John Shirreffs didn’t plan for Smart Transition to go quite as fast as he did in his final major move for the Travers (G1), but the horseman was pleased that his up-and-coming sophomore blazed five-eighths in a bullet :58.55 over Saratoga’s main track Sunday.
“He worked really well,” Shirreffs said of the drill, which ranked as the best of 43 at the distance. “We were hoping he’d work a little bit between a minute and 1:01, somewhere around there. He went a little faster than expected, but that’s all right. He’s been training well right along.”
By Smart Strike and out of Grade 2 heroine Zardana, a past Shirreffs trainee who famously upset Rachel Alexandra in the 2010 New Orleans Ladies, Smart Transition is a late foal (born May 4) who has needed time and distance to show his best. But it all came together resoundingly in the 1 1/8-mile Curlin at Saratoga July 31, as Arnold Zetcher’s homebred bay rallied to a 4 3/4-length decision.
“You never know exactly where a horse is going to go, but he’s been a horse that’s been very impressive since his two-year-old year,” Shirreffs said. “He stood out among the two-year-olds that we had. In some of his races he was very unfortunate; he didn’t get the ride or the trip he needed.
“In the Curlin, he got the perfect trip. It couldn’t have gone any better for him and he showed what he was capable of. If we get another good trip, I think he should run very well.”
Smart Transition has signaled his good spirits by working a bullet five furlongs in 1:00.34 last weekend, so he brings two straight “black-letter” works into the Travers.
Shirreffs is well aware that Smart Transition will be facing his biggest test to date versus Grade 1 rivals — chief among them Triple Crown champion American Pharoah.
“If American Pharoah (runs), we’re going to have to step up quite a bit,” the trainer said. “I think it’s good. It’s good for racing. We’re feeling good about being in the Travers.”
The Travers riding assignment has yet to be firmed up for Smart Transition, but Junior Alvarado was aboard again for Sunday’s work.
At this writing, here’s the likely Travers field:
In addition to American Pharoah and Smart Transition, others expected in Saturday’s “Midsummer Derby” are Texas Red and Frosted, the respective top two from the Jim Dandy (G2); Keen Ice, last seen chasing American Pharoah home in the Haskell (G1); Frammento, fourth in the Jim Dandy; Preakness (G1) runner-up Tale of Verve; and recent Delaware maiden winner Mid Ocean. Madefromlucky was on the fence at last report. So was Upstart, but trainer Rick Violette had intimated that he’d pass if American Pharoah showed up, so his status may be questionable after Pharoah’s confirmation.
News regarding another Travers nominee, Japan, was much more disappointing.
“He fractured a sesamoid — not good,” Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott said Sunday morning.
Successful in the Easy Goer on Belmont Day, fresh off his maiden win, Japan was third next time out in the Jim Dandy. The handsome son of Medaglia d’Oro worked five-eighths Saturday in :59.59, only to sustain his injury that is believed to be career-ending.
Smart Transition photo courtesy of NYRA/Coglianese Photography/Chelsea Durand.