08/26/2009 11:00PM

Big Drama should enjoy the cutback


NEW YORK - If there was ever a move to extend the Triple Crown into a Quadruple Crown, then the obvious choice for inclusion would be Saratoga's Grade 1, $1 million Travers Stakes. The Travers, which will be run for the 140th time Saturday (that makes it five years older than the Kentucky Derby and six years older than the Preakness, folks), has long been known as the Midsummer Derby. And this year, the Travers has a supporting card befitting its status.

Primary among the supporting stakes Saturday at Saratoga are the Ballerina for fillies and mares and the King's Bishop for 3-year-olds. They are both Grade 1, $300,000 events at seven furlongs. The Grade 2, $200,000 Ballston Spa Handicap and the Grade 3, $100,000 Victory Ride Stakes also are on the Travers undercard.

Meanwhile at Del Mar, the headliner is the Grade 2, $300,000 Del Mar Mile Handicap on turf.

King's Bishop Stakes

After finishing third behind super filly Rachel Alexandra in the nine-furlong Haskell Invitational last time out, Munnings is back here doing what he is meant to be doing, at least at this stage of his career, which is sprinting. But as impressive as he was winning the Tom Fool Handicap over older opponents and the Woody Stephens Stakes two and three starts back at this seven-furlong distance - and he was most impressive earning Beyer Speed Figures of 111 and 110 in those races - it's important to note that Munnings also enjoyed sweet pocket rail trips in both of those races.

Munnings might well have won the Tom Fool and Woody Stephens even if he didn't receive such favorable trips, and he might get another perfect trip here since he does break from the rail. But this is something to think about, especially when taking favorites like Munnings is not in your DNA.

This race came up strong, even beyond Munnings, with Capt. Candyman Can and Vineyard Haven in it. Capt. Candyman Can was a game second to Travers favorite Quality Road in the Amsterdam Stakes earlier this month. Vineyard Haven, who will be making his first U.S. start of 2009, won the Grade 1 Hopeful at this distance over this track as well as the Grade 1 Champagne, making him 2008's most accomplished juvenile dirt male. But Capt. Candyman Can ran hard and earned a career-best Beyer in the Amsterdam off a nearly three-month layoff, so a regression seems very possible. And as for Vineyard Haven, there is cause for skepticism after the way his stablemates Cocoa Beach and Music Note (who run in the Ballston Spa and Ballerina, respectively, Saturday) sharply disappointed in their U.S. debuts this year.

I'm going with Big Drama, whose trainer, David Fawkes, must be a saint. That's the only explanation for Fawkes giving jockey Eibar Coa another chance on this colt after the ridiculous ride Coa put up on Big Drama last time out in the West Virginia Derby. Big Drama was allowed to run off to a double-digit early lead through fast early fractions in the West Virginia Derby, and yet despite that, Big Drama was only caught in the last jumps by upsetter Soul Warrior while finishing ahead of Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird. Clearly, if Coa was even just a touch more prudent with Big Drama early at Mountaineer, he would have won.

In any case, I like horses cutting back from middle-distance routes to seven furlongs like Big Drama is doing, a move that worked for him just two starts back in a lucrative stakes score at Charles Town. I also like Big Drama's outside position here, which gives Coa a chance to be patient this time and let the race unfold inside of him.

Del Mar Mile Handicap

Monterey Jazz deserves to be the heavy favorite in here off a strong win two starts back in the American Handicap. And if he runs back to his American, he'll win this. But after Monterey Jazz threw in the towel as the favorite in the Eddie Read Handicap last time out, I'm not sure if I trust him. He might be just as likely to chuck it as he is to win by five. That's an acceptable risk if the horse in question will be a good price, but not with a short-priced favorite like Monterey Jazz.

Ferneley is my play. Ferneley might have missed second in the Wickerr Stakes most recently to Becrux, but he had the tougher trip, racing four wide on the far turn while Becrux saved all the ground. Ferneley has license to improve second start back off a three-month layoff, and he won a race three starts back that was fast enough to win this, even if that score was at the expense of softer company.

Travers Stakes

Win, lose, or draw, I believe Quality Road is the most talented horse in this race by a clear margin. But as good as I think Quality Road is, he'd have to be even better than I think he is to overcome stretching out from 6 1/2 furlongs to 10 furlongs in just his second start back off a four-month, quarter crack-related absence.

I'm taking Kensei, who proved his eye-catching win in the Dwyer was no fluke when he came back to win the Jim Dandy most recently just as impressively. I know that Charitable Man had a wide trip when third behind Kensei in the Jim Dandy, but I can't see him or Jim Dandy runner-up Warrior's Reward turning the tables on Kensei, as good as that colt currently is. And I'm concerned about how well Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird has trained for this.