Thursday, 24 August 2023 12:53

“Drake’s” Passage Through Travers Weekend

By Tony Podlaski | Winner's Circle
Racehorse Drake’s Passage and trainer Miguel Clement. Photo by Tony Podlaski Racehorse Drake’s Passage and trainer Miguel Clement. Photo by Tony Podlaski

Nominated for the Travers, Drake’s Passage is likely taking a different route for Sunday’s Albany Stakes.

When the nominations for the 154th running of the Travers for 3-year-olds was released on Aug. 14, there wasn’t much a surprise of the likely runners: Kentucky Derby winner Mage, Preakness winner National Treasure, Belmont Stakes winner Arcangelo, and Jim Dandy winner Forte.

However, there was one interesting nominee for Saratoga Race Course’s Grade 1, $1.25 million marquee race to be run at 1¼ miles on Saturday: Drake’s Passage.

Owner and breeder Robert Evans nominated Drake’s Passage for the Mid-summer Derby; simultaneously, Evans nominated the New York-bred for the $250,000 Albany Stakes on Sunday.

According to Miguel Clement, assistant trainer to his father Christophe Clement, believes Drake’s Passage has the ability to run in the Travers; however, he indicated the composite of the race has to change in order to entertain that idea.

“We wanted to keep our options open by putting him in the Travers,” Miguel Clement said. “If you look at the numbers, he’s not that far off from the leading three-year-olds in the division. If the Travers were to fall apart, we would consider him for the race because we do think he fits. However, I think the [other horses] are in good standing.”

Miguel Clement has been optimistic about Drake’s Passage since coming to his barn just a little more than a year ago, and he has every reason to be hopeful.

Bred at Berkshire Stud Farm in Pine Plains, Drake’s Passage is by Tonalist, a multiple Grade 1 winner that includes the 2014 Belmont Stakes; the New York-bred is also out of the stakes-winning mare Raucous.

Both Tonalist and Raucous were also owned by Evans and trained by Christophe Clement. For Miguel Clement, he can see the similarities, especially the white blaze on the bridge of the nose.

“Physically, he’s the closest thing to Tonalist with the markings, the way he moves, and the way he trains. He’s so much like his father,” he said. “The resemblance is striking.”

Drake’s Passage also follows the early racing pattern of his father. After failing to sustain a rally over the Aqueduct dirt track in his debut in November 2013, Tonalist came back nearly two months later at Gulfstream Park to win his second start.

Because of the turf and long-distance breeding, Miguel Clement found a maiden race for Drake’s Passage over the Aqueduct grass course going at 1 1/16 miles in October. However, the colt ran an even race to finish fifth.

“I wanted to run him longer,” he said. “There weren’t many options at the time for a 2-year-old to run longer on the dirt. I picked the right distance, but it was the wrong surface. Since he is out of Raucous, I thought I could get away with it.”

About a month later, Drake’s Passage showed a little more improvement over a muddy track while going a shorter distance – 7 furlongs. He chased the pace before tiring late in the race to finish third.

By his third outing going a mile in early December, Drake’s Passage made some headway by briefly stalking the pacesetter, then taking the lead at the half-mile pole to eventually win his first race comfortably.

“He came back in this second race and ran much better on the dirt, and he broke his maiden rather impressively on the slop,” Miguel Clement said. “He never quite put it all together. He was still unfurnished.”

During the winter break, Drake’s Passage became more developed, just like his sire. As soon as the Oklahoma Training Track opened in late April, Drake’s Passage came back to the Clement stable for a series of steady workouts that eventually led to another victory, this one against older New York-bred horses going a mile over a fast track on July 3 at Belmont Park. 

After taking the lead in the stretch, he edged away to a 1¼-length winning margin while finishing the race in 1:35.38, including the last eight of a mile in 12.54 seconds.

That race was promising for Miguel Clement and Drake’s Passage because Colloquy, the third-place finisher, came back to win a two-turn allowance race by 6¾ lengths here at Saratoga on July 28.

“When he came back this spring, he started to blossom,” Miguel Clement said about Drake’s Passage. “His works have been spectacular and he has been improving steadily. That was an impressive race off the layoff considering the layoff and going longer on dirt. If anything, he has improved off that race.”

“It’s no easy task for a 3-year-old to face older horses at that time of the year,” he added. “I think that race turned out to be okay. [Colloquy] came here to win impressively.”

Going into Travers week, the Clement Stable has its fair share of winners with 10, which puts them in fifth behind leader Chad Brown, Linda Rice, Todd Pletcher, and barn neighbor Bill Mott.

While they have won the Caress Stakes and the Suzie O’Cain Stakes, the Clement team has also been victims of this summer’s above-normal rainfall that has brought the races off the turf. They are hoping for a good week with Tawny Port in the John’s Call Stakes on Wednesday, the aforementioned Roses for Debora in Friday’s Smart N Fancy Stakes, and possibly Soldier Rising in the Grade 1 Resorts World Casino Sword Dancer as part of the Travers’ undercard.

“We’ve done okay so far,” Miguel Clement said. “We’re slow in the win column, but we have been running in the right races. It’s a dream to have the quality. We have probably been more victimized by rain. We had two horses who were supposed to run the other day and couldn’t when the races came off the turf.”

Of at least 10 horses represented by Clement this weekend, Drake’s Passage may be the most exciting for the barn as he being trained up to the Albany Stakes where he is likely to meet New York Derby winner Allure of Money and Mike Lee Stakes winner Maker’s Candy. Going two turns for the first time, Miguel Clement believes he can handle it.

“The distance won’t be an issue for him,” he said. “He’s doing very well. We love him. we are very excited.”

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