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Yeah I still love watching this race. Had I not been working at my god-awful part-time job and had been able to watch the 2012 Breeders’ Cup Marathon live, I probably would have looked away when longshot win pick Calidoscopio [ARG] was lagging far far back early. Then boom! Winner by 5! The BC Marathon has become one of my favorites in recent years, and this big guy just made it better.

This happened today.

This happened today.

Presenting the Hat Rack Awards!

Instead of being boring and posting who I think should win an Eclipse (obviously, I’ve been saying on and off since summer that Wise Dan should get HOTY, and others from there are pretty uncontentious), I present to thee an even better ceremony: THE HAT RACK AWARDS, the most prestigious racehorse awards on the web! Or maybe Tumblr… I don’t know. They’re pretty important though, and I make it a point to recognize some of the most essential individuals from this year to be my honorees.

Best Blaze


Think blaze face, your thoughts ought to shift to Union Rags, who has been killin’ it in the overall good looks department since forever, and the big blaze certainly helped. Shall his immortality and chrome be passed on to his foals now that he is [unfortunately] retired.

Most UNF


Looks aren’t everything on the racetrack, but when you’ve got a skunk tail, flaunt it! Lucky Chappy [IRE] only got more handsome as a three-year-old, with his gorgeous roan coloring, handsome expressions, and unique tail he flashed quite often to his opponents. Now if only Royal Delta gave her admirer a chance…

Cutest Blinkers


A lot of ponies could have gotten this award, but few got as handsome as Animal Kingdom behind their generic black set of blinkers. The Kentucky Derby champ has a pretty face on his own, but focuses to a T behind his hood wherever he goes.

Best Butt


A very tough award, but it has been decided: Wise Dan! I recall watching him enter the gate of the very prestigious Canadian International (I) at Woodbine earlier in 2012, and despite being in a talented field, he stood out so much from a physical point of view. He just looks so much more fit than other top runners, it’s a shame he has to be a gelding. His butt literally has dimples!! Look at it next time!

Best Use of Tongue

(edit: Okay the embed doesn’t want to work so here is the direct link)

Some racehorses keep it in cheek, others let it all hang out! The award for best tongue-hanging-out action goes to The Thinker, a front-running turf horse I saw and adored at Saratoga on Whitney Day this past summer. Coming down the stretch, his tongue darted out with every stride! I can only guess that’s his style of running… he races again tomorrow (January 21) at Aqueduct! I have a video clip of his race so you can see for yourself. (I just realized Kharafa is also in this race! Omgz)

Most ‘Tude Award


Not too many get to see, never mind kick a Hall-of-Famer trainer, then go on to win a stakes race. Hamazing Destiny did both on Preakness weekend at Pimlico, giving D. Wayne Lukas a nice gash on his legendary head.

Most Disappointing Horse I Thought Was Going To Be Awesome Award


After unfing over photos of him breezing at the Breeders’ Cup, I had Asmussen trainee Sabercat down to win the Delta Jackpot in 2011 and win he did. The dark handsome son of one of my favorite stallions, he did little on the Derby trail and while he made some progress, he ultimately disappointed me and hasn’t run since (although he is back to breezing at Fair Grounds and looks pretty good).

Best Name


Purple Egg. Elusive Cookies was close, but c’mon. PURPLE. EGG. Best of all he’s a talented gelding I don’t have to worry too much about retiring early *knocks on wood*

The-Face-That-Launched-A-Thousand-Dollars Award


Atigun. *squee*

Horse of the Year


He used to be a longshot, used to be a Derby has-been, and now he’s the country’s best sprinter and an Eclipse winner to boot! Trinniberg kept us all guessing in his ups and downs this year, culminating in a Breeders’ Cup Sprint championship where he led the whole way through lightning fractions. Stylish in the post parade with his blinker hood and red pom-pom and from humble origins as a cheap auction horse, Trinni gets the gold!

Racing Beat: January 20


Good news for his fans: Secret Circle is back on the work tab!

