Boy, Have I Got a Travers Bomb For You

Could it be that we actually saw the Travers winner, or at least a major threat in the Midsummer Derby, compete on Saturday?

Hmm, let’s see, could it be the Dwyer winner Practical Joke, who ran a sensational race, or the 43-1 runner-up Tale of Silence? How about the impressive Iowa Derby winner Hence, who was equally impressive when he won the Sunland Derby? Perhaps it could be Phat Man, who closed from last to win the Long Branch Stakes, a traditional prep for the Haskell Invitational.

Not only is the answer “no” to all of these, the horse in question didn’t even run in any of these 3-year-old races. In fact, he didn’t even finish in the money.

OK, enough of the suspense. Not being in the know as far as his training, I can say here and now that unless Good Samaritan, who finished a fast-closing fourth in the Belmont Derby, has worked atrociously on dirt, he could be a very live longshot if switched to the main track for the Travers.

Although there is a plethora of good 3-year-olds this year, with several showing unlimited potential, there has been no standout and no lofty speed figures from any of them.

Considering there are no big races for 3-year-olds on grass coming up other than the Secretariat Stakes, which would seem like a natural spot for Good Samaritan, the truth is, he has shown a propensity for closing fast, but too late, in his last four grass starts, whether at a mile, 1 1/16 miles, 1 1/8 miles, or 1 1/4 miles. It’s always been too little too late.

Remember, this is a horse who trainer Bill Mott had nominated for the Triple Crown, and when I began the Derby Dozen back in January and asked assistant trainer Riley Mott if there were any thoughts of trying him on the dirt, he responded:

“We do in fact plan on running him on the dirt to see if he can handle both surfaces, but between you and I he is just coming back to us from the farm in about a week or so. Nothing serious happened to him but we are obviously behind the eight ball as far as the Derby trail goes. He is a really exciting horse regardless of surface.”

I repeat, regardless of surface, so he obviously had shown them enough on dirt to nominate to the Triple Crown and consider a try at the Derby trail. It must also be pointed out that Mott pre-entered him in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile on dirt as well as the Juvenile Turf.

The truth is, Good Samaritan is bred more for the dirt than the turf, he certainly has no problem staying a mile and a quarter, he has a consistently powerful closing kick that could be more conducive to dirt, and he had absolutely no shot to win the Belmont Derby after an opening half in :49 2/5 and a final half in a blistering :45 4/5. Good Samaritan had to rally from last at the half-mile pole in the 11-horse field and flew home his final quarter in under :22 flat, just missing by a neck of catching the European invader Homesman for third, while finishing a length behind another European, Called to Bar, for second. In all, he was beaten only three lengths by the brilliant Oscar Performance, who pretty much stole the race by getting away with such soft fractions, especially his three-quarters in a sluggish 1:14 1/5. By comparison, they went the opening three-quarters in the Belmont Oaks in 1:11 1/5. Despite the Derby's first three-quarters being run three full seconds slower than the Oaks, the final time was only two-fifths of a second slower; that's how fast they closed.

And in a minor point, Good Samaritan actually broke on top from the inside post in the Belmont Derby, so he is quick out of the gate, which is an excellent quality to have on the dirt and would help him get a decent position in a race like the Travers, depending on what the rider decides to do and where to place him. Watching the Breeders' Cup works last year, he was a standout, as was his overall physical appearance. Although his works were on the grass, he looked more like a dirt horse the way he moved. I feel he has a turn of foot that can best be utilized on the dirt rather than plod home late off crawling fractions on grass to pick up a piece of it. There is an explosion there just waitng to be detonated and the dirt could very well set it off.

Now, let’s turn to Good Samaritan’s pedigree. He is by a predominantly dirt sire in Harlan’s Holiday, a son of the top dirt sprinter Harlan, out of a mare by Pulpit, also predominantly a dirt sire. His dam, Pull Dancer, was mostly a grass filly, but did break her maiden on dirt at Keeneland and finished fourth in the grade 3 Tempted Stakes on dirt at Aqueduct. His fifth dam, La Mesa, is out of a half-sister to the great Buckpasser, and this family traces to the legendary La Troienne.

But what really stands out, other than Good Samaritan being inbred to two Triple Crown winners (Secretariat and Affirmed, with Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew also in his pedigree) is his 4x5 inbreeding to Honest Pleasure, a stallion you rarely see in a pedigree these days. For those who don’t remember, it was Honest Pleasure who at one time held the stakes and track record for the Travers – 2:00 1/5, which still is the third fastest Travers ever run. And it was Honest Pleasure who nearly upset Forego in the historic Marlboro Cup, in which Forego nailed him right on the wire under 137 pounds. And Honest Pleasure is by What a Pleasure, sire of Kentucky Derby winner Foolish Pleasure.

As you can see, there is an abundance of top-class dirt breeding throughout Good Samaritan’s pedigree.

So, although the Secretariat Stakes would seem the logical spot for him, why not try to get him out of his rut and attempt something different that could reap rewards far greater than a victory in the Secretariat Stakes. Even if he should finish in the money in the Travers, it would be a major feather in his cap and open new doors with the big mile and a quarter dirt races coming up in the fall. And if it doesn’t work out, nothing lost. You can always go back to the grass and stretch him out to a mile and a half against older horses. And he should make a top-class 4-year-old.

Yes, it’s out an out of the box move, but it could prove to be an inspired move. Judging by Riley Mott’s comments, the seed was already planted early in the year. This is a perfect time to finally see if it can grow.

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