SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y.— Growing up in the Capital Region of upstate New York, four-time Saratoga Race Course meet-leading trainer Chad Brown holds the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers in high regard. While yet to saddle a winner for the Spa’s marquee race, Brown appears to hold his strongest hand yet in the 153rd renewal of the oldest race for 3-year-olds in North America.
Brown has saddled a dozen contenders for the Runhappy Travers with his best result taking place last year with third-place finisher Miles D. This year, he will send out Grade 1-winners Zandon and Early Voting as well as up-and-coming stakes-winner Artorius.
A native of Mechanicville, New York, just 13 miles southeast of Saratoga Springs, Brown expressed his appreciation for the Spa.
“In general, the history not only surrounding the meet, but the Travers was a huge part of my upbringing,” Brown said. “I still have many people in my life that remember me from when I was a kid running around the picnic area that are still here as fans and as friends and as family. To win the race for them, for my hometown, would mean a lot to me, personally. It would be a lifetime worth of hard work and sacrifices. The only reason I’m in this profession is from coming to Saratoga with my family as a kid. It doesn’t get any bigger than that – to win the jewel of their meet and the history surrounding the race. Coming to the Travers with my parents when I was knee-high is the only reason I’m here in the first place.”
The last time Brown had as many as three horses in the Travers was in 2016, when he sent out Gift Box [fourth], Connect [sixth], and My Man Sam [eighth], none of which came close to touching 13 1/2-length winner Arrogate, whose 1:59.36 time for the 10 furlongs still stands as record time.
One of Brown’s three Runhappy Travers contenders is Arrogate’s first offspring to compete in the historic race in Juddmonte’s Kentucky homebred Artorius. The dark bay colt arrives at the Travers as the most lightly raced contender with only three starts under his belt. He was a last-out winner of his two-turn debut in the restricted Curlin on July 29 at Saratoga. Following a second in his career debut in April going six furlongs at Keeneland, he graduated in a one-turn mile maiden special weight on June 10 at Belmont Park.
“The horse has always showed a lot of class and a lot of ability,” said Brown, who also campaigned Artorius’ dam Paulassilverlining during her final year of training. “He did get started a little late, but we played the hand we were dealt and didn’t do anything to compromise the horse’s development by pushing him.
“The horse brought himself here since we got him to his debut at Keeneland. Moving forward, he’s always worked right on schedule, and he’s done everything that we’ve asked him to do,” Brown added. “He’s been stretching out nicely and his first two-turn race was impressive, his best race. I have a lot of optimism that horse will be able to carry another eighth of a mile.”
Artorius will exit post 5 under Irad Ortiz, Jr.
Jeff Drown’s Zandon captured the Grade 1 Blue Grass on April 9 at Keeneland en route to finishing third in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby behind fellow Runhappy Travers aspirants Rich Strike and Epicenter.
Zandon, who enters off a hard-fought second to Epicenter in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy, drew the outermost post 8 for the Travers, which Brown said could be tricky.
“He’s going to have to save some ground into the first turn,” Brown said. “He might be in a race that lacks pace, which goes against him. Zandon will have to find a way to turn the tables on Epicenter. He’s had dead aim on him twice now and couldn’t get by him. Now he has to do it going a mile and a quarter, so he has his work cut out for him.”
However, Brown expressed delight in watching Zandon breeze over the main track. Last Saturday, he went five-eighths in 1:00.65 in his final Travers tune-up.
“The horse breezed on Saturday just like he did before the Kentucky Derby. That’s as good as you can possibly work over this track,” Brown said. “He’s been so consistent and I’m so proud of the horse for always cooperating in the morning and showing his very best. Going into the Travers off a work like that, it does give you some hope that there’s a possibility to win the race.”
Zandon, a son of 2015 Travers fourth-place finisher Upstart, has never finished out of the money in six lifetime starts, boasting a 2-2-2 record. He will be ridden by Flavien Prat.
Klaravich Stables’ Early Voting gave Brown a special victory in this year’s Grade 1 Preakness on May 21 at Pimlico, fending off an inside rally from Epicenter in the final eighth of a mile. The son of Gun Runner finished last-of-4 in the Jim Dandy last out, where he set the pace and finished 3 3/4 lengths behind Epicenter.
Early Voting will exit post 7 under returning rider Jose Ortiz.
“I would surely prefer a target with this horse. He’s posted well,” Brown said. “We’ll just have to play the break and Jose ultimately will have to decide for himself what’s his best chance to win.”
Early Voting was on the fence for the Travers exiting the Jim Dandy, but the horse has convinced Brown enough in his training to give it a shot.
“He is working better now, or I wouldn’t run him,” Brown said. “I had the option not to run him from the owner. In fact, it appeared after the Jim Dandy that we weren’t going to run him. The horse brought himself into the race the way he worked and trained.”
Brown recalled Early Voting’s Jim Dandy effort and reiterated how deep the track was.
“He ended up on the lead, the fractions were very fair,” Brown said. “It seemed like he was on a deep, tiring rail and I probably didn’t have the horse fit enough either. He was off a 10-week break and he’s a different kind of horse. He’s a heavy horse that eats and sleeps all day. I think in hindsight, I could have tried to tighten that horse up a little more. So, he got a tough race out of that, he’s come back and worked twice.”
Brown will saddle 10 other contestants in pursuit of a graded stakes win on the blockbuster 13-race card at Saratoga, including multiple Grade 1-winner Jack Christopher. The talented Munnings sophomore suffered defeat for the first time in the last out Grade 1 Haskell on July 23 at Monmouth Park, which was his first start going two turns.
Jack Christopher, owned by Jim Bakke, Gerald Isbister, Coolmore Stud, and Peter Brant, will cut back to one turn on Saturday for the Grade 1, $500,000 H. Allen Jerkens Memorial at seven furlongs.
“I thought the horse ran great in the Haskell. He ran a fast three-quarters in 1:09 and change and he fought on nicely,” Brown said. “He just didn’t have quite enough late, but I thought it was a really good race. The horse has never disappointed me in a race. I’m happy to cut him back on a track that I know he likes. I hope he gets a good, clean break.”
Brown said the key with Jack Christopher is getting a clean break. He will leave the gate from post 6 under Jose Ortiz, who has been aboard for all Jack Christopher’s five lifetime starts.
“It looks like there’s plenty of speed in there,” said Brown, who won the 2017 Allen Jerkens with Practical Joke. “The key is that he gets a clean break, gets forward in the race and Jose knows the horse so well, so maybe he can choose where he wants to place him.”
Jack Christopher is a two-time winner going a flat mile in the Grade 1 Champagne last October at Belmont Park and the Grade 2 Pat Day Mile in May at Churchill Downs but earned his career-best 107 Beyer Speed Figure when capturing the seven-furlong Grade 1 Woody Stephens presented by Mohegan Sun on June 11 at Belmont Park.
“He ran a great race going a mile twice now,” Brown said. “He didn’t run a bad race in the Haskell, he got beat by two very good horses. In fact, the race came back very fast. Actually, if he could’ve got away a little easier, instead of 1:09 into the teeth of that internal quarter-mile there, I think the horse would have been very close. This horse has enough range going beyond seven [furlongs].”
NYRA Press Office
Main photo: Artorius wins the Curlin on July 29th at Saratoga (Susie Raisher)