I am pleased to announce that after 2 week(ish) of intermittently trying, I won 10 horseshoes on Blazing Silks’ spinny game. WHO’S YOUR DADDY? IT’S ABOUT DAMN TIME.

Wilburn made news last year retiring early to take advantage of the Bernardini blood value by being his first son to stand at stud. For 2013, we’ve got at least 6 new ones by Bernardini by my count on Stallion Register, more than new sires that are by pensioned A.P. Indy (5) and deceased Dynaformer (4).

Aqueduct is thinking about changing their inner track to synthetic. While I’m sure synthetic/turf breeders would like an opportunity to get a good shot at NYRA’s gold, have we learned nothing so far about surfaces?

I wonder how good Midnight Lute's half brother Steel Guitar (by Unbridled’s Song) is going to be. He hasn’t broken his maiden yet, and was 3rd in his 3rd try last time out in a 6-furlong maiden special weight at Turfway. He gathered buzz as the heavy favorite, but was beaten 6+ lengths.

Last night my feed blew up with news alerts that Shanghai Bobby won the Eclipse for Best 2-Year-Old Male. Last I checked that wasn’t news…

An unreal accomplishment of luck, determination, and humility: Morton Fink has just one mare in his business and it is the dam of his 3-time Eclipse champion Wise Dan.

Oh my stars, my leading lady Blind Luck is a madre now :’)

My heart was a little broken to see so many races go sloppy on Saturday, which is easily one of the biggest reasons I did not place any money down on anyone. I should have though at least on Ron the Greek and Oxbow, who I naturally favored in the Lecomte (III). Ughhhhh. Important to note that despite a restricted field on an off track, Ron the Greek got an impressive 115 Beyer his first start back!

What’s up with Vinery that has caused all the stallions to go to WinStar?

Sweet baby Atigun is set to return in Oaklawn’s Razorback (III). D’aww! It’s a little short for him though at a mile and a sixteenth >.>

Unlike my Derby Top 10, I’m having some issues narrowing down just 10 I like for the Oaks.

Mark Valeski was close to that win hot off a layoff in the Louisiana Handicap. Along with Believe You Can and Smitten, a three-year-old Tapit filly I like, Larry Jones has a string of contenders again this year.

Dale Romans wins, Ramon Dominguez wins, Little Mike loses. :( Sad sigh.

Tweet o’ the Week: Not to sully the glory, but I was kind of thinking the same thing


History ‘N Heart Bets

The handicapper must be fierce, trusting solely his or her past performance sheets, the race replays, and a year’s worth of sweat, tears, and leftover bankroll heading into the Breeders’ Cup World Championships. Christened as the race that pits the world’s best against each other, I pessimistically have to disagree: it’s a race against the world’s willing as some of the year’s biggest horses have passed on or retired ahead of November. Frankel, Black Caviar, Cirrus des Aigles, Snow Fairy, Camelot, virtually all of Australia, and just about every good three-year-old colt are excluded from what should have been one of the deepest Breeders’ Cups in recent history.

But one thing we can rest assured of: there are no guaranteed favorites and history has a way of being made at the Breeders’ Cup. Can Mike Smith beat Jerry Bailey’s record win count? Will Bob Baffert bring home a haul of wins after some bad luck in the Triple Crown? Can Point of Entry defeat the Euros? Can Wise Dan take out Excelebration [IRE]? Will Game On Dude be the first gelding to win the Classic? Can Amazombie be the second dual-Sprint winner next to Midnight Lute? Sometimes, it’s just enough to see one “heart bet” win it big.

