The Travers Stakes (Grade I)

8/26/17–Saratoga Race Course

The 148th Running of the Travers-Grade I 1 & ¼ Miles on Dirt for Three-Year-Olds

Race 11–Post Time: 2:44 P.M. PST

Analysis by Michael Patricks

A sextet of Grade I events are set down for decision on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course with the Grade I Travers Stakes the headliner and post time set for quarter to three for the midsummer classic.  Seventeen horses were nominated to compete in Saratoga’s most prestigious race and a dozen are scheduled to face the starter as the sun sets literally and figuratively on this year’s three-year-old events.

The honors for top three-year-old in the division remain up for grabs with Cloud Computing, Tapwrit, Good Samaritan, Girvin, Always Dreaming, and even Classic Empire still within shouting distance as the crop begins taking on older horses this fall.  The 148th running of the Travers shapes up as salty as ever with all three Triple Crown race winners set to face off against one another.  Here’s a brief look at the runners and their resumes:

1-Cloud Computing 8/1

Winner of the Grade I Preakness

2-Giuseppe the Great 20/1

Second in the Grade II Jim Dandy

3-West Coast 4/1

Winner of the Grade III Los Alamitos Derby

4-Tapwrit 7/2

Winner of the Grade I Belmont Stakes

5-Good Samaritan 5/1

Winner of the Grade II Jim Dandy

6-Girvin 10/1

Winner of the Grade I Haskell

7-Always Dreaming 6/1

Winner of the Grade I Kentucky Derby

8-Lookin at Lee 30/1

Second in the Grade I Kentucky Derby

9-McCraken 12/1

Second in the Grade I Haskell

10-Irap 8/1

Winner of the Grade II Blue Grass

11-Gunnevera 20/1

Winner of the Grade II Fountain of Youth

12-Fayeq 30/1

Winner of two straight races including open allowance

1-Cloud Computing 8/1 ML-If you missed the wedding at 12/1 in the Preakness and went to the funeral at 6/5 in the Jim Dandy, I’m sorry. The Preakness winner got his preferred, inside stalking trip in the Jim Dandy but came up empty when push came to shove and backpedaled to fifth and last.  The fractions of the Jim Dandy weren’t lightning-quick but they were testing, and given that it would have been nice to see him finish up with a little more gusto.  So, who is he at this point?  Chad Brown is the best trainer going on the east coast currently and a bounce back effort seems likely from this camp as a whole.  The price is sure to rise for those who still believe in him in the Travers; Arrogate dominated with an inside draw in this race last year as well—merits respect.

2-Giuseppe the Great 20/1 ML- He was my upset special selection in the Jim Dandy at 14/1 but could not quicken with Good Samaritan and had to settle for a decent second place finish. The positives to be sure are that this colt is a trier and he will offer plenty of value if you’re willing to go to deep into the bullpen and bring him in on your tickets.  On the downside: It’s a red flag in my opinion that he closed ground on the embattled leaders only to give it up and then some to Good Samaritan.  It was a blanket finish for the minors and Giuseppe blue-collared his way to the place photo.  His jockey defects for a 30/1 shot in the 12-hole and he remains eligible for a first level allowance event.  There will be twice the traffic to negotiate in the Travers than he had to bother with in the Jim Dandy and it’s too big a leap of faith to me that all his brethren with similar running styles will have an off day so that he can achieve victory.  Think he will go off in the 40/1 range but I can’t live with him this time around; pass.

3-West Coast 4/1 ML- Didn’t debut until three and trainer Bob Baffert has taken his time with him. West Coast ran big in the Grade III Lexington and Los Alamitos Derby but certainly falls under the category of late bloomer to be sure.  He’s been carefully managed up to this point and this will be the biggest kettle of fish he’s tried on for size.  Arrogate arrived at Saratoga last year under a similarly unheralded type of script and announced to the world that he would be a force to be reckoned with into the fall.  The Beyer speed figures continue to climb and he seems to be headed the right direction.  My concerns about him would be the shipping back and forth across the country and whether that will finally take a toll on him; also, Baffert is a trendy type of selection in a race like this and it’s possible you’re not getting the same value you ordinarily would if “John Smith” was his trainer and Mike Smith wasn’t his jockey; obvious contender regardless.

