When Golden Ticket hit the Saratoga finish line in a flat-out tie with favored Alpha in the Travers, many thought the result was a fluke. At 33-1, and with only a maiden win in the bank, this was not a horse supposed to win one of the most prestigious races in American racing. As a matter of fact, the then three-year-old colt, owned by Magic City Thoroughbred Partners, wasn’t even being pointed to the Midsummer Derby shortly before the race. Off a good try in an allowance race more than three months earlier, his trainer, Ken McPeek was looking for something much less imposing at Saratoga to be his return to the races.
First an allowance race didn’t fill, and then the same thing happened to the next option, an overnight stakes. Considering how well Golden Ticket was training over the Oklahoma training track, McPeek decided to roll the dice. The son of Speightstown was supplemented to the big race, and the rest, as they say is history.
The surprising co-winner of the Travers, returned four weeks later to finish a credible third in the Pennsylvania Derby, before finishing the season with a disappointing run on the grass in the Grade 1 Hollywood Derby. But if you thought the Golden Ticket story would end quietly, as a one-hit wonder, you may be surprised to see that there could be a whole lot more to this story, or at least that is what his trainer would have you believe.
“He’s back. He’s a good horse. The Travers isn’t a fluke,” said McPeek. “Now he’s back on the surface he belongs on. I think it’s going to be a big year for him.”
Those words came after his first race of the season. Putting the turf and synthetics aside in 2013, Golden Ticket announced his intention to be one of the best older horses in the country (on dirt) with a powerful victory last month at Gulfstream Park. It didn’t make much noise, coming in a Saturday afternoon optional claimer in South Florida, but watching the now four-year-old dominate a solid field of older horses, has me believing in the colt who came from seemingly nowhere to share the Travers trophy.
Further investigation into Golden Ticket’s career record reveals a horse who runs well when on dirt every time. A second place finish in the Tampa Bay Derby followed a nice maiden score at Gulfstream this time last year, and if you simply draw a line through every race not run on dirt on the horse’s past performances, a whole new picture emerges for the former $100,000 two-year-old in training purchase.
This newfound belief in Golden Ticket will get a strong test on Saturday in Fair Grounds’ Grade 3 Mineshaft Handicap. He won’t be anything like the 33-1 odds that he was last August at Saratoga, but against this Mineshaft field, the 120 second highweight will not be favored either. That role should fall to either one of the two horses that battled down the stretch in the Louisiana Handicap, Mark Valeski and Infrattini. Mark Valeski is ultra-consistent for trainer, Larry Jones, and is making his second start back since a sizeable layoff. Favored at 4-5 last time, he was worn down late by Infrattini, beaten by ¾ of a length. In Infrattini, you have a horse riding high, on the heels of an impressive four-race winning streak for trainer Paul McGee.
Clearly Golden Ticket has his work cut out for him Saturday, but don’t be too surprised if the horse that shocked the world in the Travers, adds his second stakes win to his resume, on the way to bigger and better things. Maybe that Travers win wasn’t a fluke after all.