  • Brown Almighty in the Juvenile Turf - Before Fredericksburg came along (who unfortunately is not in this race), this guy was my go-to pony on the grass and as a beautiful son of Big Brown, I would not be sore if he wins. He’ll be at lukewarm odds with all the Euros and Chad Brown horses, so I’m optimistic.
  • Animal Kingdom in the Mile - His odds are stacked high, but my memories recall his comeback in the spring where he was just all too giddy to pass on by the allowance field he encountered in Florida. The visual handicapper in me insists he has a chance as a horse who is just plum happy about his job, his ears always up running in the mornings and passing his workmates.
  • Fortify in the Juvenile - He faced a tall order against experienced colts including a Pletcher student in his first time out, but paired with a belief the Distorted Humor colt could prevail without Lasix made seeing him win in-person all the better. He looks like he has a ways to go with his studies, which is why I’m not gung-ho about him beating Shanghai Bobby and Power Broker, but I’ll be looking out for him.
  • Turbulent Descent in the F&M Sprint - She’s soured (as predicted) a bit after shipping to new trainer Todd Pletcher as one of the country’s best sprinters. I love Turby to death and would be so pleased to see her bounce back— it HAS been suggested she’s been working better, so there’s some hope.
  • Jersey Town in the Dirt Mile - A heart pick and a gut pick after Hurricane Sandy trashed the Jersey shore. One of my favorite blaze faces was my choice to win both Cigar Miles of the past couple of years, and he’s bouncing back into form after winning the Kelso (II) in style. As a Barclay Tagg trainee, it would be wonderful to see the old school horseman win a big title.
  • Awesome Feather in the Ladies’ Classic - She ran as a two-year-old at Calder back when I lived in Miami, so it was a given I had to root for her when she won the Juvenile Fillies impressively. Out of all the horses in these races, I think I can relate to her the most and there’s no horse here I’d rather see win.
  • Atigun in the Marathon - Sweet, baby Atigun! I picked him as a longshot to win the Rebel Stakes (I) back in the spring, and while he still hasn’t won anything major yet, it was a joy seeing him at Belmont Park in June and so awesome to see him make it to the Breeders’ Cup.
  • Pool Play in the Classic - He’s still not being given much of a chance by many, but I just enjoy Pool Play’s runs in the dirt. The best underdog back story of them all and my super longshot pick to win last year’s Stephen Foster, I’d be ecstatic to see this 7-year-old bounce back in a big way.

Eldaafer Makes 4th Appearance in Breeders’ Cup Marathon

The first Marathon I’ve handicapped in its short lifetime, the race features basically any horse who is just not good enough for other races, which is a bummer because I like my distance-getters. I guess that’s why it’ll never move beyond G2 status, and the retirement of early favorite Redeemed is not helping this race gain any star power. Because of its high upset factor (last year’s winner Afleet Again won at 41-1 odds!) and lack of any intense handicapping interest, a nice price can be had upon close inspection.