4-Tapwrit 7/2 ML- Unseen since his victory in the Belmont Stakes, Tapwrit is installed as the luke-warm morning line favorite. Tapwrit has five workouts on display since the Belmont and Todd Pletcher is having another big Saratoga meeting once again.  The grey isn’t blessed with amazing gate speed so he will likely have a bunch of traffic to negotiate if he’s going to get the candy.  His 103 Beyer speed figure is tops in this field and fresh horses are always dangerous.  Can’t fault those that will believe in him given the shadows of doubt that encompass many of his nemesis. I’d endorse using him vertically and exotically on multi-race tickets, but in terms of an actual win wager, he seems to be a bit short given he only had a few competitors to really worry about in the Belmont at 6/1 and now he’s about half that price in the Travers with twice as many bona fide challengers signed on; tricky read.

5-Good Samaritan 5/1 ML- WinStar homebred gave Bill Mott a tremendous birthday present in his last start by capturing the Grade II Jim Dandy over Always Dreaming and Cloud Computing. Heading into that race, the jury was out whether he would be the same animal over the dirt as he had been on grass—the answer, an undoubted yes.  Joel Rosario took this colt from eight lengths back at the ¼ pole to a nearly five lengths score at the end–a 13-length span in the final three furlongs and he won with plenty in reserve.  Some “players” are of the mindset that this colt will bounce in his second start on the surface and regress from his first triple digit Beyer speed figure.  But what if his best is yet to come and the “100” is merely the tip of a much bigger iceberg?  In addition, what if he just really loves The Spa?  If so, then 5/1 is most likely a gift on the win end.  He may have to negotiate some traffic but off his Jim Dandy he should be considered the horse to beat in my eyes; it’s his race to win or lose.

6-Girvin 10/1 ML- He’s always fired on a fast track and have no reason to believe Saturday will be any different. His Haskell win was determined as it gets and he’ll have to take yet another step forward to be the one left posing for pictures.  His Beyer speed figures stack up “okay” against the balance of the cast with the 102 in the Ohio Derby seeming to be a bit of an outlier.  Girvin is a real nice race horse and even though chalk players typically aren’t infatuated with him, I can’t fault those that will endorse him with their hard earned Jacksons and Franklins.  There figures to be a large clump of horses in the middle of the pack so weaving his way through could be a bit challenging when they turn for home.  There are those who believe he will be in the picture as customary but he’ll have to stay out of trouble if his face is to emerge in a blanket finish yet again.

7-Always Dreaming 6/1 ML- Kentucky Derby winner has fallen on hard times a bit after splashing home to his bed of roses. Always Dreaming got his head handed to him by Classic Empire in the Preakness and coming off his freshening in the Jim Dandy was able to make a clear lead before hoisting the white flag in the final furlong.  On paper, it’s my opinion there is not a ton of speed signed on in this race.  The Saratoga surface was “souped up” last year for Arrogate’s annihilation in this race and it’s possible the Bodemeister son could inherit a relatively easy lead and that’s always dangerous in any horse race. He’s given chalk baths to his backers in each of his past two efforts at 6/5 and even money respectively. The price is far more likely to entice on Saturday, however, skeptics remain regarding his true quality at this point in the game. Expect the Derby winner to give his backers an elevated heartbeat as he leads the field into the stretch of the Travers; catch him to cash.

8-Lookin at Lee 30/1 ML- Seen this movie many times and have a very good feeling that I know how it ends once again. ‘Lee is an honest plodder who lacks an explosive turn of foot and thus must rely on races breaking down from every which way in order for him to bring his best performance.  Every handicapper can plainly see that his Kentucky Derby runner-up was aided by an inside bias and since then he’s been midpack nibbling in his customary fashion.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to own a piece of this colt as he can usually pick up a minor award which is bootstrapped to a fat check from the racing office paymaster.  However, as far as a win candidate goes he’s clearly a stretch and the kamikaze-like toll he would need the pace to take on embattled leaders appears to be unlikely at best.  Some handicappers might single him in the fourth spot of superfecta tickets and build tickets around him somewhere underneath, but since this article is about finding winners instead of plodders, we will put the pen through him and move on to the next one in line; pass.

