By Michael Patricks
Back into stride with the weekly handicapping preview. I was enlisted in the employ of my live racing duties as both racing seminar co-host and morning line odds maker at the Sonoma County Fair, so the weekly write-up department (a department of one) had to be put on ice for a few weeks. All in all, it was a solid eight days of racing—here’s to hoping next year provides the full three weeks of racing we are accustomed to seeing here in Santa Rosa.
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It was a profitable selection of Fly to Mars in the California Dreamin’ Stakes on July 28th at Del Mar. Fly to Mars paid $11.20 and received a then-lifetime best Beyer Speed Figure of 101 in the process. Let’s see if we can’t back up one solid choice with another in the Grade I Travers Stakes from Saratoga this Saturday.
Saratoga Race Course
The Grade 1 Travers Stakes
1 & ¼ Miles on Dirt for 3 y/o
1-Trigger Warning 30/1 ML- Big horse-little barn angle certainly on display here as this modest $6,000 Keeneland September sales purchase has already banked a quarter-million in just 12 starts. He’s improved greatly in Grade III events from his Lecomte disaster at 160/1 in his first run of the season. However, he’s been handled by lesser foes in the late stages of those events and he’s taking on racing’s elite in the mid-summer classic; should say “Uncle” by the far turn.
2-Wonder Gadot 5/1 ML– So much respect for this “wonder”ful filly, she’s only been off the board one time in thirteen starts and is an honest and game race horse. She’s taken down 2/3rds of the Canadian Triple Crown with the Breeders’ Stakes back at Woodbine on turf the final leg to come. Wonder Gadot loves this 10-furlong distance and she gets five pounds on the group which is a big deal. Johnny V veers over to Vino Rosso for Pletcher, but I’m not pitching her out under any circumstances; big player as usual.
3-Gronkowski 4/1 ML- Raised eyebrows and provided value to exotics players while following Justify home in the Grade I Belmont Stakes in June. He’s a main attraction in this spot Saturday but loses Jose Ortiz to race-favorite Good Magic. Joel Rosario is obviously no slouch as a replacement but I want to see him bring the A-game once again and at the likely odds I’m going to try and get around him for top honors at the betting window.
4-Bravazo 12/1 ML– I’ve notoriously been a bit tough on him but he’s raised his game a bit from his early season performances. My chief concern with Bravazo is his one-paced way of going and penchant to simply grind along in a race where a big step of acceleration will be needed to achieve victory. His customary mid-90’s fastball rates as simply so-so against the quality of this group and stuck in my crawl is the indisputable fact that he had everything go his way in the Preakness and still couldn’t close the deal after rallying into blistering splits behind a weary Justify; can’t see him closing this out.
5-Vino Rosso 10/1 ML– When this guy is right, he can be pretty impressive visually, but he’s got a tendency to hang a bit when the real running begins and I’m still not quite sure if he understands what is going on out there. He came home with a good push late in the Jim Dandy but still couldn’t put his nostril in front on the line. On the positive side, Johnny V sticks in his corner to remain the only rider who’s ever been aboard on race day so you have to think he remains a believer in this chestnut by choosing him over Wonder Gadot. Something tells me to keep him in the mix.
6-Meistermind 30/1 ML– One lifetime win and the win came at Churchill at today’s distance. Blown off the track last time out but that was in the slop. Santana bails for stable mate Tenfold. Price is square for those who believe, but I’m not one who falls under that category.
7-King Zachary 15/1 ML- Failed to hit the board as the 8/5 race favorite in the Indiana Derby and now heads to Saratoga to take on the best in the game. Like Meistermind, his best running came at Churchill Downs when taking down the Grade III Matt Winn, but that was a 12/1 surprise in a small field and now to be asked to swallow somewhere near that price against this talented cast is something I just can’t stomach; I’ll be taking a stand here.
8-Mendelssohn 12/1 ML- We all keep thinking back to his devastating UAE Derby performance and seem to be waiting for him to run back to that effort, but it just simply hasn’t happened. His Kentucky Derby was a well-publicized debacle and his effort in the Dwyer left a lot to be desired after being gunned out on the pace before getting molly whopped by Firenze Fire in his signature performance. Maybe he turns it around in here, but I’d like to see a confidence-boosting race out of him first before backing him at the Grade I level; skeptical.
9-Good Magic 2/1 ML– And in contradistinction to Mendelssohn, you know what you’re going to get out of Good Magic on race day and that’s a rock-solid and game effort that typically is good enough to get the job done. Good Magic is always in the picture and really did run a winning race in the Kentucky Derby but obviously was unable to reel in Justify. I loved Good Magic’s Preakness, he dueled from the inside with the Triple Crown winner and went toe to toe and blow for blow with the champ before eventually yielding late, yet was only beaten a length for the glory. His comeback effort in the Haskell was solid but I think there’s plenty left in the tank with this guy. Jose Ortiz remains aboard and in my opinion this colt looms a solid chance to be the one they have to beat at Churchill in November; Good Magic is my choice on Saturday.
10-Tenfold 8/1 ML– How could the morning line odds maker not make # 10 Tenfold 10/1 in the program? All kidding aside, he’s had a good summer in taking down the Jim Dandy but I’m still not absolutely sold he was really even the best horse in that race as it was a three-way blanket finish for the top prize. Like Bravazo, Tenfold had a dream set up in the Preakness but could only get himself a neck clear of Good Magic after tracking in an ideal circumstance. You can’t bet them all and I expect a bit of a regression from this corner in the Travers; I’ll pass.
11-Catholic Boy 8/1 ML– He’s a tenacious race horse and very game when it counts but he’s having to go turf-to-dirt and draws furthest out in a race with little wiggle room for error. Expect Castellano to gun him out of the wide stall and put him in the race early, but there will be early foot in this race to keep him honest up front and so tactically things could be a bit problematic. The 99 Beyer on grass is noteworthy but that was a ding-dong tussle through the lane and he’s had some ultra-competitive races this summer. Can he be as tenacious and resilient on dirt as he’s been on turf? I’m going to make him prove it from the outside fence, but his willingness to get in there and grind cannot be underestimated.