08/26/2010 3:45PM

Travers looks like anybody's race

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Barbara D. Livingston
A Little Warm wins the Jim Dandy, setting himself up as the likely Travers favorite.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – It is the type of Travers where a Kentucky Derby winner could be co-third choice on the morning line. It is the type of Travers where a horse making his second career start has his connections chirping. It is the type of Travers where a correct handicapping opinion could pay big dividends.

Saturday’s 141st renewal of the Travers Stakes at Saratoga is the type of race, in the opinion of Todd Pletcher, trainer of Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, where “I wouldn’t be surprised if anybody won it.”

Eleven 3-year-olds are entered for the Travers, but without Preakness and Haskell winner Lookin At Lucky in the field, there is no clear-cut favorite. The favorite’s role will likely fall to Jim Dandy winner A Little Warm, one of seven 3-year-olds in the Travers who didn’t participate in a Triple Crown race. The last horse to win the Travers without having run in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, or Belmont was Coronado’s Quest in 1998.

A Little Warm missed the Kentucky Derby because of insufficient graded stakes earnings. He missed the Preakness because he bled in a workout five days before the race. Since then, he has won an allowance race at Delaware Park and the Grade 2 Jim Dandy, both times sitting second behind the speedy Miner’s Reserve and taking over in midstretch. He picks up 11 pounds from his Jim Dandy – all Travers starters carry 126 pounds – and must travel 1 1/4 miles, something he has yet to do.

“If A Little Warm runs back to his last race he’s good in this race,” said Tony Dutrow, who trains the colt for owner/breeder Edward P. Evans. “Good means good, it doesn’t mean a winner. I hope he’s a winner.”

Dutrow was happy enough with the way A Little Warm finished the Jim Dandy to believe he has plenty of horse left for the Travers.

“I don’t know if easy is the right word,” Dutrow said when talking about how his horse won the Jim Dandy. “He did it the right way. He didn’t look desperate to me, but he may have run as fast as he could run.”

A Little Warm, to be ridden by John Velazquez, will break from post 5 outside the majority of the speed in the race. Miner’s Reserve, whom A Little Warm tracked in the Jim Dandy, looks to be the main speed again if he runs. Trainer Nick Zito said he and owner Robert LaPenta would meet on Friday to discuss options.

With or without Miner’s Reserve, Zito has two other horses to run. Ice Box was good enough to win the Florida Derby and finish second in the Kentucky Derby. But his last two efforts – a ninth in the Belmont and sixth in the Haskell – were lackluster.

Fly Down won the Grade 2 Dwyer and finished second in the Belmont. He was fifth in the Jim Dandy, beaten 4 1/2 lengths with some traffic.

“In the Belmont he was trapped for a mile and a quarter then he got out,” Zito said. “The Jim Dandy, he wasn’t comfortable at all, they pushed him over.”

Jockey Jose Lezcano, who is struggling with 5 wins from 113 mounts this meet, rides from post 8.

First Dude, second to Lookin at Lucky in the Preakness and third to Drosselmeyer in the Belmont, will get blinkers for the first time in the Travers. Jockey Ramon Dominguez is the one who recommended the change. Trainer Dale Romans said he is not looking for more speed from First Dude, just “more acceleration when he calls on him,” Romans said.

The connections of Trappe Shot hemmed and hawed between the Travers and the King’s Bishop before choosing the Travers. Trappe Shot broke poorly and had a troubled trip when he ran second to Lookin At Lucky in the Haskell.

“We just decided we feel like he can get the mile and a quarter,” trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said.

Super Saver is just the fourth Kentucky Derby winner to run in the Travers since 1993. The previous three – Sea Hero, Thunder Gulch and Street Sense – won the race. Super Saver, who will break from post 11 under Calvin Borel, comes in off a fourth-place finish in the Haskell.

“It’s not very often you come into any race with the Derby winner under the radar a little bit, but I think in this case we are,” said Pletcher, who won this race in 2005 with Flower Alley. “He’s won in a big field before, he’s won carrying 126 pounds, he’s won going a mile and a quarter, no one else has.”

Afleet Express and Friend or Foe finished third and fourth, respectively, in the Jim Dandy. Friend or Foe, making just his fifth career start, could have the most upside, as the Jim Dandy was his first start around two turns and at 1 1/8 miles. His sire, Friends Lake, won the Grade 1 Florida Derby at 37-1 in his second start around two turns and his fifth career start for the same owner/trainer combination of Chester and Mary Broman and John Kimmel.

Admiral Alex has made only one start, that being a win at 1 1/8 miles here on July 31. Still, his owner/trainer, Leon Blusiewicz, touted the colt before that race and is doing so again.

“I like my horse a lot,” Blusiewicz said. “I’m going to bet on him.”

Afleet Again, the Withers winner, completes the field.

The Travers goes as race 12 on a 13-race card that begins at 11:35 a.m. It is one of five stakes on the program and the last leg of a pick four that begins with the Victory Ride and includes the Ballerina and King’s Bishop and will have a guaranteed pool of $1 million. The Travers is also the first leg of a two-day daily double with Sunday’s Grade 1 Personal Ensign Stakes, which will feature Rachel Alexandra. The minimum wager is $1.

The forecast for Travers calls for mostly sunny skies and a high of 80 degrees with no chance of rain.