In this world of all things politically correct, I have to wonder if entering rabbits in races is a practice that has come and gone. Specifically designed to screw with the speedy horses that are considered the ones to beat, the tactic of running a rabbit to help the chances of your come from behind runner has been going on for as long as there has been racing, and it has been done to some of the finest the sport has seen. The great Dr. Fager was harassed by that pesky Hedevar on more than one occasion. Triple Crown champion Seattle Slew was engaged early by Affirmed’s stablemate Life’s Hope in a race I affectionately call ‘The Greatest Loss There Ever Was’.
More recently, a pair of sprint types, Show Boot and Crafty Player, ran in the Woodward just to beleaguer good old Commentator. It may not be the most sporting thing to do, but more often than not, letting a rabbit loose in a big race has proved effective. If ever there was a race screaming out for the crafty utilization of a rabbit, this year’s Travers would fit the bill.
A few weeks out, the big 3 for the Mid-Summer Derby include the Belmont winner, Tonalist, the Jim Dandy victor, Wicked Strong, and the Haskell hero, Bayern. While Tonalist did flash some speed in the Peter Pan, and Wicked Strong did demonstrate newfound early interest with the addition of blinkers in his latest, in no way, shape, or form do these multiple graded stakes winners have anything near the early speed of Bayern.
As legitimate ten furlong horses, generally this would not be a major problem, but as of now, the list of speed horses pointing for the Travers begins and ends with Bayern. Handicapping the big race may well be as simple as: watch Bayern open up a lead in about 1:12 or so, and then see Bayern show his tail to his competition down the Saratoga stretch. That is unless the connections of his main competition dust off an old magic trick.
As the conditioners of Bayern’s top two challengers, will Christophe Clement or Jimmy Jerkens take it upon themselves to find some three-year-old speed in their barns that can throw down a :45 and change, and a 1:10 in the Travers? If so it would effectively reverse a huge tactical advantage for Bayern, into a good race set-up for their respective charges.
It may not be the most sporting thing to do, but in a race as important as the Travers, it would seem to be the wise choice … Or is this sort of thing just not done anymore?