Racing Roundtable: Arcangelo, Echo Zulu, and rebound candidates from Travers weekend

August 29th, 2023

In this week's edition of Racing Roundtable, James Scully, Kellie Reilly, and Vance Hanson comment on the Travers (G1) and other action from the weekend at Saratoga.

What did we learn from the Travers?

James Scully: Arcangelo seized control of the three-year-old male division with an impressive one-length victory in the Travers. After displaying a strong turn of foot to win the Belmont S. (G1), the improving colt looked more powerful Saturday, and Arcangelo immediately became the horse to beat in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Santa Anita.

The gray three-year-old takes his track with him, winning over three different ovals during his four-race win streak, and Arcangelo has the potential to keep getting better. I like his Horse of the Year chances.

Disarm also deserves notice, rallying well to be a clear second, and the progressing colt may continue to make a serious impact following the career-best effort.

Forte (fourth) and Mage (last) disappointed mightily. They will try to regroup, but their prospects of beating Arcangelo this fall appear slim.

Kellie Reilly: Arcangelo’s Belmont victory hinted that he could be blossoming into a star. The Travers confirmed it, putting him atop the three-year-old male division. Disarm also proved that he’s a serious operator by gaining late to lose by a diminishing length, but Arcangelo’s superior tactical position was key. Once again, he traveled so well that Javier Castellano could mastermind the right trip – despite a troubled start that might have compromised a less adroit horse.

If not as meteoric as his late sire, Arrogate, who crushed the 2016 Travers in track-record time, Arcangelo is still developing for the admirably patient Jon Ebbert of Blue Rose Farm and trainer Jena Antonucci. A similar point applies to Disarm, who’s quietly reeled off three straight 104 Brisnet Speed ratings. Sire Gun Runner was third in Arrogate’s Travers before ultimately outstripping him as the 2017 Horse of the Year. Perhaps the fathers’ rivalry will be reenacted by the sons.

Vance Hanson: Arcangelo confirmed his spot at the top of the three-year-old male pecking order winning his third consecutive graded stakes in convincing fashion, and now appears the possible favorite in the Breeders' Cup Classic, which has the potential to be dominated by the sophomore class, given the lack of depth among the older male ranks this year. 

I thought Forte ran below his best and is capable of better wherever he shows up next, though being down 2-0 to Arcangelo has diminished his prospects at winning the division championship without winning the Classic outright. Likewise, the form of the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness (G1) took a significant hit with both Mage and National Treasure finishing up the track. I don't see them reversing form with Arcangelo any time soon.

Who else impressed you most over the weekend?

JS: Echo Zulu has developed into one of the best sprinters in years, recording her third straight convincing win in the Ballerina (G1), and her Speed ratings place her in special company, on par with the top dirt distaffers of modern times. She’s that special. But will Echo Zulu get the opportunity to prove herself against the world’s best sprinters this fall? Or be delegated to a lesser spot, a restricted race for fillies and mares?

If not for the same ownership as Gunite, the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) would be the obvious choice. Echo Zulu would be the one to beat in the six-furlong Sprint at Santa Anita, she deserves the chance to make her mark in one of the top Breeders’ Cup races. The Sprint belongs in the same sentence as the Classic (G1), Distaff (G1), Turf (G1), and Mile (G1).

The Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) is like the Dirt Mile (G1), more of a niche event, but Echo Zulu may have to settle for it.

KR: I’ll join the Echo Zulu chorus. Her Ballerina was not only an exhibition of world-class speed, just a half-second or so off Darby Creek Road’s 45-year-old track record. It was also an exhibition of class, since she had to deal with pressure from champion Goodnight Olive. Even allowing for the fact that Goodnight Olive would prefer to sit just off the pace, the psychological dynamic of being challenged early, by another elite performer, made this a stiffer test in principle. Yet Echo Zulu just shrugged her off and opened up in 1:20.95, much faster than stablemate Gunite’s 1:21.53 when he upset Elite Power in the seven-furlong Forego (G1). She’d be a fascinating proposition versus males in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1), but with Gunite earmarked for that, Echo Zulu is expected to go for the Filly & Mare Sprint (G1).

Also worthy of mention are Bolshoi Ballet, who returned to top form with a bang in the Sword Dancer (G1), and the juvenile debut winners Fierceness and Just F Y I. Granted, Bolshoi Ballet got the ideal set-up, but it was still good to see the 2021 Epsom Derby (G1) favorite recapture his old spark for Aidan O’Brien. While Fierceness’s Friday romp in the mud for Todd Pletcher is an obvious show-stopper, Just F Y I’s quality was more subtle on Travers Day. Both on pedigree and physique (described as big and lanky by Maggie Wolfendale in the paddock), the Bill Mott pupil really had no business winning first time out at six furlongs, especially in such a high-profile maiden. But she relentlessly hunted down an ostensibly quicker favorite, Shop Lifting, in a manner that bodes extremely well. By Justify and out of stakes-placed turf marathoner Star Act, herself a daughter of Street Cry and multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Starrer, Just F Y I is one to follow.

VH: Echo Zulu snared the female sprint division leadership from Goodnight Olive with an outstanding victory in the Ballerina, covering seven furlongs in much faster time than stablemate Gunite did in the Forego. Echo Zulu is arguably the swiftest sprinter in the country, regardless of sex, and it would be more intriguing if she was her connections' representative in the Breeders' Cup Sprint against the boys. However, with Gunite still in contention for that race, she'll be relegated to a start in the Filly & Mare Sprint and a rubber match with Goodnight Olive. Echo Zulu clearly looks the horse to beat in that seven-furlong dash.

Who is likeliest to rebound from a loss?

JS: Disarm, who is pointing for the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) at Parx on Sept. 23. If Steve Asmussen wants more time, the Woodward (G2) at Belmont a week later is a viable option.

In either spot, Disarm will be the horse to beat off his runner-up effort in the Travers. He established himself as a serious contender for the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and I think Disarm will have more to offer this fall.

KR: Using an elastic definition of Travers weekend, I’ll reach back to Thursday’s Ballston Spa (G2) to flag the absolute nightmare endured by Consumer Spending. The bare record will show that she finished sixth, beaten all of a length in a blanket finish, but the truth is that she never had a chance to unleash her pent-up run. Joel Rosario dove inside rather than seeking a seam further out, which turned out to be the wrong move, as she was hopelessly bottled up. The Chad Brown filly had dished out Brisnet Late Pace ratings of 108 and 103 in her recent Grade 3 triumphs at Monmouth Park, and with a modicum of luck, she probably would have made it a hat trick here.

VH: Trainer Steve Asmussen stated after the Forego that he felt the seven-furlong distance of that race played a key role in Gunite defeating sprint champion Elite Power for the first time in three meetings, so I'd argue that Elite Power might be the horse to take of the two when they next meet again in the Breeders' Cup Sprint over six furlongs. Not only distance but the muddy surface probably gave Gunite a bit of an advantage in the Forego, and Elite Power is sure to see dryer conditions at Santa Anita. Also, Elite Power will be a fresh prospect heading into the Sprint with no interim prep, while Gunite, who reportedly thrives on racing, might have one more outing, perhaps in the seven-furlong Vosburgh (G2) at Aqueduct. A race Elite Power won last year, the Vosburgh is expected to attract the other serious Mott trainee, Cody's Wish, so Gunite will be severely tested.