After a year of disappointment, Chief's Crown finally redeemed himself today. He won the historic Travers Stakes, proving that he could win at a classic distance and proving that he could win a big one.
Benefiting from the shrewd and surprising tactics of his jockey, Angel Cordero Jr., Chief's Crown scored a 2 1/4-length victory over Turkoman, with Skip Trial third. Stephan's Odyssey, who had been considered the most formidable challenger in the seven-horse field, never got into contention and finished fourth.
A novice student of the Daily Racing Form could have seen Chief's Crown had one major edge in the Travers: He was a speed horse in a race devoid of speed, and he figured to try to lead all the way. But Cordero and trainer Roger Laurin were thinking otherwise.
When the gate opened, Chief's Crown was willing to go to the front, but Cordero put him under a stranglehold. He wrestled the colt back to fourth place as Turkoman, Don's Choice and Skip Trial raced for the lead.
Actually, a more appropriate verb would be "crawled." The three of them covered the first quarter mile in 24 1/5 seconds and the half mile in 48 1/5 -- more appropriate for claiming horses.
Cordero knew he could overhaul the three horses in front of him whenever he wanted; his worry was Stephan's Odyssey. By letting the front-runners set such a slow pace, he was creating an almost impossible task for his rival.
On the turn, Cordero swung Chief's Crown to the outside and accelerated strongly past the leaders. Pat Day tried to make his move at the same time with Stephan's Odyssey, but he was four lengths behind Chief's Crown, and because of the slow pace, all the horses in front of him were still strong.
As Chief's Crown opened a commanding lead in midstretch and completed the 1 1/4 miles in 2:01 1/5, Stephan's Odyssey couldn't overhaul either Turkoman or Skip Trial.
If Woody Stephens, the trainer of Stephan's Odyssey, was disappointed at missing the chance to win his first Travers, Roger Laurin was elated -- and relieved. He started this season with the champion of his generation and the favorite for the Triple Crown races, but saw him finish third in the Kentucky Derby, second in the Preakness and third in the Belmont.
"He's been good all year," Laurin said. "He's always ready to run; he never has a disappointing day; he tries every time."