  • Eldaafer - 7-year-old gelding makes 4th appearance in Marathon having won the 2010 running. By A.P. Indy, he has won just once this year in 7 tries in the 1 3/16-mile ungraded Carl Hanford Memorial Stakes at Delaware Park. Fires occasionally and hugs a sluggish pace.
  • Atigun - The Istan three-year-old colt showed he loves more ground with 2 wins this year but no stakes victories. He was a stable 4th last out in the 10-furlong Jockey Club Gold Cup (I) and should close in well.
  • Worth Repeating - The Giant’s Causeway son has long-range Santa Anita experience with a win in last year’s Tokyo City Cup (III) and won his last start in the 9-furlong Ralph M Hinds Handicap at Fairplex and he appears to like being near the lead.
  • Juniper Pass - Winless this year, the Lemon Drop Kid gelding has 2 long distance graded wins to his credit from last year and was beaten just a half-length last out in the 9-furlong Bulldog Handicap. He likes to be near the lead.
  • Commander - A viable favorite, the 4-year-old Broken Vow gelding hopes to add to his 6-race winning streak, most of which he won by multiple lengths impressively setting the pace. He has improved much recently as well, figures-wise, but will be tested here.
  • Not Abroad - The son of Not For Love raced 2nd behind Eldaafer in the Carl Hanford and was 2nd to early Marathon favorite Redeemed in the Greenwood Cup (III), but has been off-the-board just once this year in 6 starts, winning twice. He swatted out Win Willy in the 1 1/16-mile Joseph French Memorial at Delaware in May and then won his last prep in the 9-furlong Maryland Million Classic by 4.
  • Balladry - A 4-year-old Unbridled’s Song colt owned by Darley, Balladry has just 1 win this year in 6 starts in a Hollywood allowance, but he flew in like a jet fighter from last to first. He caved in to finish last in the Awesome Again Stakes (I) last out, but trainer Eoin Harty seems to be working on gassing him up for the long haul in his works.
  • Calidoscopio [ARG]* - Lightly-raced this year with 2 wins out of 3 tries, the 9-year-old Luhuk stallion has shown if he can get more than 10 furlongs, he’ll win for you or at least hit the board, even with heavy imposts. A multiple graded stakes winner in Argentina, is it too much to hope he can carry his form overseas against these young’uns?
  • Almudena [PER] - Winless this year, the Argentinean-bred mare has finished off the board just 5 times in 18 starts but has been at Hollywood Park breezing for the race.
  • Fame and Glory [GB] - The 6-year-old Montjeu [IRE] son eats up the distance challenge, winning graded stakes at 1 3/4 - 2 1/2 miles! However, those were all on the grass overseas, and with just 1 win in 4 starts this year and largely not enthused in the other 3, he becomes a longer shot of Aidan O’Brien’s untested on dirt.
  • Grassy - Another personal favorite, the 6-year-old El Prado [IRE] son hasn’t won since last year’s Bowling Green (II) at 1 3/8 miles on grass with just 2 starts this year after switching to Marty Jones’ barn. He’ll be getting his first dirt exam here.
  • Jaycito - Finishing 1st, 2nd, and 3rd once each in 5 starts this year, Jaycito has some class as well as a bit of consistency as he attempts to stretch his fitness as well as his ability far and wide. He improved last out in the mile-long Big Bear Handicap, but being beaten 8 1/2 lengths, he has much to improve upon.
  • Sense of Purpose [IRE] - The Galileo [IRE] filly is winless in 3 starts this year going the distance against lower-end Euro fields on grass.
  • Romp [ARG] - Winning just 4 times in 53 starts, the 8-year-old Incurable Optimist gelding has tried much this year only to come up short. He strengthens on the turn, but his drive does not last.

Next week I’ll announce my top 3 picks and value pick for the Marathon.

Calidoscopio [ARG] - I like him despite the layoff. He’s an iron horse in a mish-mashed field.

Not Abroad - Very consistent underdog with some really nice speed figures.

Juniper Pass - Sitting on a breakthrough race, full of class.

Balladry - I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt going long on a fast track. Harty’s a great conditioner, as well, so he’s a good longshot choice.

Atigun - Had he not gone so wide in the JCGC, he may have done better. He’ll get the distance no problem and seeks a graded breakthrough with underdog specialist McPeek training.

Team Mott Looks Strong in Jockey Club Gold Cup

Often the predecessor to a knockout win in other big route races, the Jockey Club Gold Cup isn’t what it used to be (a 2-mile race on dirt somehow turned into a 10-furlong practice run for Breeders’ Cup Marathoners), but it’s still a million-dollar G1 test for the Breeders’ Cup Classic (I) in November. A “Win and You’re In” for the Classic, this year’s JCGC drew a full field of ten including last year’s champ, a total of 6 G1 winners, and 2 three-year-olds that will be among the first of their class to face older horses in a graded event.

The fast dirt at Old Sandy appears to favor off-the-pace winners in the recent past, with winners in the past twenty years going on to win 4 Breeders’ Cup Classics and be runner-up in another running. The weather in Long Island unfortunately looks to damper things for the second year in a row with a 40-50% chance of rain for both Friday and Saturday. Be sure to factor track conditions and remember, when the track is off, the longshots come out to play.

$1 million Jockey Club Gold Cup (I) - 3-Year-Olds & Up. 1 1/4 miles on dirt at Belmont Park. Post Time: Saturday, September 29 at 5:46pm EST

[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Impost, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]

1) Ron the Greek - Jose Lezcano, 126 lbs, Bill Mott - The Full Mandate horse has been having a great year with two G1 wins and a close second in the Whitney (I) after shipping all over the country to run. He has been looking good and should be fresh for the race. Lezcano is a good rail rider, but it’s still a troubling spot to have a favored closer. His record on an off track is surprisingly good with all hitting the board if not winning, and I think Mott was wise in skipping the Woodward to keep this horse fresh. Given a promising pace scenario, he could turn out another winning effort here.

