Trainer Jimmy Jerkens gave Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers contender Wicked Strong a blowout over a sloppy Oklahoma training track at Saratoga on Thursday morning. Winner of the TwinSpires.com Wood Memorial at Aqueduct and Jim Dandy on July 26 at Saratoga, Wicked Strong was timed in :38 3/5 for three furlongs.
"It was good, just a basic little quarter of a mile," Jerkens said. "The track was flat and even, so it went good. We weren't looking for a whole lot, anyway, but he skipped over it and got a little something out of it."
Jerkens said he considered putting off the move until Friday but the ultimately stuck to his regular routine with Wicked Strong, the 7-2 third choice on the morning line for the "Midsummer Derby."
"It's not going to be any better tomorrow, so I figured we'd do it," Jerkens said. "He's been accustomed to doing it two days out. If he does it two days out and he does a little more than you expect or wanted him to do, at least he has another day to get over it. We decided to go ahead and do it."
Jerkens and his father, Hall of Fame horseman Allen Jerkens, typically give their horses a blowout leading up to races. The younger Jerkens had Curlin Stakes winner V. E. Day out for three furlongs in :37 3/5 on Wednesday for Saturday's 1 1/4-mile Travers.
"Anytime you expand the lungs close to a race as grueling as that, I would have to think it would be beneficial as long as you're not overdoing it," Jimmy Jerkens said. "We always thought it just put the finishing touches on a horse's fitness. A lot of people don't even dream of doing it and do very well. We just feel a little more comfortable doing it."
Also on Thursday, Haskell Invitational winner Bayern, the 2-1 program favorite for the Travers, had his first look at Saratoga's main track since arriving from California late Wednesday afternoon.
The three-year-old son of Offlee Wild jogged one mile and will gallop on Friday after the renovation break. Stablemate Fiftyshadesofhay, pointing to Friday's Grade 1, $500,000 Personal Ensign, also jogged.
"He was going to do something light, anyway," said Jim Barnes, assistant to Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. "Tomorrow, he'll gallop. The rain should go away and be a nice weekend."
On the Travers undercard, Noble Cornerstone will become the first graded stakes starter for trainer Tom Morley, a 31-year-old who started his first horse in March 2013, when he competes in the Grade 1, $500,000 King's Bishop.
A homebred owned by Len Riggio's My Meadowview Farm, Noble Cornerstone has won two straight against New York-breds, taking a one-mile entry-level allowance by three-quarters of a length in June at Belmont Park and a 6 1/2-furlong optional claimer by a half-length on July 25 at Saratoga. Both starts came against older horses.
Jose Ortiz will ride Noble Cornerstone, 15-1 on the morning line, from post 4 in the seven-furlong King's Bishop.
"The horse has been indicating to me all year that seven furlongs probably is his best trip," Morley said. "He's had to run against older statebreds. He just got there last time going 6 1/2 furlongs, and this is an opportunity to go a trip that I think is really going to suit him against his own age group."
Morley is a native of England and is a nephew of David Morley, whose accomplishments include a win in the 1997 Ascot Gold Cup with Celeric. A graduate of the Darley Flying Start program, Morley has worked in England with Ed Dunlop and Jeremy Noseda and in the United States with Eddie Kenneally. Since going out on his own, he has won 21 races from 131 starts through Wednesday.
"It's an exciting weekend," Morley said. "I'm looking forward to (running Noble Cornerstone in the King's Bishop). As I said to the owner, I wouldn't be running him if I didn't think he fit in the race."