9-McCraken 12/1 ML- Have always been a big fan of him and in fact picked him to win the Kentucky Derby over his preferred surface at Churchill Downs. Obviously his Kentucky Derby left a lot to be desired but it’s also best used as a toss out race.  McCraken bounced back quite nicely in the Matt Win as expected and ran a winning race in the Haskell before being eclipsed at the wire by Girvin.  This colt is a steady performer and his body of work in his resume merits respect.  It’s difficult to say he has the best turn of foot in this field and he’s become a bit more grinding than explosive in his three-year-old campaign.  On paper, he and Girvin appear for the most part inseparable, and given that it’s each horse’s debut at Saratoga and that both are coming off a race where they were fully extended, I’m inclined to side against them for top honors.  King Solomon may have been inclined to divide the baby, but for my money better alternatives appear to be had; siding against.

10-Irap 8/1 ML- His only trip at 10 furlongs was his one-off in the Kentucky Derby where he didn’t get a hold of the track and was essentially eased through the lane. Irap’s Ohio Derby was very impressive as he reeled in Girvin through the stretch and in the process eclipsed 100 on the Beyer scale for the very first time.  He followed up his Ohio Derby with another strong effort in the Indiana Derby, sitting just off the pace before assuming command and winning as his rider pleased.  Instead of wheeling right back to the West Virginia Derby, Doug O’Neill has decided to put four works into him at Del Mar.  O’Neill’s choosing of the Travers over the West Virginia Derby signals that the horse must be doing very well and Camp O’Neill must feel he deserves a shot to run with the best in the land by entering the Travers. Given that the runner-up behind Irap in the Indiana Derby came back to capture the West Virginia Derby, that should only flatter his form and wagering intrigue.  Irap is handy enough to be put into the race early and should sit a nice stalking trip right off of Always Dreaming.  By Tiznow, Irap appears to be maturing into a quality three-year-old and another big effort could be in the cards at a nice mutuel. With his pedigree, the distance should be no problem and therefore Irap makes a lot of sense in my mind; very enticing.

11-Gunnevera 20/1 ML- Found his winning stride in his comeback prep over his home track and did it in hand. Interestingly, Gunnevera was sent off at only 10/1 in the Kentucky Derby yet failed to fire in the slop and then was seemingly rushed back into the Preakness after having a very long campaign leading up to the Triple Crown.  It’s hard not to respect such a hard trying and proven commodity such as Gunnevera and note that he did win the Saratoga Special here last year as a two-year-old so the affinity for the surface is on his resume.  Gunnevera may end up being parked out a bit wide and will have a lot of horses in front of him to pass for a payday.  Never count this colt out by any means, but given so many horses come into this race with the exact same style it’s hard to separate them as win candidates; he will pass some stragglers for sure and can’t chastise those looking to take a home run cut, but I’m siding against him since it appears he will have too much to do.

12-Fayeq 30/1 ML- Translated to mean extraordinary, sublime, or excellent, Fayeq has been just that in his last two races and arrives in the Travers off back-to-back open length scores. He’s a half-brother to Rachel Alexandra and note that he’s kept very good company in his running lines.  This will be his first foray into graded-stakes company and will get to play ball with the elite in his division, thus the accompanying 30/1 morning line price. He’s got some natural speed so he shouldn’t be hung out too wide into the first turn and he seems to be getting better with each start.  To me, Fayeq is a much more interesting 30/1 shot than Lookin at Lee, and would even be more intriguing than Giuseppe the Great at 20/1 (note his jock sticks with him over that rival).  We will find out what Fayeq is made of heading into the far turn but I’m of the mind this colt can raise some eyebrows after a coming out party on Saturday.  There are good and bad 30/1 shots in this game, and as far as this colt goes I would say swing hard in case you hit it…surprise package.

Selections: 10-5-12-6