08/29/2009 12:00AM

Opportunity knocks in Travers

Barbara D. Livingston
A victory in the Travers by Quality Road would confirm what many thought before the Kentucky Derby - that he's the best 3-year-old male in training.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Lost in the hoopla that is Rachel-mania is the fact that Thoroughbred racing will give an Eclipse Award to the champion 3-year-old colt or gelding this year. Saturday's $1 million Shadwell Travers Stakes at Saratoga could go a long way toward determining that honor.

A victory in Saturday's 140th Travers by winner Kensei could put the winner at the head of the class of the division heading into the fall.

"I think it's a strong possibility that whoever wins this race could be [champion] 3-year-old colt,'' said Tim Ice, trainer of Summer Bird "I think if my colt steps up and wins this race I hope he would move ahead of everybody. But at the same time I'm thinking more about winning the race than the 3-year-old colt or anything of that nature right now.''

"I think it's still an open division but the winner of this race obviously takes a big step in that direction,'' said Todd Pletcher, who trains Quality Road for owner/breeder Ed Evans. "If the winner happens to be Quality Road, then his resume looks awfully good.''

If the winner happens to be Quality Road it would confirm what many people were thinking of him back in the spring - that he is the top 3-year-old male in training. Victories in the - he ran 6 1/2 furlongs in 1:13.74 - it just added to that belief.

The question now is whether one sprint race and two subsequent works have Quality Road tight enough to run 1 1/4 miles against Summer Bird, Kensei, stakes winners Charitable Man, Hold Me Back, and Our Edge and the talented but thus far underachieving Warrior's Reward.

"I would say we are completely satisfied that all his preparations have gone as smoothly as we could have hoped for,'' Pletcher said. "Basically everything has gone exactly like we laid it out except for pushing one work back 24 hours. Outside of that everything has fallen exactly into place. Given the situation we started with this is the way we hoped it worked out. Hopefully it proves to be enough foundation for us.''

The Travers is the 12th race on a 13-race card that begins at 11:35 a.m. Eastern. The Travers is the final leg of an all-stakes pick four that has a $1 million guaranteed pool. The wager - one of three pick fours on the card - begins with the .

ESPN will broadcast the Ballerina, King's Bishop, and Travers in a 90-minute broadcast that begins at 4:30 p.m.

Mother Nature could throw a wrench into the biggest day of the meet. One system coming from the West plus the uncertain path of Tropical Storm Danny in the Atlantic has weather forecasters unsure of how much, if any, rain could fall here Saturday. While Quality Road worked decently on a muddy track Monday, Pletcher said he would prefer dry conditions.

Summer Bird ran a better-than-it-looked sixth in the slop in the , also in the slop.

"Coming off the Haskell, if it came up sloppy I wouldn't worry,'' Ice said.

Ice appears to be as confident in Summer Bird heading into the Travers as he was heading into the Belmont, a race his colt won at odds of 11-1.

"Honestly, I really am," he said Thursday. "The way he came back off the track this morning, how he's doing, how he looks, I'm very confident in him."

Owner Jess Jackson and trainer Steve Asmussen elected to keep Rachel Alexandra in the barn in large part because of how well Kensei has done the last two months. His wins in the at Belmont and Jim Dandy here on Aug. 2 confirmed their belief that this was a top-notch colt who just wasn't ready for the Triple Crown.

While his breeding doesn't suggest he would relish the 1 1/4 miles of the Travers, his jockey, Edgar Prado, doesn't see it as an issue.

Though Warrior's Reward is the lone member of this field without a stakes victory, he has the look of a live longshot. Trainer Ian Wilkes, who was essential in the conditioning of 2007 Kentucky Derby and Travers winner Street Sense, has targeted the Travers for this colt ever since March when a poor performance in the Tampa Bay Derby led to him having to undergo throat surgery. A smashing win over Munnings in a seven-furlong allowance race - over a wet track - at Churchill Downs was followed by three disappointing stakes results.

Wilkes and jockey Calvin Borel employed front-running tactics with Warrior's Reward in the Jim Dandy, a plan hatched to help the horse get away from the gate sharper than he had been in his previous races. Wilkes said he doesn't expect Warrior's Reward to be on the lead in the Travers, but hopefully will be in the second flight of horses along with Summer Bird. Two solid works over off tracks have Wilkes feeling confident about his chances, especially if it rains.

"I feel very comfortable with my horse,'' Wilkes said. "I'm very content in the way the whole scenario's worked out with him.''

Our Edge has won his last three starts, including the winner, complete the field.