Nonios winning the Affirmed Stakes
By Ellis Starr – National Racing Analyst for Equibase
Of the 11 horses contesting the 143rd running of the $1 million Travers Stakes (G1), only two enter the race with a finish lower than third in their most recent race. With most in the field proven in recent stakes competition, separating the contenders from the non-contenders comes down to who has run best at the highest levels. On that count, Alpha gets top billing based on his neck defeat in the Wood Memorial Stakes (G1) this spring and his strong two-length victory in the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) at Saratoga Race Course one month ago. Affirmed Stakes (G3) winner Nonios also fits with these, having finished second in the Swaps Stakes (G2) as well as the Haskell Invitational Stakes (G1) following his Affirmed victory. Neck 'n Neck won the Matt Winn Stakes (G3) in dominant fashion by seven lengths in June and wasn’t disgraced when runner-up to Alpha in the Jim Dandy, so he could have a strong say in the outcome. Street Life enters the Travers off a sharp win at Saratoga in the Curlin Stakes following a fourth-place effort in the Belmont Stakes (G1) at 1 ½ miles, so at the minimum should have no issue with the 1 ¼-mile distance. A number of others enter the race with in-the-money (first, second or third) finishes in stakes races this year. That group is led by Jim Dandy third-place finisher Liaison, whose best career effort came last December when victorious in the CashCall Futurity (G1). Speightscity returns from a six-month rest, last seen finishing second to Alpha in the Withers Stakes (G3). Others in that group include Five Sixteen (second behind Street Life in the Curlin), Stealcase (third in the Haskell and second in the Matt Winn), Atigun (third in the Belmont Stakes), Golden Ticket (second in the Tampa Bay Derby[G2]) and Fast Falcon (second in the Dwyer Stakes [G2]).
Nonios is a lightly raced colt who has been no worse than third in six career races and who continues to show improvement with each start. Coming back from a two month layoff in June, Nonios won the Affirmed Stakes with a then career-best 105 Equibase Speed Figure, bettering the effort to 108 when second (beaten three-quarters of a length) in the Swaps Stakes in his next start, then improving again (to 111) when second to Paynter recently in the Haskell Invitational. Before leaving California for the Travers, Nonios put in a splendid workout on August 19 that was in the top 10% of workouts for the distance on the day. With jockey John Velazquez riding him for the first time, Nonios appears capable of taking another step forward and posting the mild upset to win the Travers Stakes.
Alpha redeemed himself by winning the Jim Dandy Stakes in easy fashion last month following a disappointing 12th-place effort in the Kentucky Derby (G1). Alpha really stamped himself a top 3-year-old earlier this spring when victorious in the Count Fleet and Withers Stakes in succession before a neck defeat in the last New York prep for the Derby, the Wood Memorial, a race in which Alpha earned a career-best 113 Equibase Speed Figure. With a 110 figure earned in the Jim Dandy to improve upon in his second race following the layoff, Alpha could easily run well enough to win his second graded stakes in a row in this situation.
ALPHA IS THE MORNING-LINE FAVORITE FOR THE TRAVERS
Street Life finished sixth in the Wood Memorial this spring and 7 1/4 lengths in arrears of Alpha, but he improved nicely when third in the Peter Pan Stakes (G2) in May, earning a then career-best 105 speed figure. Last of 11 in the early stages in the Belmont Stakes in his next start, Street Life could only manage a fourth-place finish, but he took a big step forward winning the non-graded Curlin Stakes at Saratoga, earning a 107 figure just slightly lower than Alpha earned on the track the following day. As such, with any further improvement in ability, Street Life could be right there with the main contenders in this year’s Travers Stakes.
Honorable mention goes to Neck ’n Neck, who has improved markedly since his 6 ½-length score in an allowance race on May 10 with a then career-best 101 speed figure. He improved to a 108 with a resounding 7 ¼-length win in the Matt Winn Stakes after that. In his most recent race, Neck ’n Neck finished second to Alpha in the Jim Dandy, beaten two lengths after getting within a half-length of the winner in the stretch and still two lengths clear of third-place finisher Liaison at the end. Having earned a very similar figure (107) in the Jim Dandy to the 108 he earned in the Matt Winn, it is possible Neck ’n Neck can take a bold step forward in the Travers and therefore has a possibility to post the upset win.
The rest of the Travers Stakes field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures: Atigun (104), Fast Falcon (105), Five Sixteen (104), Golden Ticket (98), Liaison (108), Speightscity (104) and Stealcase (106).
You can get Ellis’ entire Travers Day selections and analysis at equibase.com and trackmaster.com.
$1 million Travers Stakes (G1)
Saturday, Saratoga Race Course, 5:46 p.m. EDT
3-year-olds, 1 1/4 miles, dirt
TV: NBC 4 P.M. – 6 P.M. ET
PP., Horse, Jockey, Trainer, Odds