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Travers: Neck 'n Neck, Five Sixteen Breeze

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Trainer Ian Wilkes declared Neck ‘n Neck ready for next Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Travers after the Grade 2 Jim Dandy runner-up breezed five furlongs in 1:00.09 on Monday.

 

“He did it well in hand. He never extended himself,” said Wilkes. “He just floated around there, finished up down the lane good, galloped out good, pulled up happy, walked off the track happy. I’m happy.”

 

After Neck ‘n Neck finished fifth in the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis, fourth in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth, and fifth in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, Wilkes dropped him into an entry-level allowance on May 10 at Churchill Downs. The colt won by 6 ½ lengths, then captured Churchill’s Grade 3 Matt Winn by 7 ¼ lengths on June 16 and was second to Alpha in the Jim Dandy on July 28.

 

Wilkes expressed gratitude for how owner A. Stevens Miles, Jr. put no pressure on him to make the Triple Crown with Neck ‘n Neck and was content to focus on races in the second half of the year.

 

“It’s a grind to get here,” Wilkes said. “You have to keep them sound, healthy, happy, and on top of their game. It takes a good horseman to do that. Sometimes you get too caught up in [the Triple Crown]. That’s the good thing with Mr. Miles. The first thing he said to me was, ‘If you can’t make it, no problem. Don’t do it.’ So there was no pressure on me when my horse wasn’t quite ready. I was ready to back off and point for this.”

 

In the 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy, Neck ‘n Neck chased Alpha, who was unpressured on the lead, to finish second by two lengths. Wilkes believes Neck ‘n Neck could encounter a more favorable pace scenario in the 1 ¼-mile Travers.

 

“He can be wherever he wants, and that’s the good thing,” said Wilkes. “We have a smart rider in Leandro [Goncalves] who knows the horse and he understands him, and that’s good. It depends on how fast they go, but with Hansen coming it could change the pace scenario. I think we’ll see a little more pace than we did last time. It could be a different track, a different race. And it all depends on post position, too, as to what tactics you use.”

 

Before the race is drawn, Wilkes says he will focus on Neck ‘n Neck, not his possible competition.

 

“There’s only one horse I can control – my own,” said Wilkes. “If you start worrying about what other people are doing – I have no control – you only give yourself ulcers.”

 

Also on the worktab for the Travers was Five Sixteen, who breezed four furlongs in 49.05 seconds. In this two most recent starts, Five Sixteen was fifth in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes on June 9 and second to Street Life in the Curlin on July 27.

 

“He’s matured and he’s coming around the right way,” said Dominick Schettino, who trains Five Sixteen for MeB Racing Stables. “He’s physically going the right way.”

 

 

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