The 147th running of the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers Stakes field consists of 14 horses, 13 of which weren't scared away one bit by the presence of Grade 1 Haskell Invitational Stakes winner Exaggerator, who also took two other Grade 1 stakes this year, the Santa Anita Derby and Preakness.
Belmont Stakes winner Creator is back to make amends after a disappointing sixth-place finish behind upset winner Laoban in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes over the track last month. Jim Dandy runner-up Governor Malibu and third-place finisher Destin also attempt to move up among some of the nation's best 3-year-olds in a race also known as the Mid-Summer Derby. Haskell runner-up American Freedom as well as the first and second finishers in the Curlin Stakes, Connect and Gift Box, are two more to be respected as contenders.
In recent history, only horses that have finished first or second in their most recent race have ended up winning the Travers, and with one exception in the last few years, those horses made their start prior to the Travers in either the Jim Dandy Stakes or Haskell Invitational. The lone exception was 2014 winner V.E. Day, who won the Curlin Stakes prior to his Travers win.
Using those factors, I'll take a shot with Governor Malibu to post the upset. Beaten just a length and a quarter by Laoban in the Jim Dandy, Governor Malibu has recent experience over the track which may prove significant against some that are running over it for the first time. Fourth in a very troubled trip in the Belmont Stakes, Governor Malibu then earned a career-best 111 Equibase Speed Figure in the Jim Dandy and should get a great trip behind likely early leader Laoban, who won't be able to go as slowly as he did (49 seconds for the opening half-mile) when posting the upset last month. With a nice target to set his sights on, Governor Malibu and jockey Joel Rosario may get first run on the tiring leader before some of the other horses with a better late kick get into high gear, allowing just enough margin to hang on for the upset win in this year's Travers.
Exaggerator also has prior experience at Saratoga, having won the Saratoga Special Stakes last summer in the second start of his career. Since then he’s earned over $3.5 million wining four graded stakes, including the Haskell Invitational in his most recent race. Earning 108 figures in both the Haskell and in the Preakness two races before that, Exaggerator has proven his best efforts are good enough to win the Travers. Some may feel he can only win on a wet track, as his wins in the Haskell, Preakness and Santa Anita Derby all came on sloppy racetracks. However, not only did Exaggerator win the Saratoga Special on a dry track last year, he also ran one of his best races ever in the Kentucky Derby when finishing second behind Nyquist, so there is no doubt in my mind he will be one of the few in the thick of the action at the finish.
Connect is on an identical pattern to 2014 Travers winner V. E. Day, who I picked in this analysis and who paid off handsomely. Winner of a maiden race in May in only his second career start (102 figure), Connect then improved to a 103 figure winning an allowance level race in June, before a new career-best 106 figure winning the Curlin Stakes last month over the track at the same distance of both the Haskell and Jim Dandy. Being more lightly raced than most of the rest in the Travers field, Connect has a lot of improving he can do here. As trainer Chad Brown celebrated his 1,000th career win on Wednesday at Saratoga and is the leading trainer at the meeting, Connect could add another mark to this top trainer's record.
For exotic wagers like the exacta and trifecta, three more horses warrant consideration, particularly for the second and third positions on those tickets. American Freedom earned a strong 106 figure when second in the Haskell and removes blinkers for the Travers, which suggests he will be running behind the pacesetters today. Considering Laoban and some others may set a fast pace and considering that American Freedom earned a 109 figure winning the Iowa Derby before the Haskell, he could be in the mix at the end. My Man Sam finished second at Saratoga (103 figure) in a prep for the Travers last month after not having been seen since an 11th place finish in the Kentucky Derby. He finished fast from 13th to second in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes in April so has proven competitive at the level and may come in under the radar of many bettors. Laoban won't likely get away with the dawdling pace that allowed him to post the 27-to-1 upset in the Jim Dandy (113 figure), but he has proven tough even when headed as when he held on for second in the Gotham Stakes so he has to be considered as one who can stick around at the finish.
The rest of the Travers Stakes field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures is Arrogate (113), Anaximandros (99), Creator (106), Destin (111), Forever d'Oro (100), Gift Box (104), Gun Runner (114) and Majesto (102).