Menifee leads eight runners in today's Travers Stakes

SARATOGA SPRINGS, New York (Ticker) -- Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes runner-up Menifee drew the rail as the 9-5 morning-line favorite in today's 130th edition of the $1 million Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course. The 1 1/4 mile Travers is the oldest 3-year-old stakes race in the United States. The race is named for the first president of the Saratoga Race Course, Mr. William R. Travers, who won its inaugural running in 1864 with a horse called Kentucky. The purse has been boosted to $1 million for the first time. Last year, the race was contested for $750,000. Menifee returned to form on August 8 with a 1 1/2 length triumph in the Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park. It was his first start since an eighth-place finish in the Belmont Stakes. Three-time Travers winner Pat Day drew the mount on Menifee. Day, a four-time Eclipse Award winner, last captured this event in 1989 with Easy Goer. He also has won the Travers with Play Fellow in 1983 and Java Gold in 1987. The bay colt was bred in Kentucky by Arthur Hancock and is trained by Elliott Walden, who has been second in the last two runnings of the Derby and Preakness. This season, Menifee has been first or second in 6-of-7 outings with earnings of $1,485,400. The Harlan colt reached the winner's circle in both of his 2-year-old starts. Menifee lost the Derby by a neck to longshot Charismatic and was turned away two weeks later as the 2-1 favorite when Charismatic captured the second jewel. Day has had the reins on Menifee in eight of his nine lifetime races. Cat Thief, the 3-1 second choice, comes here off a second-place effort in the Haskell. Before that, the Storm Cat colt captured the Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park on July 18, looking impressive following a seven-week layoff. He had placed sixth in the Metropolitan Mile at Belmont Park, which was his first win in eight 3-year-old starts. D. Wayne Lukas' trainee drew the four hole under jockey Mike Smith, who was able to calm down Coronado's Quest long enough to take last year's renewal of the Travers. He also scored with Holy Bull in 1994. Smith rode Cat Thief to a second-place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes and a show effort in the Derby, but Day was up for the Swaps. A stablemate of Charismatic, Cat Thief was in the money in six of seven 2-year-old starts with a pair of victories and has secured over $1.3 million in purse money -- second most in the field. Lukas, who won this event in 1991 with Corporate Report and again four year's later with Thunder Gulch, recently was inducted into Racing's Hall of Fame. Another Walden-trained horse, Ecton Park, will break from the fifth post with jockey Alex Solis up. The Forty Niner colt finished 12th in the Kentucky Derby but is coming off a win in the Jim Dandy Stakes here on August 8 after a loss by a neck to Stellar Brush in the Ohio Derby. Solis will be aboard for the second time on Ecton Park, who is listed as the 7-2 third choice. Ecton Park has hit the board in 7-of-8 races this year with three trips to the winner's circle. Belmont champ Lemon Drop Kid will break from the sixth post under Jose Santos at 9-2. The Kingmambo colt has had just one start since his eye-opening Belmont triumph, a second-place finish in the slop here in the Jim Dandy. Trainer Steve Schulhofer is seeking his initial Travers win in his sixth try. The second half of the Belmont Stakes exacta also is here. Vision and Verse breaks from the outside eighth post with jockey Shane Sellers. Vision and Verse also has had just one outing since the Belmont, a sixth-place finish in the Jim Dandy. Unbridled Jet starts from the seventh post with Jerry Bailey up. Bailey won the race in 1986 with Wise Times. Bill Mott trains both Vision and Verse and Unbridled Jet, who will run uncoupled in the betting. Both are listed at 12-1. Another 12-1 chance is Best of Luck, who breaks from post No. 2 with Jean-Luc Samyn. Rounding out the field is 50-1 longshot Badger Gold, jockeyed by John Velazquez. All starters will carry 126 pounds as they vie for the winner's share of $600,000. The stakes and track record is 2:00, established by General Assembly in 1979. The historic Travers will be featured during a one-hour live program on ESPN beginning at 4:30 p.m. EDT. Post time is scheduled for 5:12.