08/30/2010 2:19PM

Gold Cup may be next for Travers winner Afleet Express

Michael Amoruso
Afleet Express (right) holds off Fly Down by a nose to win the Grade 1 Travers Stakes at Saratoga.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – It took a while, but the significance of Afleet Express winning Saturday’s $1 million Travers Stakes was beginning to hit trainer Jimmy Jerkens on Monday morning.

“It’s finally starting to sink in, the importance of it, and it feels good,” Jerkens said outside his barn. “You don’t have a whole lot of time to savor things. It was extremely satisfying, no doubt about that.”

Perhaps extremely deserving, too. Jerkens endured a difficult second half of 2009, one in which he lost horses from two major clients – Edward P. Evans and Susan Moore – leaving him with 15 horses when he went to south Florida in late December.

“It was tough, I had only 15 down there, but they were a good 15; certainly didn’t do it by design,” Jerkens said. “Of course, sometimes you got to take a deep breath and freshen up a little bit. We’re getting back up there in dribs and drabs.”

Jerkens said he is up to 29 horses now.

Afleet Express was one of the 15 he took to the Palm Meadows training center last December, but the impressive debut winner at Aqueduct floundered in Florida. After failing to win twice in the first-level allowance condition, Afleet Express got sick and was taken out of training for one month. Afleet Express won an allowance race at Belmont in May and the Grade 3 Pegasus at Monmouth in June, before finishing third in the Jim Dandy.

In the Travers, he came through an opening in upper stretch under Javier Castellano, hooked up with Fly Down in deep stretch, and won by the slimmest of margins. It was the ninth time in the 141-year history of the Travers the race had been decided by a nose, but this may have been the closest photo.

“I know he only did win by a nose, but he’s done a lot in a short time,” Jerkens said “Only the real good ones can do that. I’m not going to sell him short.”

While Jerkens said he hadn’t talked to his owners – Gainesway Stable and Martin Cherry – about where Afleet Express would run next, he indicated Monday that the $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park on Oct. 2 would make more sense than the Pennsylvania Derby a week earlier.

“I hate to get him out of the sync that he’s in right now,” Jerkens said. “He’s relaxed. I think he’ll settle in and have a better trip in the Gold Cup with those big, long sweeping turns. I know there’ll be some tough older horses, which is a lot to ask of him, but as of now, I’d be leaning towards that. In my mind it fits better than the other races.”

Blame, the Whitney winner who left Saratoga on Monday for Keeneland, is the horse to beat in the Gold Cup. Rail Trip is another older horse to fear. Fly Down, the Travers runner-up, could be a candidate for the Gold Cup, trainer Nick Zito said Monday.

Zito reported that Miner’s Reserve, who set the pace before fading to seventh in the Travers, came out of the race with a fractured right knee and would be out indefinitely. Zito said X-rays of the injury have been sent to Dr. Larry Bramlage at the Rood and Riddle Equine Clinic in Kentucky to determine if surgery is needed.

Super Saver, the Kentucky Derby winner, is likely headed to Rood and Riddle for tests following his 10th-place finish in the Travers.

“We felt like he’d run very well [Saturday], felt like the Haskell would set him up good,” said Elliott Walden, racing manager for WinStar. “He didn’t run his race. I think from that standpoint we need to look into it further. He’s too valuable a horse not too look into it further.”

First Dude, the third-place finisher in the Travers, was sent back to Kentucky on Monday. Trainer Dale Romans said he would talk to owner Donald Dizney to decide what to do next with the colt who finished second in the Preakness, third in the Belmont, and third in the Haskell. Romans said the horse could be cut back in distance on dirt or even be transferred to the turf.

Trappe Shot, who finished ninth as the 7-2 favorite, would get a freshening before his connections decide where to run next, trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said.