The $1 million, Grade 1 Runhappy Travers Stakes is undoubtedly the biggest race on a star-studded card at Saratoga Race Course on Saturday, Aug. 8. With four weeks to go until the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on the first Saturday in September, it’s one of the last three opportunities for horses to gain points on the “Road to the Kentucky Derby” which will allow them to reserve a spot in the starting gate next month. (The last two races in the series are the Ellis Park Derby on Sunday, Aug. 9 and the Pegasus Stakes on Saturday, Aug. 15.)
The eight-horse field for the Travers is headlined by division leader Tiz the Law, who is undefeated in three races this year. As the qualifying points leader, Tiz the Law doesn’t need to win the race to run in the Kentucky Derby, but considering how he has dominated the division this winter, spring and summer it is likely he will win. Country Grammer and Caracaro arguably are horses that can improve and provide the favorite with a challenge, having just finished first and second, respectively, in the Grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes at Saratoga last month. Uncle Chuck ships out from California for trainer Bob Baffert, having scratched out of the Shared Belief Stakes last week for this race. He enters the race off a win in the Grade 3 Los Alamitos Derby and is the most lightly raced horse in the field, having run just twice to date in his career. South Bend proved competitive in the 3-year-old division when last seen at the end of June, rallying from 10th in the early stages to come up just three-quarters of a length shy of winning the Grade 3 Ohio Derby. Max Player also rallied late in a divisional race when third in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets in June but still was 5 ¼ lengths in arrears of Tiz the Law. Shivaree made his mark earlier this year when second behind Tiz the Law in the Grade 1 Curlin Florida Derby but most recently finished 11th in the Grade 2 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes. First Line rounds out the field, taking a huge step up in class following a maiden victory at Saratoga 10 days ago.
In terms of how fast he’s run, Tiz the Law stands out in this year’s Runhappy Travers field. In his first start as a 3-year-old in February, Tiz the Law earned a spectacular 117 Equibase Speed Figure for his victory in the Holy Bull Stakes, which is unheard of for that time of year. Nearly two months later when dominating in the Florida Derby by 4 ¼ lengths, Tiz the Law earned a 112 figure, and then following nearly three more months off he earned a 113 figure winning the Belmont Stakes. Not only did Tiz the Law beat a total of 23 other horses in those three races by an average of 3 ½ lengths, he never gave any other horse a chance to win in the last eighth of a mile. Putting those figures in perspective, they amount to a “triple advantage,” as the lowest of his three figures is higher than the best figure of any of the other seven horses in Saturday’s race. With the ability to relax in second or third in the early stages of his races then find another gear to drive by the field and coast home, Tiz the Law is likely to win the Travers Stakes as easily as he has won his other three races this year and enter the gate for the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby as a prohibitive favorite.
That being said, it is not totally out of the realm of possibility that either Caracaro or Country Grammer could post the upset and win the Travers. Three weeks ago in the July 16 Peter Pan Stakes, run at a mile and an eighth at Saratoga, Country Grammer and Caracaro engaged in a stirring stretch battle, with Caracaro securing the advantage by a head with an eighth of a mile to go and Country Grammer asserting himself on the finish line by a neck. They both earned 95 figures for the race, which isn’t even in the same area code as the 113 figure Tiz the Law earned a few weeks earlier winning the Belmont Stakes. Still, both colts had run better prior to that and have the breeding to run even better at the Travers’ mile and one-quarter distance. Caracaro improved to a 104 figure in January in only the second start of his career, an 11-point improvement off his debut. As such, having been off from January until the Peter Pan six months later, improving another 11 points off the 95 figure effort puts him in line with the 117 figure effort Tiz the Law put forth in his best race this year. Country Grammer had been off for three months before his June 4 prep for the Peter Pan in which he finished third with a 98 figure, and he too could leapfrog past that previous best to have a big say in the outcome of the Travers.
The rest of the field, with their best Equibase Speed Figures, is First Line (96), Max Player (105), Shivaree (106), South Bend (98 on dirt) and Uncle Chuck (98).
Tiz the Law