USA: Last-gasp Travers success for outsider V E Day

Wicked Strong (Hard Spun) and jockey Rajiv Maragh win the Wood Memorial (Gr I) at Aqueduct Racetrack 4/5/14. Trainer: Jimmy Jerkens. Owner: Centennial Farms

Wicked Strong (above) was caught in the final stride by his stablemate

  PICTURE: Jessie Holmes/EquiSport Photos  

Report: USA, Saturday

Saratoga: Travers Stakes (Grade 1) 1m2f, dirt, 3yo

V E DAY (Jimmy Jerkens/Javier Castellano) closed like a train down the home stretch to edge out better-fancied stablemate Wicked Strong in an eventful running of the historic Travers Stakes, the $1.25 million highlight of a fantastic card at Saratoga.

The major disappointment in the race was runaway Haskell Invitational-winner Bayern, who set off more like a 6f sprinter and paid accordingly as he faded from first to last in the straight.

Conscious of his all-the-way win in the Haskell, the riders of Bayern’s main market rivals Tonalist and Wicked Strong decided to sit on the leader’s tail from the off.

Credit must go to the tenacity of third-home Tonalist and especially runner-up Wicked Strong to stay in contention after such punishing early fractions as Bayern cried enough but damage had been done.

In contrast, V E Day was anchored towards the tail and had many lengths to find turning in. However, as Wicked Strong went on from Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist, V E Day engaged top gear down the outside.

He looked booked for second half a furlong out but as the line loomed, one last lunge sealed the most unlikely win and provided James Jerkens with a famous one-two.  

“I wasn’t absolutely sure it was V E Day because he had so much mud on him, until they got a little closer and I saw the silks and then I knew it was him,” Jerkens told

The last trainer to saddle the first two home in the Travers was Hall of Famer Nick Zito in 2004, with Birdstone and runner-up The Cliff’s Edge. It was a second win in the race for Jerkens, who scored with Afleet Express in 2010.

The trainer added: “It means an awful lot. It’s unreal. I just feel bad for Wicked Strong, that’s the only thing, he ran so hard. But I’ll take it.”

Rider of the unlucky runner-up, Rajiv Maragh, said: “That race unfolded just the way I wanted it to. Bayern wasn’t loose on the lead and when I saw Tonalist doing that work for me, I kind of backed off them and just tracked. Then midway in the turn, I thought I’m going to take over.

“It’s a mile and a quarter, it’s a steady kind of race, so I figured if I kind of got a jump on them, on Tonalist, then it’ll be hard for them to re-rally. But then comes V. E. Day. It was just an unfortunate bob.”

Reflecting on the disappointing run of Bayern, trainer Bob Baffert said: “He broke well and was in a good position but when he turned for home, he was out of horse. The Haskell might have taken something out of him.

“I think you have to prep for the Travers in the Jim Dandy. But he’s been so brilliant his last few outs, you had to take a shot. I was hoping they’d go in 48 and change. We were hoping to steal it, but the secret was out.”

Also on Saturday . . .

Saratoga: Ballerina Stakes (Grade 1) 7f, dirt, 3yo+, fillies mares

Artemis Agrotera (Michael Hushion/Rajiv Maragh) spread-eagled a strong field of fillies and mares to land a second Grade 1 win in the Ballerina Stakes.

Last year’s Frizette Stakes winner mastered pacesetter La Verdad before sprinting clear for a six and a half-length verdict over favourite My Miss Aurelia, who was having just her second start in the last 17 months.

The victory guarantees Artemis Agrotera a starting berth in the Breeders’ Cup Filly Mare Sprint.

Saratoga: Ketel One King’s Bishop Stakes (Grade 1) 7f, dirt, 3yo

The Big Beast (Anthony Dutrow/Javier Castellano) successfully made the step from allowance company to Grade 1 competition when edging out pacesetter Fast Anna with a withering late run.

Despite being trapped six wide off the turn on just his fifth career start, The Big Beast stamped his class on the field in the straight to score a third successive victory.

Favourite Coup De Grace didn’t enjoy the clearest of runs under Rosie Napravnik but battled on for third.


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