2) Stay Thirsty - Ramon Dominguez, 126 lbs, Todd Pletcher - The Bernardini colt has been the little-engine-that-could since his humble win streak last year as a Travers-winning three-year-old, but has been missing that extra gear for some time. An empty third in last year’s Jockey Club Gold Cup, Thirsty has not won since his Travers turn and while he was 4 lengths back in 5th last out in the Woodward (I), he went wide for much of it and lost the whip at the 1/8 pole. To his slop credit, he has two seconds and a third out of 3 tries. Despite the whip drop, he improved from a 101 Equibase fig in the Suburban to a 112 while carrying 9 additional pounds. He’ll like the distance and the track, but can he get any closer than 2 lengths from the win this year?

3) Ruler On Ice - Alan Garcia, 126 lbs, Kelly Breen - The Belmont-winning son of Roman Ruler hasn’t had the best year running second-fiddle in allowance company, but props are needed for his last start where he ran second to Win Willy by 2 lengths, staying stubborn in his usual stalking position to register a much-improved, career best 119 Equibase figure. We already all know how he does on an off Belmont surface. If it rains, you might want to work Ruler On Ice in there as a well-known and successful stalker. He should draw good odds either way.

4) Hymn Book - John Velazquez, 126 lbs, Claude McGaughey - The Arch gelding has not won since his Donn (I) upset earlier in the year with his next best being a decent second to Mucho Macho Man in the Suburban (II). However, he has endured some rocky and some pretty wide trips as a closer, and the extra furlong should help him. He’s good in the slop, winning on an off track 5 of 9 times, 2 of those wins being at Belmont. A horse who needs a good pace to do well, Hymn Book has little actually riding on this race with no intention right now to ship to the Breeders’ Cup.

5) Fort Larned - Brian Joseph Hernandez, 126 lbs, Ian Wilkes - The speedy E Dubai winner of the Whitney (I) is back for more and another (hopefully) successful stalking trip. His Whitney was won easy and late under a hand ride, suggesting Fort Larned’s got more where that came from and has won in the slop. Some may be too wary of Fort Larned to challenge him on or near the lead, suggesting he might be able to wrap up this race all on his own.

6) Atigun - Mike Smith, 122 lbs, Ken McPeek - The Istan colt was a blocked, late-charging third in the Travers last out, the benefit of the doubt being given to him by trainer McPeek that the colt would prefer the full 10-furlong distance over the easier field he would have faced in the Pennsylvania Derby (II)— which is probably true. Atigun’s best of late has been consistent, but really has to be much better to compete with this crowd. Another horse who should like the distance and need a pace and a personal best.

7) Fast Falcon - Corey Nakatani, 122 lbs, Nick Zito - The Awesome Again colt was a fierce late third in the Travers, and arguably had the best finishing touch out of any other horse in that race. He’s right at home at Belmont with two runner-up efforts against Teeth of the Dog here before. His career best was a low figure and a second placing, and given the possible weather conditions, he is a toss out due to class hike, speed figures, AND a surface he’s shown to not like. Would not be surprised if he scratches.

8) San Pablo - Javier Castellano, 126 lbs, Todd Pletcher - The Jump Start colt hopes to add a third race to his winning streak, both recent races were at 1 1/8 miles won in easy fashion. Likely to be stalking the pace, San Pablo has the stats to get an upset here with 3 wins and 2 seconds in 6 starts this year. Class is a question as is the off-track angle, but the added bonus of Castellano looks good.

9) Flat Out - Joel Rosario, 126 lbs, Bill Mott - The defending champion son of Flatter returns with a new trainer and jockey this year while being a little rough on his old form. He improved sharply in his Whitney performance where he was third by just a head to Ron the Greek, beaten less than 2 lengths by Fort Larned while sitting mid-pace with a wide trip. Flat Out is Mott’s Drosselmeyer this year, and due to his recovered form and distance clout, he’s secretly going to be one of the top horses to beat here and likely good value.

