08/20/2012 5:01PM

Saratoga: Wilkes trying Travers formula again with Neck ’n Neck

Barbara D. Livingston
Neck ‘n Neck is a son of the 2004 Travers winner, Flower Alley.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – In 2009, trainer Ian Wilkes and owner Steven Miles came to the Travers with a 3-year-old who did not run in the Triple Crown, finished second in the Jim Dandy, and was a son of a Travers winner.

Confident the horse could get 1 1/4 miles, Wilkes and Miles were disappointed when Warrior’s Reward, a son of 2002 Travers winner Medaglia d’Oro, finished fifth behind Summer Bird.

“He couldn’t get the mile and a quarter,” said Wilkes, whose horse would win the Grade 1 Carter at seven furlongs one year later. “No excuses.”

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Saturday, Wilkes and Miles are back for another shot at the Travers with a 3-year-old who did not run in the Triple Crown, finished second in the Jim Dandy, and is a son of a Travers winner. Wilkes is confident that Neck ’ n Neck, a son of 2004 Travers winner Flower Alley, will get the 1 1/4 miles.

“I don’t think it’ll be an issue for him. I think he’ll be fine,” Wilkes said Monday. “He’s a big, strong colt. It just seems like the further he goes, the better he is. This will be the first time going a mile and a quarter, but his father got a mile and a quarter, I’ll Have Another got a mile and a quarter.”

Wilkes mentioned the now-retired Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another because he too is a son of Flower Alley.

Since I’ll Have Another and Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags are retired, and Haskell winner Paynter will miss the race because of an illness, Saturday’s 143rd Travers is deemed a wide-open affair. That’s why at least 12 horses are expected to be entered on Wednesday when post positions are drawn.

The field is expected to include Alpha, Atigun, Fast Falcon, Five Sixteen, Hansen, Liaison, Neck ’ n Neck, Nonios, Stealcase, and Street Life. Trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. said that Willy Beamin, who is running in Wednesday’s Albany Stakes for New York-breds, would be entered in the Travers and could run in both spots. Trainer Gary Contessa said he will enter Speightscity, unraced since finishing second to Alpha in the Withers Stakes in February, in the Travers. Contessa had wanted to run in an overnight stakes for Friday that did not fill.

Neck ’ n Neck did not show enough in the winter stakes at Gulfstream to make it onto the Triple Crown trail. In his last three races, however, Neck ’ n Neck won an allowance race by 6 1/2 lengths and the Grade 3 Matt Winn by 7 1/4 before running second to Alpha in the Jim Dandy over a sloppy track.

Wilkes said he has seen Neck ’ n Neck continue to mature throughout the spring and early summer, something he partly attributed to the addition of blinkers, which he first put on the colt in the Fountain of Youth. As an example of the colt’s maturation, Wilkes noted that Neck ’ n Neck’s three works since the Jim Dandy have all come without blinkers, including a five-furlong move Monday in 59.79 seconds in which he got his last quarter in 23.67 seconds under Julien Leparoux.

“Coming into the Jim Dandy I had blinkers on him,” Wilkes said. “It’s another sign that he’s become a little more professional about what he’s doing.”

However, Wilkes did say that he would not take the blinkers off Neck ’ n Neck for the race.

“I’m not that game,” Wilkes said.

Wilkes is eager for the Travers, especially with a long-range forecast that calls for dry weather, which should result in a fast track.

I’d like to see a good track instead of a muddy track, that’s my only thing,” Wilkes said. “Now I’ve got no excuses . . . as long as you don’t give me the one or two hole.”

Five Sixteen, second in the Curlin Stakes, worked four furlongs in 49 seconds Monday morning over the main track. Trainer Dominick Schettino added blinkers to Five Sixteen’s equipment three starts back and says he has seen gradual improvement in the gelding by Invasor.

“I see a difference from even before the Belmont the way he’s progressing physically and mentally, that’s the reason we’re giving him a chance,” Schettino said.

Rosie Napravnik will ride Five Sixteen in the Travers.

◗ On Monday, Nonios and Hansen both arrived at Saratoga.

◗ Trainer Phil Gleaves said that Csaba, second in the off-the-turf Hall of Fame Stakes, would not enter the Travers, but instead be pointed to one of two turf stakes the last week of the meet.

Gunner More than 1 year ago
I believe Alpha is by Bernardini (AP Indy) out of a Nijinsky mare. That sez: "run all day". Toss at your own loss.
Tim More than 1 year ago
If alpha goes 49 again she still couldnt win this time. That horse is slow and if he goes off 4/5 i will be salivating from the mouth. U got to be kidding with alpha. Based on what race. She walked and is bred for the slop in the last and has never run agood race since that. Fagetabouthim.
Valerie More than 1 year ago
he doesn't like when you call him she!
Tim More than 1 year ago
Neck n neck will win this race. I heard wilkes at the morning workouts this morning talk about how well neck n neck was doing. He said that he is so full of himslf now and that maturation process has really taken place. This can you see with the fast workout without blinkers. Alpha is slow and ths time with hanson there will be no walking. Also alpha cannot out close neck n neck unless he goes 48 and turns for home with a 2 length kead. Neck n neck is my pick as long as its a dry track and no one post.
Perl More than 1 year ago
I think Alpha is a totally logical winner. He has shown that he can win from off the pace and the 10f doesn't seem to be a problem given his breeding. But if he is 4-5, well then I will have to seek some value.
Daryl Steen More than 1 year ago
I like your confidence with Neck n Neck...won with him in his last race and I'm taking him again on Saturday...maturing nicely to say the least.
Perl More than 1 year ago
Thinking either neck n neck or nonios takes it.
JT_OnTheSide More than 1 year ago
Agree with others. I don't understand why DRF keeps giving this guy air-time. There's plenty else to talk about. Just say Willy Beamin may also be entered. Done.
Thomas Cook More than 1 year ago
Who cares about Dutrow. The guy should,be gone. Focus on,the,class of Wilkes and how he allowed his colt to mature. Neck n,Neck is a great colt and a future star.
unmarx1 More than 1 year ago
What is Dutrow's motivation in possibly running Willy Beamin on only 2 days rest ? Publicity, in your face,merely following owner's wishes,or genuinely believes he can hit board on 2 days rest? would it hurt the horse? if not ,it might change the conventional wisdom on minimum 2-3 weeks rest between races ?
Chris Jones More than 1 year ago
He has done it before - a few years back I think it was Golden Man that ran 3rd in a race at Delaware and the following day ran 2nd in a race at Monmouth. Both races were G3 stakes.
mikemc1177 More than 1 year ago
He does it all the time.Willy Beamin won June 20th and then won again June 24th. Going back five years Dutrow has brought back 113 horses from a 1-7 day break and won with 32 of them, a sparkling 28% win clip. A total of 68% of the 113 starters finished first, second, or third.
chad mc rory More than 1 year ago
With, or without?
michael More than 1 year ago
Since when does Dutrow care about the well being of his horses??