Neither is Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice, out of Aiken’s Dogwood Stable.
The role of 3-year-old to beat in racing’s Mid-Summer Derby at Saratoga Race Course is Verrazano, runaway winner of the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on July 28.
There’s a logical explanation why Verrazano is the 2-1 top choice in the nine-horse field entered Wednesday, with Palace Malice, who will have Mike Smith aboard and leave from the No. 8 gate, next at 5-2 and Orb at 4-1.
“The last two races with our horses were very powerful,” Pletcher said, “and in the sense of what’s going on in the moment, that’s why (they are the favorites). But we have a lot of respect for Orb, and we know he’ll be tough to beat.”
Verrazano ran the worst race of his career in the Derby, finishing 14th over a sloppy track at Churchill Downs. He came back and won the Pegasus at Monmouth before his big effort in the Haskell.
Palace Malice rebounded from his dull 12th-place Derby finish by winning the Belmont by 3¼ lengths and then taking the Jim Dandy over Will Take Charge and Moreno on July 27.
“With Palace Malice, you’ve got very much of a now horse that’s always dangerous,” said Orb’s trainer, Shug McGaughey. “Verrazano, ever since he broke his maiden, has been a top horse. His only blemish was in the Derby, and he bounced out of that pretty well.”
After the Derby, Orb ran fourth in the Preakness and third in the Belmont and then was sent to Fair Hill Training Center in Elkton, Md., to regroup after the Triple Crown grind.
McGaughey was thrilled with the way he regained his form and looks forward to seeing if Orb returns to his winning ways <0x2014> the Derby win was his fifth in a row.
“We’ve been tickled to death with what he’s done since he got up here to Saratoga last week,” McGaughey said. “We just hope we can keep it going for the Travers.”
The last Travers to feature the Derby winner was 2010, when Pletcher’s Super Saver went off as the fourth betting choice and finished 10th. Before that, though, six of the eight Derby winners who ran in the Travers dating to 1978 went off as favorites.
Verrazano will be ridden by John Velazquez and leave from the No. 3 gate. Palace Malice will have Mike Smith aboard leaving from the No. 8 gate, with Orb and Joel Rosario departing from the No. 2 post.
The rest of the field, from the rail out, is Romansh, Golden Soul, Will Take Charge, Moreno, War Dancer and Transparent.