Quality Road on the right path at Travers

By Richard Rosenblatt
Associated Press / August 29, 2009

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - The Travers Stakes has come down to this: No filly, one Bird, and seven colts with a huge opportunity to rise to the head of their 3-year-old class.

Preakness-winning filly Rachel Alexandra is skipping today’s $1 million Travers to take on older boys next week in the Woodward Stakes, and Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird is out, recovering from throat surgery.

That leaves thoroughbred racing’s Mid-Summer Derby with the next-best lineup: Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird taking on rejuvenated Quality Road, rising star Kensei, and several other graded-stakes winners.

“Even if you go by what they say on paper - you have the Florida Derby winner, the Belmont winner, the Jim Dandy winner, the Peter Pan winner, the Barbaro winner [that’s us] . . . ’’ said Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito. “There are so many great qualifications in there.’’

On his 12th try, Zito finally came up with a Travers winner in 2004 in Birdstone, who happens to be the sire of Summer Bird. So if Zito’s 15-1 long shot Our Echo doesn’t win, he would not be too disappointed if Summer Bird follows Birdstone’s lead by completing a Belmont-Travers double.

“He’s run a couple of big races, but I still think he has a lot left to show just how good he is,’’ Tim Ice, Summer Bird’s trainer, said, referring to his colt’s 2 3/4-length Belmont win followed by a runner-up finish to Rachel Alexandra in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park Aug. 2. “I’m really happy with the way he’s coming into the race.’’

It’s Quality Road, though, who is the 8-5 morning-line favorite. Summer Bird is the 3-1 second choice, with Jim Dandy winner Kensei at 7-2, followed by Charitable Man (6-1), Warrior’s Reward (8-1), and Hold Me Back and Our Edge each at 15-1.

The National Weather Service forecast calls for a 90 percent chance of rain - occasional showers with thunderstorms. That could affect Quality Road, who has never run on a wet track.

Quality Road would have been the favorite for the Kentucky Derby, but hoof injuries less than a week before the race forced him to miss the entire Triple Crown series.

Now he’s back, and in record-setting form. After winning the Fountain of Youth and the Florida Derby - with a Gulfstream Park record for 1 1/8 miles - Quality Road returned from four months off and won the 6 1/2-furlong Amsterdam Stakes at Saratoga Aug. 3.

Quality Road has won four of five career starts.

“He’s a special horse,’’ said Quality Road’s trainer, Todd Pletcher. “It takes a special kind of horse, with both speed and the ability to carry that speed over a distance of ground [1 1/4 miles], and I think he’s that kind of horse.’’