| Mon 28/08/2017 - 05:24 EDT

      Road To The Breeders' Cup 2017: Six Takeaways from Travers Card

      The succession of grade 1 races August 26 at Saratoga included The Personal Ensign, Ballerina, Allen Jerkens, Forego, Sword Dancer and Travers. If that weren't enough, The Grade 2 Ballston Spa featured a grade 1 caliber field with champion Lady Eli stealing the show. The magnificent afternoon of racing yielded some big peformances and important clues regarding the 2017 Breeders' Cup (November 3-4 at Del Mar) picture. Here are six thoughts and takeaways.

        Impact of Songbird's loss

        Fans didn't have to wait long for the first major revelation of the day, as last year's three year-old champion Songbird was defeated in the first stakes race of the afternoon - the Personal Ensign. Songbird went off at 1/2 in the six-horse field and was caught at the wire by previous grade 1 winner Forever Unbridled, who was sent to post at 2/1.

        Hardly an upset, but the race marked just the second defeat of Songbird's brilliant career and validated what many handicappers have likely suspected about the champion filly so far in 2017. Despite winning a pair of grade 1 races - she's a step slower than last year.

        Songbird still has a chance in the Breeders' Cup Distaff, but in one of racing's most wide-open divisions, others certainly have greater appeal. Bettors hoping Songbird's impending loss would be delayed until the Breeders' Cup will have to search for another short-priced play-against as Songbird, who has been an odds-on favorite in 10 of her last 11 starts, will surely be available at the biggest price in her career come Breeders' Cup Friday in the Distaff. 

        Outcome of the Ballerina Stakes 

        As has been the case many times since the inception of the Filly & Mare Sprint in 2007, the division appears completely wide-open. Saturday's Ballerina was a bizarrely-run race with incredibly slow early fractions. What looked to be an extremely contentious seven-furlong sprint on paper, quickly turned into a match race between pacesetter By the Moon and stalker Highway Star who left the rest of the field behind after dawdling quarter and half mile splits of :24.05 and :47.81.

        Those two ran 1-2 to the wire with By the Moon just able to fend off her rival. Taking nothing away from either horse, the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint will certainly feature swifter fractions. It's tough to know what to make of this race exactly, except that the division remains up for grabs and that it seems wise not to toss any runners who found themselves chasing the pedestrain pace in the Ballerina. In particular, Carina Mia ran very well to finish third after finding herself far back early. She was the only horse to do any closing and may be sitting on a huge effort in her next start. Trainer Chad Brown will likely opt for one more prep before sending this gal to California. 

        Drefong is back 

        In this space last week, I publically questioned whether Drefong was the same Drefong we saw dominate the sprint division as a three year-old at the end of 2016. The Bob Baffert trainee had a peculiar training pattern over the winter, bypassing an expected trip to Dubai and promptly dumped jockey Gary Stevens in his 2017 debut soon after the start of the Grade 1 Bing Crosby. In short, I wasn't sure his head was still in the game, or whether he was still the same physical specimen.

        After watching him romp in the Forego Saturday, however, I'll gladly admit I was wrong. Welcome "back" big guy. Drefong looked to be on another level while dominating a quality field that included multiple grade 1 winner Mind Your Biscuits. This four year-old son of Gio Ponti is once again the one to beat in the Breeders' Cup Sprint

        The Sword Dancer and BC Turf clues

        I've been saying all along that the Breeders' Cup Turf is again primed for a European invasion as it has so many years in the recent and distant past. After Saturday's Sword Dancer, we know that the Irish-bred duo of Idaho and Erupt aren't the Europeans who will be doing the invading. Neither ran a step as Americans Money Multiplier and and Sadler's Joy battled to the wire with the latter earning the victory. The 1-2 finishers are nice grass runners to be sure, but they'll likely be running for minor awards in the Breeders' Cup Turf when Big Euros come across the pond.

        Ignore the Travers 

        Along with every other three year-old runner this year. The historic race featured a deep field that included the winners of each Triple Crown race. True to this year's three year-old division, none of them hit the board or made a menacing move at any point during the ten-furlong event.

        This is the most average, inconsistent, lackluster and disappointing group of three year-old runners we've seen in quite some time. And I have to point out that winner West Coast is not the next Arrogate, though he is a late-developing three year-old trained by that same white-haired guy who seems to win all the big races these days. In short, I take nothing away from the Travers other than some losing tickets. No one in this group warrants a look in the Breeders' Cup Classic, though it will be interesting to see if West Coast opts for the BC Mile instead.

        Lady Eli is still awesome

        She just knows where the finish line is and how to get there.

        Now 10 for 13 to go with three second-place finishes, Lady Eli made quick work of the Ballston Spa field Saturday and looked stylish doing it. Looking back over the Ballston Spa field, that was a good bunch of grass runners and anyone with the idea to play against Lady Eli in the Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare turf should have their head examined. This is a very deep group that will feature some quality European runners, but Lady Elis is a champion in every sense of the word and will be putting her best foot forward as she always does.

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