There are some simple factors regarding this year’s Travers Stakes. First, Bayern is going to be very tough on an uncontested lead, especially breaking from post 2 and with a stone closer, Commanding Curve, inside him. Second, Tonalist and Wicked Strong are both sitting on big efforts, and it was apparent from the Jim Dandy Stakes that Wicked Strong has improved several lengths with blinkers added and is much more focused and professional now. There is no doubt those are the logical horses to play.
There certainly are questions to be asked of the others. How will Mr Speaker, already a grade I winner at 1 1/4 miles, handle the dirt this time, in a race that is much more suited to his style of running than the Holy Bull Stakes? Also, will Kid Cruz’s stretch-running style be more effective stretching out to 10 furlongs? And can Commanding Curve duplicate his fast-closing second in the Kentucky Derby?
As for the late bloomers, can V.E. Day and Charge Now, the one-two finishers in the Curlin Stakes, take another step forward against more accomplished horses?
These are the questions and scenarios surrounding Saturday’s Midsummer Derby.
But, wait, we forget about a horse. Hidden among the talented group assembled for Saturday’s race is the little-mentioned fourth-place finisher of the Curlin, Viva Majorca.
Most likely, it will be between Viva Majorca and his stablemate Ulanbator to determine who will be the longest price in the 10-horse field.
That suits us just fine. Digging a bit beneath the surface, one cannot help but feel that Viva Majorca is a live longshot in the Travers, and even if he’s not quite ready to beat the above-named horses, he certainly has enough angles going for him to suggest he could be in the mix as an intriguing horse to put in the exotics.
First off, it must be noted that Viva Majorca, owned and bred by Marylou Whitney, is by Tiago, so the 1 1/4 miles should suit him just fine based on that alone. Add to that, five of his first six dams were Whitney-breds and the female line traces to the great Whitney family Hall of Famer Equipoise. Also, Viva Majorca’s broodmare sire, Cape Town, sired the Whitney-owned and bred Kentucky Oaks winner Bird Town, a half-sister to the Whitney’s 2004 Belmont Stakes and Travers winner Birdstone. In fact, Birdstone is the most recent of the Whitney family’s four Travers winners, following Chompion in 1968, Tompion in 1960, and Fisherman in 1954.
Viva Majorca’s fourth dam, Sun and Snow, won the Kentucky Oaks for the Whitney family.
From a visual standpoint, Viva Majorca had a terrible trip in the Curlin, as he was blocked behind horses from the three-eighths pole to inside the three-sixteenths pole, and finally had to keep going wider and wider to find clear sailing. Once he did, he closed strongly to be beaten a length, while coming home his final eighth in :12 2/5, and was striding out smoothly and powerfully in the final sixteenth, as if he were just getting going. What made his performance even more impressive was that this was his first race around two turns, coming off only four sprint races in his brief career.
He showed his brilliance and speed in his second start. With first-time Lasix, he romped by 12 lengths at Gulfstream, covering the seven furlongs in a swift 1:21 4/5. Ian Wilkes needed to find a race for him and was forced to drop him back in distance in a six-furlong allowance/optional claimer at Churchill Downs, where he rallied from seventh, eight lengths back, to finish second in 1:09 3/5, coming home his final eighth in :23 flat. His next start was another allowance/optional claimer going 6 1/2 furlongs at Churchill Downs. Coming from sixth in the mud, he blew by his opponents in the final furlong to win going away by 3 1/2 lengths.
Off those sprints, he stretched out to 1 1/8 miles at Saratoga in the Curlin, and in our opinion was the best horse in the race and would have won with a decent trip. Of course, the two in front of him, also are up-and-comers, but we feel there is more upside to Viva Majorca going two turns for the second time and stretching out in distance. Yes, on paper, the big three look extremely formidable, especially if Bayern gets loose on a fairly easy lead, which he should. But we’re here to look for a big price who will give you a run for your money.
Wilkes has always loved this colt, who he says is a pleasure to train and be around, and feels he could be something special. Whether he’s ready to show that in the Travers we’ll have to see, but he will be a huge price. If he’s not quite ready to take on this group, do not give up on him. The feeling here is that he will be a major force later in the year and especially next year.
The fact that Wilkes called him “My next Fort Larned,” is more than enough reason to take this colt seriously on Saturday.