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
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