07/29/2013 4:26PM

Saratoga: Travers faceoff of Triple Crown winners in doubt

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Mark Wyville/Equi-Photo
Verrazano is headed for the Travers at Saratoga after this blowout 116-Beyer victory in the Haskell at Monmouth Park.

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The desired meeting between the three winners of this year’s Triple Crown races in the $1 million Travers at Saratoga on Aug. 24 is in jeopardy after Preakness winner Oxbow emerged from Sunday’s $1 million Haskell Invitational with a wrenched right front ankle.

Oxbow, who finished fourth to Verrazano in the Haskell at Monmouth Park, was pulled up after the race by jockey Gary Stevens, who did not jog him back to the unsaddling area. Instead, Stevens jumped off the horse on the clubhouse turn, and Oxbow was walked directly back to his barn on the Monmouth backside for evaluation. While X-rays were negative, Oxbow does have an injury akin to a sprained ankle, trainer D. Wayne Lukas said Monday.

The injury puts Oxbow’s status for the Travers Stakes – and a meeting with Kentucky Derby winner Orb and Belmont Stakes and Jim Dandy winner Palace Malice – very much in doubt.

“We’re going to go day by day, give him some time to get over that ship, evaluate him with no intent in sight at all,” Lukas said from Saratoga. “We’re not ruling out anything at all. We’ll do what’s best for him, let him dictate his program.”

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Oxbow shipped back to Saratoga on Monday, and Lukas said the horse was comfortable in his stall.

“He never was very uncomfortable when he got back to the barn [at Monmouth], but obviously he was uncomfortable in the race. Gary probably protected him a little bit,” Lukas said “He’s comfortable today, that’s the main thing.”

Stevens said that Oxbow, who raced on the lead in the Haskell, did not feel as comfortable to him as he had in the three Triple Crown races – a sixth in the Derby followed by a win in the Preakness and a second in the Belmont.

“I looked over at Johnny at the half-mile pole and I said ‘I’m in trouble,’ I wasn’t going well,” Stevens said.

Johnny was Johnny Velazquez, who was aboard Verrazano, who was traveling exceptionally well at all times en route to a 9 3/4-length victory in Sunday’s Haskell.

The margin of victory was the largest in the 46-year history of the Haskell, eclipsing the seven-length win by Bluegrass Cat in 2006.

Though the final time of 1:50.68 was the slowest Haskell since 1978, when Delta Flag was timed in 1:53.20, Verrazano earned a 116 Beyer Speed Figure, which factored in the slow, dull nature of the Monmouth racing strip.

The victory – his sixth from seven career starts – earned Verrazano a start in the Travers, where he will get a chance stake his claim to leadership of the 3-year-old division against, among others, his stablemate Palace Malice. Both horses are trained by Todd Pletcher.

“We’re fortunate to have two such outstanding colts,” Pletcher said. “You hate to run horses against each other from the same barn, but in this case I think it’s the logical case for both horses and both owners. We’ll see how they both come back and both train, but right now it certainly looks like they’re likely to show up in the Travers.”

Palace Malice earned a 107 Beyer Speed Figure for his one-length victory in Saturday’s Jim Dandy, a performance Pletcher and jockey Mike Smith both called better than his 3 1/4-length victory in the Belmont Stakes.

“Just a very professional effort, got a great trip,” Pletcher said Sunday morning. “It seems like he’s learning how to run, learning how to finish off a race. He came back and showed everybody that the Belmont was real.”

[SARATOGA 2013: Complete meet coverage, exclusive DRF videos]

Since his third-place finish in the Belmont Stakes, the Travers has been the target for Orb. On the day after the Belmont, Orb was shipped to the Fair Hill training center in Maryland, where he has breezed four times since July 3. He will have another workout this weekend before shipping to Saratoga the middle of next week, according to trainer Shug McGaughey.

“I feel great with where I am,” McGaughey said. “Those two horses ran great races, but I feel real good with the way we’re doing. The way things are shaping up, if it all comes together, it’ll be good.”

Will Take Charge and Moreno, the second- and third-place finishers from the Jim Dandy, are scheduled to run back in the Travers. Will Take Charge, beaten double-digit lengths in each Triple Crown race, ran well to be second in the Jim Dandy, racing without blinkers for the first time since his career debut.

“He pulled up excellent, his appetite increased, we’ll go on with him,” said Lukas, who trains Will Take Charge.

Eric Guillot, trainer of Moreno, said he believes his horse is easily distracted and will benefit from having a race at Saratoga.

Transparent, who finished first in the Curlin Stakes but was disqualified to fifth, and Romansh, who was moved up to first in the Curlin, are both being pointed to the Travers.

Two horses not being pointed to the Travers are the Bob Baffert-trained pair of Power Broker and Code West. Power Broker, who finished second to Verrazano in the Haskell, was to ship back to Southern California and could be aimed at the Del Mar Derby on turf, Baffert said.

“He ran a real good race,” Baffert said of Power Broker’s Haskell in which he finished six lengths clear of third-place finisher Micromanage. “But that Verrazano freaked.”

Code West, who finished fifth in the Jim Dandy, will be relocated to trainer Wayne Catalano’s Midwest division. Both Baffert and Catalano train for Gary and Mary West, owners of Code West.

This weekend’s West Virginia Derby could spawn a starter or two for the Travers. Among those expected for the West Virginia Derby are Departing, Overanalyze and Betweenhereandcool.

– additional reporting by Jay Privman