10) Game Ball - Jose Espinoza, 126 lbs, Naipaul Chatterpaul - A recent ex-claimer by Sky Mesa owned and trained by Chatterpaul, Game Ball has been everywhere this year and doesn’t appear to have a niche unless it’s “that horse that probably shouldn’t be here.” I’m wondering even further why he’s here because he didn’t make the stakes nomination list? A career closer, is off track record is fairly good but he lacks the class to make anything happen here, finishing a well-beaten 8th last out in the Sword Dancer (I).

Picks in Order:

1) Ron the Greek

2) Flat Out

3) Fort Larned

The track is likely going to be less than fast, so that makes handicapping this race that much harder to do. Fort Larned looks to be the lone speed here with most of the horses preferring a stalker or closer position behind him. I think he will try to slow down the pace to kill the horses behind him and try to win wire-to-wire. However, Ron the Greek was way too far back in the Whitney and looked awesome for second there. With freshening and an extra furlong, even if he errs again he’s super tough. Ruler On Ice and Flat Out… possibly San Pablo… I wish I could use both. Ruler may still be a bit short though, and I think Mott will have Flat Out tuned up and ready to go here for a much better effort, and he’s got tremendous upside all around. A big psychology factor to consider: who needs this race, and who will want to not go “all out?” Fort Larned and Ron the Greek already have guaranteed berths.

Value Pick: Flat Out

Early JCGC jitters on my behalf, all of them for Atigun! He’s been so close a number of times, but hasn’t won anything substantial yet so I’m kind of hoping one of my last Triple Crown trail faves can finally break through with a little more running room. He’s come a long way since he was my longshot pick of the litter in the Rebel Stakes!
Dollars to donuts, when he DOES win big I’ll get more unftastic pictures of his pretty colty head. (Photo by Skip Dickstein)

Early JCGC jitters on my behalf, all of them for Atigun! He’s been so close a number of times, but hasn’t won anything substantial yet so I’m kind of hoping one of my last Triple Crown trail faves can finally break through with a little more running room. He’s come a long way since he was my longshot pick of the litter in the Rebel Stakes!

Dollars to donuts, when he DOES win big I’ll get more unftastic pictures of his pretty colty head. (Photo by Skip Dickstein)

Racing Beat: August 26

Swear to god… if I stay with a full-time benefitted (or at least am able to save up enough money) job, I want to take a 3-day vacation next year for Travers weekend because ponies.

The Travers this year was a huge letdown in more ways than one… Street Life injured, Nonios never in sight, Neck ‘N Neck went wide early, Alpha needed Fast Falcon flying up his tail to dead heat with Golden Ticket— likely Atigun's rabbit! All after Hansen and Paynter cancel their appearances with a no-show from Teeth of the Dog. An historic and exciting race, but eh… I’m not impressed. Golden Ticket the deserving winner if I had to pick one coming off those sexy works and a long layoff.

Larry Jones has JC’s Pride's half sister Smitten, a gray Tapit filly, training well at Ellis Park. Already love.

I wish I could take Mike’s retiring TB gelding Lights of Broadway. He could have Scoobers’ old stall here, plenty of room! ;) No but really… aghhhh I would love to have had him.

With Bodemeister and Union Rags out of the picture, the only horse with a glimmer of a chance of beating out I’ll Have Another for the three-year-old male Eclipse is Paynter if he can recover in time and run HUGE. But for karmic purposes, I’d like to see Questing [GB] beat the snot out of all the three-year-olds. I’d just really like to see IHA beaten out for the Eclipse.

Maryland has some good ideas about bringing more fans out more often!

You know you’re a horse racing fan when… your racing shirts get hung up in the closet, but your “nice” shirts are left to wrinkle in your drawers. #noregrets

I wonder how the New York Racing and Wagering Board is going to act after ex-claimer Willy Beamin’ turned into a huge, impressive G1 winner just days after running an impressive stakes race. You mad?

