in the San Felipe in March. Left hind ankle chip. When Baffert's brand of crap hit the fan, the owners changed hotels and checked him in to Todd Pletcher's barn. He's been regularly working lights out. While a return in a Grade I like this is tough, "he's the kind you would do it with," Pletcher said. Smith stays in the saddle.

Jackie's "bounced" in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, if you can say that for a race like that. But he's been rising ever since. He's won on fast and sloppy at The Spa, including a 7+, 102-Beyer win in the Amsterdam August 1.

Drain the Clock seems to have run the race of his life in beating the Warrior in the Woody Stephens two back, but I don't see it here. For the upset, in case the top two burn their rockets, I'll be looking at Pletcher's Following Seas - please don't rabbit - and Judge N Jury: 29-point Beyer jump and meet leading rider white-hot Luis Saez.

Letruska, 6-5, leads the way in the Personal Ensign (Grade I, fillies and mares four and up, 1-1/8 miles, nine furlongs, $600,000).

She's been dominant, coming off a six-length score in the Fleur de Lis at Churchill in late June, and has three straight triple Beyers. You might look at the duel with Swiss Skydiver, 7-2, but the 'Diver seems to be struggling. She got a long layoff after the Apple Blossom in April, but was probably misplaced against the boys in the Whitney last out.

We do have to keep en eye on Baffert's As Time Goes By, who's been undergoing Baffert's typical fastest workouts and is a true California shipper, new to the East Coast. I'll look at Royal Flag and Miss Marissa.

Will the 152nd Travers, first run in 1864, be betable this year? As Bugs Bunny would say "Mmmm, could be!" By post position:

1. Midnight Bourbon (9-2 morning line odds, jockey Ricardo Santana Jr, trainer Steve Asmussen)

The only horse to run in all three Triple Crown races this year, clipped heels in the Haskell Invitational last out when Hot Rod Charlie, who was disqualified, cut him off and he tossed jockey Paco Lopez. 9-2 is too low, especially considering the accomplishments of others here. Asmussen may want to try him elsewhere. 20-1? I'm a silly wabbit.

2. Essential Quality (4-5, Luis Saez, Brad Cox)

The it horse, toss the Kentucky Derby which is easy to do, and he's undefeated in seven. He had an inefficient trip in the Jim Dandy, but basically crushed the Belmont by 1.25 lengths with a 109 Beyer. The big gray with jet black mane and tail is easy to spot. Saez has been nothing-but-net. The clear favorite. I'll also take a look at the Show pool, because I live among a lot of bridges.

3. Keepmeinmind (6-1, Joel Rosario, Robertino Diodoro)

Once again, this hard-tryer goes against many he's had trouble with. He was half-lengthed by 'Quality in the Jim Dandy. His Beyers are in the top tier here, but his only graded stakes win, in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club was against who? This would be an upset, but he should be at least 10-1 or more.

4. Dynamic One (6-1, Irad Ortiz Jr, Todd Pletcher)

He got caught at the wire three back in the Wood Memorial, 89 Beyer, then got caught in the hellacious traffic of the Derby. It appeared Pletcher prepped him up with his win in the Curlin, 97 Beyer. With Irad, I'll be playing, maybe at a higher price.

5. Miles D (12-1, Flavien Prat, Chad Brown)

His 77-85-95 Beyer progression grabs my eye. Those are all his races. This son of Curlin was impressive in second in The Curlin, which was on a less-than-fast track. I'll fly.

6. Masqueparade (8-1, Miguel Mena, Albert Stall Jr)

He's 7-3-0-2 and won the Ohio Derby over King Fury and Keepmeinmind. He was a respectable third in the Jim Dandy. He'll need the race of his life here, but then again, Saratoga is the Graveyard of Champions.

7. King Fury (15-1, Jose Ortiz, Kenny McPeek)

He won the Lexington in the slop against nobody. That's it. In a reasonable test, he was a nonfactor in the Saratoga Derby Invitational last out. Too many of the others are more seasoned.

But wait, there's more.

TV coverage will be handled by Fox. FS1 opens the card at 10:30 a.m. FS2 picks it up at 2 p.m. At 4 p.m., Fox32 takes over for the features.

The reason that's good is that you'll see a group of analysts with knowledge, energy, betting angles and enthusiasm. I'm not sure who that will be, but look for Laffit Pincay III, Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, wise(ass)guy Andy Cohen, Maggie Wolfendale, Acacia Courtney, handicapping contest ace Jonathon Kinchen, and who knows, they have a lot of people. You'll notice the increase in energy from what the lame folks at NBC have been offering for the past two or three years.

Besides the one day in May, the other two days you should watch are the Breeders Cup, of course. And Travers Day. If you're staying inside because of the heat, or have a flat screen out on the lanai, tune in. It's good stuff.

Writing about horse racing. Man, that felt good!


Tom Chambers is our man on the rail. He welcomes your comments.

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