The three colts currently leading the nation's 3-year-old division will meet for the first time in almost four months Saturday in the $1 million Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.
Kentucky Derby winner Orb, Belmont Stakes and Jim Dandy champ Palace Malice and Haskell winner Verrazano headline a field of nine in the 144th running of the 1 1/4-mile "Mid-Summer Derby." This will be their first race together since the Run for the Roses on May 4.
"They're the proven horses," said Orb's trainer Shug McGaughey of Palace Malice and Verrazano, both trained by Todd Pletcher. "Palace Malice won the Belmont and came back and ran a big race in the Jim Dandy. Verrazano has been a 'now' horse since he ran the first time. The only blemish he has on his record is in the Derby, and he has come back and run two solid races down at Monmouth, so I would have to think he's going to be very tough, too."
Missing from the race is Preakness Stakes winner Oxbow, fourth in the Haskell, who is injured and will not race again this year.
Verrazano has been made the 2-1 morning-line favorite and will start from post 3 with Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez again riding. Palace Malice will be ridden by another Hall of Fame jockey, Mike Smith, and is the second pick at 5-2 leaving Orb the 4-1 third choice with Joel Rosario in the saddle.
"I think it does," Pletcher said about post positions in the Travers being important. "If it came down for Verrazano the 3 or the 7, I was kind of hoping he would draw the 7 outside of Moreno. But, he's a tactical horse that can put himself in good position. Obviously, Johnny knows him well. So, we'll see how the race unfolds going into the first turn."
Pletcher won the Travers in 2005 with Flower Alley and 2011 with Stay Thirsty.
Verrazano, co-owned by Let's Go Stable, posted consecutive monster wins at Monmouth Park this summer. He won the Haskell by 9 3/4 lengths after capturing the Pegasus Stakes by 9 1/4 lengths.
Beginning his career in January at Gulfstream Park, Verrazano swept through his first four starts, including wins in the Tampa Bay Derby and Wood Memorial. His only loss came when finishing 14th to Orb in the Kentucky Derby.
The 3-year-old colt has banked $1,551,300 with six wins in seven starts.
Owned by Dogwood Stable, Palace Malice has three wins in nine career races for $1,231,135. As the 6-5 favorite, the colt notched a length victory in the Jim Dandy, his first start after capturing the Belmont Stakes. . The colt set the pace in the Kentucky Derby when wearing blinkers for the first and only time and finished 12th. Leading to the Run for the Roses, Palace Malice was third in the Rebel Stakes and seventh in the Louisiana Derby, both at Fair Grounds. He came back to finish second to Java's War in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland.
Orb, owned by Stuart Janney III and Phipps Stable, makes his first start Saturday since finishing third in the Belmont Stakes on June 8.
"I think the time off after the Belmont kind of helped mature him more, like he did over the winter," said McGaughey who sent Orb for a freshening to Fair Hill in Maryland. "I think that experiment worked very well. I think he's more of a horse now (than he was immediately after the Belmont Stakes). When he got off the van here, I thought I saw things where he kind of matured as a horse.
"Obviously, we're in the race to win, but if we get a really solid effort then that would be fine, too. I think he'll be awful tough."
Orb won the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby before heading to Churchill Downs to win the Kentucky Derby as the 5-1 favorite in the 19-horse field. He then finished fourth in the Preakness and third in the Belmont Stakes.
With wins in half of his 10 career starts, the 3-year-old has earned $2,505,850.
Here is the full Travers field from the rail out: Romansh, Javier Castellano, 12-1; Orb, Joel Rosario, 4-1; Verrazano, John Velazquez, 2-1; Golden Soul, Robby Albarado, 20-1; Will Take Charge, Luis Saez, 10-1; Moreno, Jose Ortiz, 12-1; War Dancer, Alan Garcia, 15-1; Palace Malice, Mike Smith, 5-2 and Transparent, Irad Ortiz Jr., 10-1.
Post-time will be approximately 5:45 p.m. (ET).
The 143rd Travers finished in a dead heat of Alpha and Golden Ticket.