SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. (AP) — He already knows Bayern is fast, and now Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert is going to give the 3-year-old colt a chance to see how far he can stretch his speed.
Impressive in winning the $1 million Haskell Invitational in his most recent start, Bayern will go after his second straight Grade 1 victory in Saturday's 145th running of the $1.25 million Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.
Favored at 2-1 in the morning line, Bayern and jockey Martin Garcia will break from post two in a 10-horse field for the 1 ¼-mile Mid-Summer Derby that includes fellow Grade 1 winners Tonalist, Wicked Strong and Mr Speaker. All horses carry 126 pounds.
Bayern has not run farther than 1 3/16 miles, when he ran into early traffic trouble and never got into the race while finishing ninth in the Preakness. Baffert, who won the 2001 Travers with eventual Horse of the Year Point Given, ran the horse in three weeks in the seven-furlong Grade 2 Woody Stephens at Belmont Park, winning by 7 ½ lengths.
Baffert brought Bayern back to California and then shipped East again for the 1 1/8-mile Haskell, where the son of Offlee Wild broke sharply from the gate and outran his opponents to win by 7 ¼ lengths.
"I was waiting to see what he did in the Haskell. I thought he should win," Baffert said. "After he ran in the Haskell, I didn't really see any reason not to try him a little further because it wasn't really taxing on him. He handled it pretty well. I really think this horse has finally put it all together."
Tonalist, second choice at 3-1, and Wicked Strong, third choice at 7-2, have taken turns beating each other this year and meet for the third time in a graded stakes race. Winner of the Peter Pan, Tonalist came from off the pace to capture the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes by a head for trainer Christophe Clement's first victory in a Triple Crown race.
Jockey Joel Rosario will break outside Bayern in post six for the Travers, one spot inside Wicked Strong.
"I'm looking forward to the Travers," Clement said. "I'm looking forward to a mile and a quarter. I'm looking forward to the pace scenario. I'm excited. Let's go."
Fourth in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont, Wicked Strong added blinkers for the 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy, where he was closer to the pace than usual. He took the lead turning for home and had plenty left to turn away Tonalist's late bid.
"We needed to see that from him," trainer Jimmy Jerkens said. "He's been slowly developing all along. He certainly didn't run bad in those (Triple Crown) races, but he hadn't put it all together like that. I'm really happy where we're at right now."
In addition to Wicked Strong, Jerkens will also saddle Curlin Stakes winner V. E. Day in the Travers, a race he won with Afleet Express in 2010.
Mr Speaker won the Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational on grass in July at 1 ¼ miles. Also entered are Charge Now, Commanding Curve, Kid Cruz, Ulanbator and Viva Majorca.
The Travers will be televised by NBC, with post time at 5:46 p.m.