Written by David Grening of DRF
At the sixteenth pole of Saturday’s 145th Travers Stakes, Wicked Strong, the Jim Dandy winner, was a length in front with another horse, caked in mud, bearing down on him. It took a moment or two for him realize, but Jimmy Jerkens, the trainer of Wicked Strong, finally noticed the other horse was also his, V. E. Day.
“What a feeling,” Jerkens said. “I’m going to win the Travers. I just don’t know with who.”
With Rajiv Maragh imploring Wicked Strong to get to the wire, V. E. Day had lengthened his stride under Javier Castellano and nailed Wicked Strong on the wire to win the $1.25 million Travers by a nose before a crowd of 46,557 at Saratoga.
It set off mixed emotions for the 55-year-old Jerkens, who joined Nick Zito as the second trainer to run one-two in Saratoga’s marquee race. Zito did it in 2004 with Birdstone and The Cliff’s Edge.
“As great as I felt for V. E. Day winning I felt bad for Wicked also,” Jerkens said. He ran his guts out, no question about it.”
Wicked Strong, owned by the Centennial Farms, finished 2 1/2 lengths in front of Tonalist, the Belmont Stakes winner. Tonalist was followed, in order, by Kid Cruz, Mr Speaker, Viva Majorca, Charge Now, Ulanbator, Commanding Curve, and Bayern, the 2-1 favorite, who set the pace for six furlongs before fading.
It was the second time in four years that Jerkens won the Travers. He also won it in 2010 with Afleet Express, who also won by a nose under Castellano.
At 19-1, V. E. Day was the lesser regarded of Jerkens’s pair. His backers could point to the fact he had won three straight races, including two on dirt and one, the Curlin Stakes, over this track. His detractors could point to the fact he had never before run in a graded stakes race.
Jimmy’s father, the Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens, thought V. E. Day had a chance.
“My father was always [partial] to a horse like him – a big, strong colt that looks like he wants to go all day – that’s his kind of horse since he started training,” Jimmy Jerkens said. “He eats those kinds of horses up. He said [Friday] ‘I think he’ll come running, I really believe he’ll come running’ and he sure did.”
Though Jose Lezcano rode V. E. Day to his three previous victories, he chose to ride Mr Speaker, a horse he rode to victory in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby on turf last month. Castellano was available and Jerkens scooped him up.
After watching video of V.E. Day’s Curlin Stakes, Castellano felt he would just take his time on the horse. He had V. E. Day in seventh position, 14 1/2 lengths back after Bayern, pestered by Tonalist, ran a half-mile in 47.31 seconds.
Castellano advanced V. E. Day along the inside but was still 10 lengths back with a half-mile to run. Wicked Strong, meanwhile, was enjoying a dream trip under Rajiv Maragh, third and in the clear.
At the quarter pole, Wicked Strong, the co-second choice at 5-2, crept up outside of Tonalist, also 5-2, and Bayern. Bayern, coming off a monster win in the Grade 1 Haskell, was spent under Martin Garcia.
For a few strides, it was Wicked Strong and Tonalist before Wicked Strong put him away. Wicked Strong was 1 1/2 lengths in front when V. E. Day split horses and came charging.
“At the eighth pole I thought I was not going to pass Wicked Strong,” Castellano said. “But the last sixteenth my horse finished very strong and I think I caught him in the last jump.”
V. E. Day, a son of the turf champion English Channel, covered the 1 1/4 miles in 2:02.93 and returned $41.
Magalen Bryant owns V. E. Day, the European holiday that commemorates the end of World War II. She is also a partner in some Centennial Farms horses and owns a 2.5 percent interest in Wicked Strong.
The Travers was part of a four-win afternoon for Castellano, who also won the Grade 1 King’s Bishop by a neck as well as the last two races on the card.
Maragh won the Grade 1 Ballerina on Artemis Agrotera, but came up just short in the Travers.
“That damn Jimmy Jerkens, can’t beat that guy,” Maragh said. “The race set up just the way I wanted it to do. Bayern wasn’t loose on the lead. I had them both in my sights. It was just a tough beat. I kept on riding, just an unfortunate bob.”
Joel Rosario, the rider of Tonalist, said he was happy with his early position, putting the horse right into the race as he had done in the Peter Pan. But in the end, Rosario, said, “he stayed the same speed. It looked like the two horses were the best today. They were the ones running at the end.”
Written by the Daily Racing Form. To read more go to DRF.com