The Grade 3, $150,000 Salvator Mile Stakes drew a strong field of 10, including four horses that won their most recent start. In addition, 2020 Salvator Mile winner Pirate’s Punch returns to try for a repeat win in the Monmouth Park stakes but does so following seven months off and an 11th-place finish in the Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile.
Bal Harbour and Ny Traffic lead the field in career earnings with more than $600,000, but Bal Harbour returns from a seven-month layoff as well and has not earned a win in his last 13 races going back to November 2018. On the other hand, Ny Traffic makes his second start off a seven-month rest and ran the best race of his career at Monmouth last summer when second and a nose behind Authentic. Basin won the Sir Shackleton Stakes when sprinting in March and can very likely handle the stretch out to two turns as he finished second in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby last May. Another horse stakes-placed as a 3-year-old in 2020 is Green Light Go, who was second in the Roar Stakes last May as well as second in the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes as a 2-year-old. Galerio finished second in the John B. Campbell and Harrison E. Johnson Memorial Stakes in succession earlier this year and must be considered, particularly as he has finished first or second in 20 of 24 career races. War Stopper finished third in the Grade 3 Michelob Ultra Challenger Stakes in March before a fourth-place effort in the similar Grade 3 Ghostzapper Stakes at the end of the same month. Croatian, Informative, and West Will Power round out the field but are not without chances either. Croatian has won two of four races at Monmouth and makes his second start off a layoff; Informative finished second in his most recent race last month; and West Will Power won his most recent race by 9 1/2 lengths.
Ny Traffic gets top billing in this year’s Salvator Mile Stakes by virtue of a strong 6 3/4-length win in his 4-year-old debut last month. That win came at the distance of seven furlongs and earned a 99 Equibase Speed Figure which is highly likely to be improved upon significantly in his second start off the layoff and on the stretch out to two turns. Last spring and summer, Ny Traffic proved competitive with top 3-year-olds such as Maxfield and then Authentic. He finished third in the Risen Star Stakes Presented by Lamarque Ford and then second in the Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby and Matt Winn Stakes. Next came the TVG.com Haskell Stakes at Monmouth last July in which Ny Traffic ran the best race of his career, earning a 107 figure and coming up just a nose shy of beating subsequent Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve winner Authentic. Following an eighth-place finish in the Derby and a ninth-place effort in the Preakness Stakes, Ny Traffic was given time off to mature and he certainly did so as evidenced by his comeback last month. With Paco Lopez returning to the saddle to ride him as he did in the Haskell, Ny Traffic may be the one to beat in this race.
Croatian is the veteran in this field, having run 31 times. This will be only his second career start in a stakes race and the other, back in March of last year, was a poor effort in which he finished sixth. However, Croatian was claimed shortly thereafter by Jerry Hollendorfer and reeled off four straight top efforts, including two wins and a defeat by a neck, all at Monmouth. The best of those last September earned Croatian a 107 Equibase Speed Figure on par with the figure Ny Traffic earned in the Haskell. Also similar to Ny Traffic, Croatian stretches out off a sprint prep following a layoff (October to April). In that sprint, Croatian finished fourth, beaten just two lengths by the winner, with a 97 figure very similar to Ny Traffic. As such, it is very likely Croatian will take a big step forward. If he does and can duplicate any of his four efforts over the track last summer, he could post the upset or at the least run much better than his high odds suggest he will.
Pirate’s Punch has one big question mark regarding his chances which Ny Traffic and Croatian do not and that is he is making his first start of 2021, returning off a seven-month layoff. Pirate’s Punch won the 2020 Salvator Mile with a strong 110 Equibase Speed Figure and fairly easily by two lengths in a field of eight as the 2.30-1 to one betting favorite. He had won the Philip H. Iselin Stakes one month prior to that but was disqualified and placed second. Following a last-of-12 finish in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, Pirate’s Punch was given time to rest and his recent workouts indicate he is in excellent physical form. Additionally, Pirate’s Punch won his 2020 debut with a 112 speed figure, but that was following two months off and seven months can be quite different. Nevertheless, as he’s proven at the level and on the Monmouth main track, Pirate’s Punch rounds out a trio I feel stand out against the others in this year’s Salvator Mile Stakes.
The rest of the field (with best Equibase Speed Figure): Bal Harbour (108), Basin (104), Galerio (107), Green Light Go (99), Informative (103), West Will Power (102), and War Stopper (103).