2020 Runhappy Travers Stakes Cheat Sheet

Tiz the Law, shown during his final workout in preparation for the Aug. 8 Travers Stakes, is the morning-line favorite for the 151st running of the historic race at Saratoga. (Susie Raisher/NYRA Photo)

One of the annual summer highlights of the horse racing calendar takes on an added importance in a year where COVID-19 has disrupted every aspect of social life. Traditionally a late-August, “Mid-Summer” affair, this year’s 151stRunhappy Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course has been moved up three weeks in light of the rescheduled Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve on Sept. 5.

The $1 million, Grade 1 Travers has been added to the Road to the Kentucky Derby qualifying points series, and awarded 170 points distributed to the top four finishers on a 100-40-20-10 scale. Furthermore, held at its usual 1 ¼ miles, it will require horses to travel the classic distance of the Kentucky Derby four weeks ahead of the run for the roses, a major departure from the usual Derby prep schedule that does not include any mile-and-a-quarter races.

Tiz the Law, the unquestioned leader in the 3-year-old division and the winner of the first leg of the 2020 Triple Crown, the June 20 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets, headlines a field that also includes Belmont third-place finisher Max Player and unbeaten California invader Uncle Chuck.

The Travers anchors a Saturday card at Saratoga that also includes four other graded stakes. The Fox Sports show “Saratoga Live” will televise the entire card Saturday at Saratoga, and the Runhappy Travers will be shown nationwide on FOX during a broadcast from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. ET.

For a TV/live streaming/radio schedule, click here.

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Read on for information on all of the 2020 Runhappy Travers Stakes contenders.

1. First Line (30-1)

Jockey: David Cohen

Trainer: Orlando Noda

Owners: Noda Brothers

Career record: 4 starts – 1 wins – 1 second – 1 third

Career earnings: $64,960

Earnings per start: $16,240

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 96

Kentucky Derby points: 0

Pedigree: First Samurai – Street Line, by Street Cry

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This gelding is almost guaranteed to be the longest shot in the Travers field when the gates open early Saturday evening. He enters off of a maiden score at the Spa on July 29, where he sat just off the lead early in the 1 1/8-mile race and outfinished the pacesetter in the stretch to win by a neck. First Line improved mightily in that race compared with his first two starts in 2020, when he finished second in February at Aqueduct and then third in June at Belmont Park in six-furlong maiden races. He boosted his Equibase Speed Figure from 75 to 96 in his Saratoga win, which is encouraging, and jockey David Cohen should have him forwardly placed in Saturday’s Travers along with Shivaree and possibly Caracaro. However, this son of First Samurai from the family of champion Serena’s Song concedes graded stakes experience to every one of his opponents, and it’s tough to see him hanging around in the homestretch when Tiz the Law and the other top contenders turn it up a notch. Cohen earned a memorable victory in the 2012 Travers when his mount, Golden Ticket, finished in a dead heat for first with Alpha.

Bet First Line in the Travers Stakes

Chelsea Durand/NYRA Photo

2. Country Grammer (6-1)

Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.

Trainer: Chad Brown

Owner: Paul Pompa Jr.

Career record: 5 starts – 2 wins – 0 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $117,320

Earnings per start: $23,464

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 98

Kentucky Derby points: 50

Pedigree: Tonalist – Arabian Song, by Forestry

Color: Bay

Running style: Stalker/Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Country Grammer enters the Travers off of a gritty neck win over Caracaro in the Peter Pan Stakes at Saratoga on July 16. In the Peter Pan, he capitalized on a skillful ground-saving ride by Eclipse Award winner Irad Ortiz Jr. to cut the corner at the top of the stretch and gain a slight advantage over his rival, holding him at bay in deep stretch to post his first stakes win. This son of 2014 Belmont Stakes winner and Travers third-place finisher Tonalist has been patiently handled by fellow Eclipse Award winner Chad Brown since debuting last October, and it’s encouraging that both of his wins to date have come at 1 1/8 miles and with Irad Ortiz aboard. With 50 qualifying Kentucky Derby points, Country Grammer probably does not need to win the Travers to make the Sept. 5 starting gate, and the presence of Tiz the Law and Max Player plus Uncle Chuck and comebacking Caracaro make Saturday’s field considerably tougher than the one he faced in Peter Pan. Still, his sharp Aug. 1 workout at the Spa (four furlongs in :47.66) indicates that this improving runner is ready to produce another top effort. Irad Ortiz and Chad Brown are still seeking their first Travers win despite many tries: Ortiz’s best finish came in 2014 when fourth aboard Kid Cruz, and Brown-trained Gift Box finished fourth in 2016.

Bet Country Grammer in the Travers Stakes

BENOIT photo

3. Uncle Chuck (5-2)

Jockey: Luis Saez

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Owners: Mike Pegram, Karl Watson, and Paul Weitman

Career record: 2 starts – 2 wins – 0 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $120,000

