08/09/2012 4:46PM

Saratoga: Travers coming into focus

Barbara D. Livingston
Alpha worked four furlongs in 48.47 seconds over the main track at Saratoga on Thursday with Rob Massey riding.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Preparations for the $1 million Travers Stakes picked up on Thursday, with two major contenders putting in workouts at Saratoga and the announcement of a significant jockey change on a West Coast-based contender.

Alpha, the Jim Dandy winner, and Street Life, the Curlin winner, each breezed on a steamy Thursday morning in Saratoga looking to beat the rain that is forecast for Friday and Saturday. Meanwhile, John Velazquez will replace Corey Nakatani aboard Haskell runner-up Nonios in the Travers.

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Others pointing to the race as of Thursday were Neck ’n Neck, Liaison, and Five Sixteen. Possible starters included Haskell winner Paynter, who was expected to be released from a veterinary clinic on Friday, Fast Falcon, Stealcase, and Hansen.

Alpha, who would likely be the Travers favorite in the expected absence of Paynter, worked four furlongs in 48.47 seconds over the Saratoga main track. Under exercise rider Rob Massey, Alpha went his first quarter-mile in 23.62 seconds. Massey kept a tight hold of the reins coming through the lane. Alpha galloped out five furlongs in 1:01.23 and pulled up six furlongs in 1:16.96.

“He worked great, we’re happy,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said afterward. “He has been a little keen training since that race, he’s so happy. And we had to adjust because of weather.”

McLaughlin was planning to work on Saturday, but moved the work up in order to work on a dry and fast surface. McLaughlin said that Alpha would likely work again next Friday or Saturday.

Similarly, trainer Chad Brown moved up Street Life’s work out because of the forecast, but his breeze went a little slower than planned. Street Life, working in company with Vivo, went a half-mile in 50.93 seconds, going a first quarter in just under 26 seconds.

“The first part of the work got a little messed up because the workmate broke off too slow. The first quarter was not what I was looking for,” Brown said. “They made it to the half-mile pole at a gallop instead of already working. I was looking for 49 and they went in 51. But, the horse was moving really good through the stretch, he was on his correct lead, and I thought he galloped out very well.”

Brown said since he moved the breeze up by two days and since it was on the slow side, he would likely work Street Life two more times before the Travers instead of one.

“I’m planning on bringing him back on Wednesday and giving him a longer and stiffer work,” Brown said. “That will be his major work day, weather permitting. Then he’ll do something closer to the race that’s a little more of a maintenance move.”

Trainer Nick Zito worked his pair of 3-year-old routers Fast Falcon and Easter Gift a half-mile in company that was timed in 49.90 seconds over the Oklahoma training track. Easter Gift, fourth in the Curlin, is likely headed to the Smarty Jones at Parx on Sept. 3. Fast Falcon, seventh in the Jim Dandy, is possible for the Travers, Zito said.

Velazquez to ride Nonios

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer said from California that Hall of Fame rider Velazquez, who won the 2005 Travers aboard Flower Alley, will replace Nakatani aboard Nonios in the Travers.

In the Haskell, Nakatani made an early move along the inside down the backstretch, before taking back and coming around in the stretch. He was beaten 3 3/4 lengths by Paynter.

“We didn’t think Corey rode a bad race. Our owner felt that if we could get John Velazquez we should go that way,” Hollendorfer said. “He rides there and he’s one of the best in the world.”

Hollendorfer was pleased with the Haskell performance put in by Nonios in his first start on dirt. Hollendorfer also believes Nonios, a son of Pleasantly Perfect, would like the 1 1/4-mile distance of the Travers.

“I think our colt is doing real good right now, it looks like he’s moving forward and he deserves a chance to run in a race like that and see what he can do,” Hollendorfer said. “We think we have a good horse.”

Nonios will ship to New York on Aug. 20, Hollendorfer said.

additional reporting by Mike Welsch