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Breeders' Cup Challenge Series features Travers Stakes on Saturday and TVG Pacific Classic on Sunday

August 21, 2014     E-mail this page to a friend!

Top horses in the Classic division will take center stage this weekend in two outstanding “Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series” programs, featuring the $1.25 million Travers Stakes on Saturday from Saratoga Race Track and the $1 million TVG Pacific Classic on Sunday from Del Mar. Both races air live on NBC networks: the Travers on NBC at 4:30 p.m. Eastern Time (ET)—2:30 p.m. Mountain Time (MT)—and the Pacific Classic on NBCSN at 8:00 p.m. ET—6:00 p.m. MT.

The Travers and the Pacific Classic will be the sixth and seventh shows, respectively, of 11 programs in the Challenge Series leading to the Breeders’ Cup World Championships on NBC and NBCSN, October 31-November 1 from Santa Anita. Saturday’s Travers broadcast of “Summer at Saratoga: Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series,” will be hosted by Tom Hammond, who will be joined by analysts Randy Moss and Hall of Fame jockey Jerry Bailey, analyst/handicapper Bob Neumeier and reporters Donna Brothers and Eddie Olczyk.

The $500,000 Ballerina, a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint for 3-years-old and up at 7 furlongs, will also be televised live on Saturday’s “Summer at Saratoga” program.

Following the Travers Stakes and the Ballerina, Moss and Bailey will go coast-to-coast, traveling to San Diego for the TVG Pacific Classic on NBCSN Sunday, and will be joined by host Laffit Pincay III, and reporters Jay Privman and Kenny Rice.

The Travers, the 1¼-mile Mid-Summer Derby which debuted in 1864 and is one of the oldest stakes races for 3-year-olds in the country, has drawn 10 horses, including several of the East Coast’s best, but it’s the speedy Bayern, from California, trained by Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who is the 2-to-1 morning-line favorite.

Bayern has already earned an automatic bid into the Classic off his rousing 7¼-length win in Monmouth Park’s “Win in You’re In” William Hill Haskell in his last start July 26 on NBC. Bayern answered any lingering distance questions when he blitzed a field that included superstar 3-year-old filly Untapable to move his lifetime record to 4-for-7. Bayern, ridden by Martin Garcia, will try the 1¼ mile distance for the first time and looms the one to catch and beat.

Robert Evans’ Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist, who denied California Chrome the Triple Crown, is the second choice at 3-to-1 for trainer Christophe Clement. Tonalist, who also won the Peter Pan at Belmont Park, has won three of his five career starts. In the 1⅛ mile Jim Dandy Stakes on July 26 at Saratoga, his first race back after the Belmont, Tonalist, ridden by Joel Rosario, finished second by 2¾ lengths to Wicked Strong, the 7-to-2 third choice in the Travers. Wicked Strong, trained by Jimmy Jerkens and ridden by Rajiv Maraj, was a fast closing fourth in the Kentucky Derby and was fourth in the Belmont, but was much sharper in the Jim Dandy, staying on the pace early and easily holding off Tonalist.

Hall of Fame Trainer Shug McGaughey has won the Travers three times. On Saturday, he sends out Mr Speaker, winner of the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland; Commanding Curve, second in the Kentucky Derby and fourth in the Jim Dandy; Kid Cruz, winner of the Dwyer Stakes at Belmont for trainer Linda Rice; and Charge Now, a son of two-time Classic winner Tiznow and V.E. Day, the 1-2 finishers in the recent Curlin Stakes and Ulanbator and Viva Majorca, for trainer Ian Wilkes complete the field.

Sunday’s “Breeder’s Cup Challenge Series: Win and You’re In” telecast of the 1¼ mile Pacific Classic for 3-year-olds and up, brings together an emerging star in the 3-year-old Shared Belief and the dominant Classic division standout of the past three years, the 7-year-old Game On Dude.

Sunday’s show will also include the 7 furlong Pat O’Brien Stakes, for 3-year-olds and up, which is a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.

Shared Belief, the reigning 2-year-old champion who is owned in a partnership led by sports radio personality and Breeders’ Cup Ambassador Jim Rome and trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, enters the Pacific Classic undefeated and untested in five lifetime starts. He drew the outside post in the 11 horse field for the Pacific Classic and has been installed as the 5-to-2 morning-line favorite. The son of Candy Ride blazed his way to a championship last season, when he went 3-for-3 in a season that culminated with a 5¾-length win in the CashCall Futurity (GI) at Hollywood Park in December.

Shared Belief was forced to miss the Triple Crown races with lingering foot issues, but has picked up where he left off in his two wins this year. He started his campaign defeating older horses in a six-furlong allowance at Golden Gate Fields in May, and then tried dirt and 1⅛ miles for the first time in the Los Alamitos Derby (GII) in his last start July 5. The result was another scintillating performance, and the easy 4¼-length win sent him favored in the Pacific Classic.

Game On Dude, the 3-to-1 second choice, who is owned in partnership by Hall of Fame manager Joe Torre, won last year’s Pacific Classic in track record time, drawing off by 8½ lengths. The son of 1998 Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Awesome Again has won 16-of-33 career starts and over $6.4 million in a distinguished career during which he has been a regular in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, running second at Churchill Downs in 2011 and seventh and ninth, respectively, at Santa Anita in 2012 and 2013. However, Game On Dude has been inconsistent this year. He won the Santa Anita Handicap in March, but comes into the Pacific Classic off of a disappointing fourth-place finish at odds-on in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita on June 28.

The depth of the Pacific Classic is evident, as Gallant Stable’s Gold Cup winner Majestic Harbor will likely be a distant third-choice in the race. The 6-year-old son of Rockport Harbor earned an automatic berth into the Classic by winning the Gold Cup at Santa Anita for trainer Sean McCarthy.

Among the other Pacific Classic contenders are Clubhouse Ride, who defeated Majestic Harbor in the Californian (GII) and was second in the Gold Cup for trainer Dan Hendricks; Imperative, who upset Game On Dude in the Charles Town Classic in April and was third in the Gold Cup for trainer George Papaprodromou; and Irish Surf, who won the local Cougar II in his last start July 25 for trainer Craig Lewis.