It’s Neck ‘n Neck vs. Alpha in Travers
Is a happy horse a winning horse? Maybe so. After Jim Dandy runner-up Neck ’n Neck breezed five furlongs in 1:00 on Monday at Saratoga, trainer Ian Wilkes declared the colt ready for Saturday’s $1 million Travers.
“He did it well in hand,” Wilkes told Brisnet.com. “He never extended himself. He just floated around there, finished up down the lane good, galloped out good, pulled up happy, walked off the track happy. I’m happy.”
The 3-year-old, who skipped the Triple Crown races, won an entry entry-level allowance contest by 6 ½ lengths on May 10 at Churchill Downs and captured the Grade 3 Matt Winn by 7 ¼ lengths at the Louisville track on June 16.
In the 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy, Neck ’n Neck chased Alpha, who wasn’t pressured on the lead and won by two lengths. Wilkes believes the son of Flower Alley, who captured the 1 ¼-mile race in 2005, could encounter a more favorable pace scenario in the Travers.
“He can be wherever he wants, and that’s the good thing,” Wilkes said Monday. “We have a smart rider in Leandro (Goncalves) who knows the horse and he understands him, and that’s good. It depends on how fast they go, but with Hansen coming it could change the pace scenario. I think we’ll see a little more pace than we did last time.”
However, that might not be the case since Hansen “had some inflammation in his left front leg this morning and is not running,” trainer Mike Maker said Tuesday.
Wilkes had said earlier “there’s only one horse I can control — my own, If you start worrying about what other people are doing — I have no control — you only give yourself ulcers.”
The likely favorite will be Alpha, with three stakes victories to his credit. He has worked twice at Saratoga since his July 28 victory, the latest Monday when he breezed four furlongs in 48 4/5 at Saratoga.
His sire Bernardini recorded the Jim Dandy-Travers double in ’06 after he captured the Preakness.
Of the other expected runners, Haskell Invitational runner-up Nonios and Jim Dandy third-place finisher have the best chance of hitting the board.
At Del Mar on Sunday, Nonios worked four furlongs in 47 2/5 over the Polytrack. Cory Nakatani will ride the Pleasantly Perfect colt for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer.
Liaison worked Sunday, going five furlongs in 1:00 at Saratoga. “Out in 12 (seconds) and change,” trainer Bob Baffert said, referring to the gallop-out time for the extra furlong.
I’ll be using those four horses in a trifecta key, with Alpha and Neck ’n Neck on top, with Nonios and Liaison.