Somepony lucky hit the Del Mar Pick 6— JUST ONE PERSON— for $482,526.60. Meanwhile I am angry that Ramen is 3 for $1.

That awkward moment when you take a colt sired by a stallion with the gallant named of Lion Heart and name him Purple Egg. And he wins.

Ortensia needs to brawl with Frankel. Or kiss him.

I hope Hansen’s future breeders name their mare’s offspring in tribute to his unicorn traits… a filly named Twilight Sparkle would be just too perfect for me to pass up.

Under-informed anti-Japan fans can take a damn chill pill after they do their research on buyback clauses and take a looksy at pensioned Forty Niner, currently 27, alive and chilling on Hokkaido.

Tweet o’ the Week:

The Best Missing in Saturday’s Travers Stakes

I’ll Have Another. Creative Cause. Union Rags. Gemologist. Bodemeister. Paynter. A three-year-old from current meet leader/last year’s winning trainer Todd Pletcher’s barn. All are missing from the fray of the Mid-Summer Derby, the Travers Stakes (I). As one of my favorite races, the Travers is famous for determining the year’s best three-year-old aside from the trying Triple Crown trail, with past winners reading like a who’s who of Thoroughbred greats: Man o’ War, Holy Bull, Buckpasser, Damascus, Alydar, and others dating back to the late 1800s. It’s an old race, it’s a great race… just not this year.

With Paynter and Hansen both out of the running, the race became difficult to gauge and I took a lot of time flip-flopping between horses. I used virtually every factor in trying to determine a top three— pace scenario likelihoods, speed figures, transition to fast from slop for many, you name it— but it really boiled down to this: being a G1, it takes a very good horse to win it with the right strategy and the best form. Easier said than done of course, and with the weather looking good, I hope recent prep winners like it fast just as well as they liked the mud!

$1 million Travers Stakes (I) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/4 miles on dirt at Saratoga Race Course. Post Time: Saturday August 25 at 5:46pm EST.

[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]

1) Speightscity - Irad Ortiz Jr., Gary Contessa - A totally curious entry, we haven’t seen Speightscity since the Speightstown ridgeling was second to Alpha in the Withers (III), where he apparently banged up his knee. A winner of no stakes, he’s a $20k supplement to the race where he is set to go straight to the lead, as announced loudly by trainer Contessa. His works have been very good reaching long at Saratoga, but with such a long layoff and no serious past credit, a win in a G1 seems very farfetched.

2) Five Sixteen - Rosie Napravnik, Dominick Schettino - The Invasor [ARG] gelding surprised many running a good second to Street Life in the sloppy Curlin Stakes here at Saratoga, ultimately retaining Napravnik’s commitment with soft underdog status. Napravnik hasn’t been that sharp at the Saratoga meet overall, and I honestly am beginning to think Five Sixteen might be a slop horse instead of one that is bound to improve.

3) Golden Ticket - David Cohen, Ken McPeek - Haven’t seen this one in a while! The Speightstown colt hasn’t won a stakes yet, but was last seen as a gallant runner-up to Prospective in the Tampa Bay Derby (II). His works have been awesome at Saratoga, but the layoff’s going to hurt him and his unimpressive speed figures. I also wonder if this is McPeek’s second Belmont Stakes-like attempt, where he put a fast horse in a race along with closer Atigun. HMMM…

4) Stealcase - Shaun Bridgmohan, Mark Casse - I haven’t really liked this Lawyer Ron colt since he ran a disappointing 6th in the Gotham (III). He’s had a lot of shoddy luck, and subsequently has no stakes wins to his credit. He was a distant runner-up to Neck ‘N Neck in the Matt Winn (III) and closed nice for a distant third in the Haskell (I) last out after hitting the gate at the start. He’s improving with good works at Saratoga, but may not be good enough to consider for the upset.

5) Street Life - Jose Lezcano, Chad Brown - A face I’ve loved since watching his awesome Broad Brush Stakes win, the Street Sense colt has 3 wins in 7 starts this year and has been a good runner even in his failed attempts. He was far off the others to rally for 4th in the Belmont, and could have won the Peter Pan (II) in my opinion if he hadn’t gotten an outside post. He won the Curlin Stakes pretty easy last time out with a tweaked strategy that could work again here, but could very well suffer without pace.

