With no California Chrome knocking on the door, the field for the Travers Stakes (I) will determine at least part of the Three-Year-Old Eclipse picture with Belmont (I) winner Tonalist returning off a respectable defeat to Wood Memorial (I) winner Wicked Strong in the Jim Dandy (II). But alas, they are not alone: Bayern unleashed a monstrous run to win the Haskell (I) at Monmouth and is looking to be the likely favorite as he stretches out again, and for the first time, to 10 furlongs. A lot of if’s, and’s, or but’s make this Travers an interesting and possibly profitable edition. Due to inclement weather and minimal strong sunshine, I’m handicapping this race for a “good” track.
$1.25 million Travers Stakes (I) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/4 miles on dirt at Saratoga Race Course. Post Time: Saturday, August 23 at 5:45pm EST.
[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]
1) Commanding Curve - Shaun Bridgmohan, Dallas Stewart - A promising improver in the spring, the Master Command colt ran strong to be 2nd in the Kentucky Derby and has since been on a downward slide, finishing 4th in the Jim Dandy (II) with little excuse. Deserving longshot.
2) Bayern - Martin Garcia, Bob Baffert - The Offlee Wild colt bounced off some pretty shoddy form back into business, romping in the Woody Stephens (II) at 7 furlongs before dominating the 9-furlong Haskell (I), both by 7 lengths after establishing early superiority. Numbers-wise, he’s the one to beat and has some distance pedigree to back up his stretch-out. Off the board just once in 7 starts this year. Despite Baffert’s dominance in the Haskell, he has won the Haskell-Travers double just once with Point Given. Bayern could run home with the win should he establish an uncontested lead as he has done in the past.
3) Charge Now - Junior Alvarado, Bill Mott - A half to Derby winner Super Saver sired by Tiznow, Charge Now flies the WinStar stable colors with high hopes after just 5 career starts, winning 2 and placing in 2 with no stakes wins. He was barely beaten last out in the Curlin Stakes to V. E. Day after going wide into the stretch. While improving, he is probably not quick-footed enough to win and has demonstrated dislike of off goings.
4) V. E. Day - Javier Castellano, James Jerkens - Jerkens’ back-up gun, the English Channel colt surprised many winning the Curlin Stakes to go three in a row for his stakes debut. He upgrades jockeys to Castellano, the current meet leader, and has all the makings of a great improving horse. Huge value horse with a win on an off-track. Upset potential is here.
5) Viva Majorca - Julien Leparoux, Ian Wilkes - The Tiago colt sports Whitney connections and missed the win in the Curlin Stakes by just a length, finishing 4th in that event but was steadied at one point. He does have some good back form and could close into the competition. I’m not loving the lack of success among Wilkes and Leparoux though on an improving horse.
6) Tonalist - Joel Rosario, Christophe Clement - The Belmont-winning Tapit colt was much the best in June and showed he could handle the off-going before then in the Peter Pan Stakes (II). Wide throughout, he disappointed in his return, running a clearly bested 2nd to Wicked Strong in the Jim Dandy (II). Tonalist could benefit from a tighter trip, but the question is if he’ll get it and strengthen back into his beast form. Keep him in your top 3 thoughts.
7) Wicked Strong - Rajiv Maragh, James Jerkens - The Hard Spun colt sports some class with two graded stakes wins and has an edge as the Jim Dandy (II) winner coming into this race. He was at his best in the Jim Dandy (II) and really wasn’t that far off the win considering his trip in the Kentucky Derby when the 10-furlong question comes up. Jerkens has Wicked Strong ready to roll in workouts and seeing as this colt is adaptable and can do off-goings, he can’t be forgotten about.
8) Kid Cruz - Irad Ortiz Jr, Linda Rice - The Dwyer (III) winner comes back for another go after running 3rd in the Jim Dandy (II), which was not helped by a wider-than-usual trip. This will be the Lemon Drop Kid colt’s first shot at 10 furlongs and given the pace scenario, his best will come late and I would not be surprised if he does amazingly well. Irad Ortiz Jr has been doing phenomenally well all meet as well. Value horse.
9) Ulanbator - Brian Hernandez Jr, Ian Wilkes - The “other” Offlee Wild of the field, He has one win in 8 career starts at a mile at Gulfstream Park and was 5th in the Jim Dandy (II), beaten some 9 lengths. He does his best running late, but is still very much a longshot.
10) Mr Speaker - Jose Lezcano, Shug McGaughey - The Pulpit colt was at his roaring best in the Belmont Derby (I) going 10 furlongs on grass, and with runner-up Adelaide’s recent win in the Secretariat Stakes (I), he is obviously the best American turf three-year-old. Trainer McGaughey is adamant this horse has a shot on the dirt. A tiring 7th in his lone dirt start… DOES this horse have a shot? It’s up to you to decide, but I’m giving him the nod as long as he can handle dirt in his face since the plan is to attack from off the pace.
Top 3 Picks in Order (with preferable odds):
1) Mr Speaker (8-1)
2) Wicked Strong (3-1)
3) V. E. Day (12-1)
Because of a lot of “maybe this, maybe that” going on in the field this year, I am going to go against the favorites. Yes I think Bayern could do it, but I think his calling is a dirt mile. I’m going with my study strategy that landed me with picking Wicked Strong for the Wood— everyone hates Gulfstream, and I’m guessing Mr Speaker did too. He has the best dirt pedigree of the field for going 10 furlongs and has a chance to prove it in spades. Wicked Strong and V. E. Day pack some bruising connections when it comes to dirt routes and both have tactical advantages in one way or another to get up there. Bayern is 4th choice.
Value Pick: If you’re not buying into Mr Speaker, V. E. Day overpowered a sluggish pace to win the Curlin Stakes and is set to improve from there. I mean, Javier is riding him, c’mon!