Saturday’s Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets at Saratoga Race Course is restricted to 3-year-olds and is run at 1 ¼ miles on dirt.
Last week, class proved key as Accelerate was able to dominate the Grade 1 TVG Pacific Classic as the heavy favorite with an open-length win. Accelerate is a true Grade 1 horse – he was that going in, and he confirmed it yet again at Del Mar. His competition had not shown to be on the same level prior to the race, and thus the result was no surprise. It will be interesting to see what Accelerate does between now and the Breeders’ Cup Classic and which horses will improve to challenge him this fall.
This week, we head back to Saratoga and analyze a division that is seemingly wide open, now that Justify has retired. The 149th Travers is a real handicapping puzzle featuring some horses that were competitive in the Triple Crown series, some new horses that are looking to prove themselves, and a top 3-year-old filly.
There were some great questions (as always) this week, and I look forward to answering them.
1. “At 1 ¼ (miles), who truly wants the distance?” – @dgheat02 (Destin Heath)
Three-year-olds going into the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve all have the same questions when they attempt to run 1 ¼ miles for the first time. Nearly four months later, nearly the entire Travers field – minus Trigger Warning and King Zachary – has raced at that distance or farther. Trigger Warning looks vulnerable at this distance and in other areas as well. Mendelssohn has some questions regarding the distance, and it’s tough to gauge much from his Kentucky Derby performance, which was seemingly excusable based on his terrible trip. This mile-and-a-quarter distance might be beyond ideal for both Tenfold and Catholic Boy, especially when considering they might be compromised slightly from a pace scenario and/or speed figure perspective. Good Magic might not be his absolute best at this classic distance, but he has run well enough in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. The rest of the field has the staying ability or class to compete at this classic distance.
2. “Can she (Wonder Gadot) do it?” a – @WoodbineTB
While anything is possible, my feeling is that the star filly could be vulnerable in this spot. On the positive side, she has run well enough in Grade 1 races, and she has won at the distance, and on her best day she fits with this field in terms of speed figures. From a pace perspective, she might not get her ideal trip in the Travers. Since blinkers have been added two races ago, she has raced much closer to the pace. But some of the other horses in this field like Trigger Warning, Mendelssohn, and even Catholic Boy are quicker to the lead than she is. Wonder Gadot might have to use more early speed to gain a good position, and then horses like Bravazo and Good Magic can settle in the second flight and be quicker to the second call in the backstretch. That type of scenario can expose a runner in the late stages when horses make their winning moves. As a partner of OptixEQ, I rely on OptixPLOT and historically horses in Quad III, like Wonder Gadot, have not fared well on the win end in the last few years.
3. “Does Mendelssohn rebound for Aiden O’Brien?”– @Kev_Murph (Kevin Murphy)
My feeling regarding Mendelssohn going into the Travers has not changed from my feeling about him before the Kentucky Derby: he is a “win or run out” type. His race in Dubai, the UAE Derby Sponsored by Saeed & Mohammed Al Naboodah Group, was impressive, and his third-place finish last out in the Dwyer Stakes was decent considering the circumstances. I don’t think he was meant to win that race and probably wasn’t going to beat Firenze Fire, who gave an “unbelievable run.” He is a tough one to have full confidence about at this point, but he is not without a chance and will go off a better price than in his last couple U.S. races.
4. “Who is the speed?” – @jon13hud (Jonathan Hudson)
Without a doubt, the rail horse Trigger Warning will be going to the front, as it gives him his only chance to win. One of several horses could settle just behind him, exerting pace pressure. There is a scenario where Trigger Warning and Mendelssohn both vie for the lead, with a gap back to the others. Catholic Boy has enough early speed to run on the early lead as well. Considering Catholic Boy’s outside post position and his jockey’s desire to avoid too much kickback, that could be the plan with him. I have a hard time seeing any horse apart from those three out in front early. There will be a contentious group tracking the pace, as Wonder Gadot, Bravazo, and Good Magic should not be far behind.
5. “Who will win the 2018 Travers Stakes?” – @BreedersCup
One of the toughest parts of being a public handicapper instead of being the regular day-to-day horseplayer is always offering a “pick.” Sometimes my strongest opinion in a race is not always a “pick” but rather a horse or horses that offer no value as a win bet but is/are worthy of structuring an exotic bet such as an exacta, trifecta, or Pick-3 around. Analyzing the Travers, I view Good Magic as such a horse. I’m against Wonder Gadot for reasons listed above, and I’m against Gronkowski, the second choice on the morning line, as well. Gronkowski ran a big race in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets, but he needs to prove that the race was not an outlier, since his performance was much better than anything he did overseas. I also would have liked to have seen Gronkowski race since the Belmont. I am lukewarm on Catholic Boy from a trip, distance, and surface perspective. On OptixPLOT, typically Q1 Circles horses underperform in the Travers going back the last four years, and Catholic Boy’s profile is among that Q1 Circles group.
I have some concerns about Tenfold as well. He has not really progressed in accumulating higher speed figures, and drifting out late in races at this level (which he did when winning the Jim Dandy Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets) is not a positive attribute. Bravazo is a solid type, logical, and has been running against the best in this division throughout the year. King Zachary has to improve, but is moving forward and looks to be coming into this race the right way. He will appreciate the additional ground, and that could move him forward. Meistermind fits a similar profile as far as a horse with upside that will appreciate more distance. His last race was competitive when facing older horses earlier in the Saratoga meet. Vino Rosso clearly will be running from off the pace, but he is a touch soft on class to push as a strong win contender. However, he fits an OptixPLOT profile for horses that often finish in the money.
This is a fascinating handicapping puzzle and I’m really looking forward to the entire Saturday card.