6) Alpha - Ramon Dominguez, Kieran McLaughlin - The Bernardini colt is arguably the most accomplished in the field: the easy winner of the Jim Dandy (II) last out and has no bad races to speak of while in New York (2-for-2 at Saratoga) while maintaining good speed figures. He seeks to repeat his sire’s and brother Stay Thirsty’s Jim Dandy-Travers double. Alpha is a good and sensible choice for favoritism, but I must question his credentials. His win in the sloppy Jim Dandy was easy and unopposed, and he has had a controversially easy spring campaign dodging horses like Hansen to collect his wins. He had no response for the Derby and lost (albeit gracefully) to a drawing-away Gemologist in the Wood (I). He could win this race among simpleton company, but either way he has some class questions.

7) Atigun - Mike Smith, Ken McPeek - The Istan colt is a beloved favorite of mine, pegging me to win the Rebel Stakes (II) earlier this spring. While he hasn’t won anything to speak of, he is the probably the most capable horse in the field for trying the distance as he was a gaining 3rd in the Belmont (I) behind two top class horses. He was inappropriately choked back in the Jim Dandy, and gets an upgrade to great closing rider Mike Smith with super works done at Saratoga. Don’t leave him out.

8) Neck ‘N Neck - Leandro Goncalves, Ian Wilkes - A really nice Flower Alley colt, he had a dominating victory in the Matt Winn (III) before digging hopelessly into the mud to stay second to Alpha in the Jim Dandy last out. His works have been great at Saratoga, and with a faster track, he should be game for another go at Alpha.

9) Liaison - Rafael Bejarano, Bob Baffert - Never really liked this Indian Charlie colt, who is the lone G1 winner in the field with a CashCall Futurity (I) win as a two-year-old. His best efforts have been out west on synthetic, hitting the board in all his recent graded efforts before going 5 paths wide to get third in the Jim Dandy. A horse with some go left in him, he’s got some credence, but I have to wonder if he’s taking the ship from Cali well. For a Baffert trainee, he doesn’t give me that wink of confidence I’m so accustomed to.

10) Nonios - John Velazquez, Jerry Hollendorfer - One of my new favorites is this Pleasantly Perfect colt, who is just as handsome as the day is long. A super winner closing on synthetic, he has yet to finish off the board this year and has shown he doesn’t need speed to win. While he was distant from Paynter, he closed well in his first dirt try in the Haskell (I) to stay clear of the others, and picks up super rider Velazquez.

11) Fast Falcon - Junior Alvarado, Nick Zito - The game rival to Teeth of the Dog is this Awesome Again son who closed like a freight train to place in the Dwyer (II). His form took a dive when he was responseless running last in the Jim Dandy (II). Working well enough at Saratoga, Zito’s latest try at the Travers looks a wee bit tired.

Top Picks in Order:

1) Street Life

2) Alpha

3) Atigun

I was able to chop this field right in half separating the good ones with a chance from those just having a hopeful hurrah, but from there things got tough. Liaison looks like he misses home, so he was out. Neck ‘N Neck had no answer for Alpha’s spiked speed in the stretch, so he’s probably going to be a reach for the price. Alpha I dislike but have to consider… Nonios is awesome… Street Life’s strategy could be right… but Atigun is capable with that Golden Ticket helping him out… WHO DO I PICK? Ultimately I stayed with Street Life, who has a strategy that can work again here and he’s been a beastly closing machine. I think Alpha will stay in the mix, and Atigun will make a case for the upset. I’m broken-hearted to leave out Nonios, but have to consider his only dirt start was in a super light field as good as the horse was that beat him. I’ll box all four somewhere together.

Value Pick: Atigun

Going to the Thoroughbred races, keeping "track" of the memories. Obsessively providing a comprehensive and personal glance at the sport of kings through original photography, handicapping analysis, editorials, and much more.

Tracks visited: Calder, Saratoga, Belmont, Suffolk, Aqueduct.

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