Earnings per start: $60,000

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 98

Kentucky Derby points: 20

Pedigree: Uncle Mo – Forest Music, by Unbridled’s Song

Color: Dark bay or brown

Running style: Press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Elevated to the top echelon of Bob Baffert’s once-loaded 2020 Kentucky Derby stable after horses such as Nadal and Charlatan suffered injuries, Uncle Chuck enters the Travers with only two career starts, both of them victories. After winning his debut in a two-turn, one mile race at Santa Anita Park by seven lengths, he graduated to graded stakes winner in his follow-up, defeating stablemate Thousand Words by four lengths in the 1 1/8-mile Los Alamitos Derby on July 4. In that race, he showed improvement in terms of maturity by rating off of the pace through the backstretch, but still raced a bit greenly as he kicked clear in the stretch, refusing to switch leads. (Thousand Words subsequently upset highly regarded Kentucky Derby contender Honor A. P. in the Shared Belief Stakes.) There’s no doubting this colt’s talent and fitness (he posted a bullet five-furlong work at Del Mar on Aug. 1 in 1:00.20), and his pedigree should give him enough stamina to handle 1 ¼ miles. Still, the Travers is only his third career race, and Uncle Chuck has defeated seven horses total in his two starts. Uncle Chuck has a nice cruising running style, and it will be incumbent on jockey Luis Saez to judge the early pace and keep enough of his mount’s stamina in reserve for what should be an exciting stretch run. Saez is already familiar with Uncle Chuck, having been aboard for the Los Al Derby win, and that’s a plus. Saez won the 2013 Travers aboard eventual champion Will Take Charge. Baffert has three Travers wins, and all of those came with colts that also subsequently won Eclipse Awards as champion 3-year-old male: Horse of the Year Point Given (2001); stakes and track-record setter Arrogate (2016); and West Coast (2017). (He’s also finished second twice, most memorably with Horse of the Year and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in 2015.) Arrogate and West Coast were similar to Uncle Chuck in that they were late-developing types, and in their respective seasons they missed the Triple Crown but dominated the late summer and fall. Given a Kentucky Derby reprieve in this most unusual year, Uncle Chuck needs to finish at least second for his owners to feel safe about their Derby chances as he currently has only 20 qualifying points. The pressure is therefore very high for this talented runner to at least fill out the Travers exacta against a tough field.

Bet Uncle Chuck in the Travers Stakes

Elsa Lorieul/NYRA Photo

4. Max Player (6-1)

Jockey: Joel Rosario

Trainer: Linda Rice

Owners: George Hall and SportBLX Thoroughbreds Corp.

Career record: 4 starts – 2 wins -1 second – 1 third

Career earnings: $273,500

Earnings per start: $68,375

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 105

Kentucky Derby points: 40

Pedigree: Honor Code – Fools in Love, by Not For Love

Color: Dark bay or brown

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Max Player should vie with Uncle Chuck and Country Grammer for the second betting choice at post time in Saturday’s Travers behind Tiz the Law, and he’s a must-use horse in exacta tickets. After winning the Withers Stakes back on Feb. 1 at Aqueduct, trainer Linda Rice kept him out of competition as the COVID-19 pandemic roiled the racing world and society at large, bringing him back for a very tough assignment in the June 20 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets. Max Player trailed early in the one-turn, 1 1/8-mile Belmont but got into gear through the turn and churned on to finish third, 5 ¼ lengths behind Tiz the Law and 1 ½ lengths behind runner-up Dr Post. He’s been training steadily since his comeback race, posting five workouts at Belmont Park, and should be fit and ready for an improved effort in his second start following the long layoff. This son of Honor Code from the A.P. Indy sire line doesn’t have an electric turn of foot and may not get a particularly fast early pace to close into in the Travers, but he does have one of the best finishing riders in the business aboard in Joel Rosario and should have no problem handing a mile and a quarter. Rosario’s best Travers finish in five prior starts came aboard third-place Tonalist in 2014. Linda Rice and co-owner George Hall have each sent one horse to the Travers in years past; Rice’s Kid Cruz finished fourth in 2014 and Hall’s Belmont Stakes winner Ruler On Ice (co-owned with Lori Hall) finished fourth in 2011.

Bet Max Player in the Travers Stakes

Ryan Thompson/Coglianese Photo

5. Shivaree (30-1)

Jockey: Junior Alvarado

Trainer: Ralph Nicks

Owner: Fred Brei

Career record: 12 starts – 3 wins – 3 seconds – 2 thirds

Career earnings: $345,505

Earnings per start: $28,792

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 106

Kentucky Derby points: 40

Pedigree: Awesome of Course – Garter Belt, by Anasheed

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Shivaree is seeking redemption in the Travers Stakes after an 11th-place effort in his most recent start, the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes on July 11 at Keeneland. He’s a longshot win candidate against a tough field, but should have a say in how the race shape develops as he’s one of the few horses entered with early speed. In the Blue Grass, he was part of the front rank contesting the pace through the backstretch, but he retreated coming out of the far turn to finish 18 lengths behind winner Art Collector. This Florida-bred emerged over the winter with three straight wins at sprint distances, including two stakes races at Gulfstream Park, and he jumped on the Kentucky Derby trail with a gritty runner-up effort to Tiz the Law in the 1 1/8-mile Curlin Florida Derby on March 28 , where he earned a career-best Equibase Speed Figure. But since that race he tired in deep stretch to finish second in a one-mile Gulfstream allowance and then disappointed in the Blue Grass. He’ll be up against it to say the least as he attempts to stretch out to a mile and a quarter in the Travers, although if he’s able to shake off his Blue Grass start and can set a modest pace he could hang around until early stretch. Jockey Junior Alvarado will be riding Shivaree for the first time; he finished third in the 2013 Travers aboard Fast Falcon.

Bet Shivaree in the Travers Stakes

Eclipse Sportswire

6. Tiz the Law (1-1)

Jockey: Manny Franco

Trainer: Barclay Tagg

Owner: Sackatoga Stable

Career record: 6 starts – 5 wins – 0 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $1,480,300

Earnings per start: $246,717

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 117

Kentucky Derby points: 272

Pedigree: Constitution – Tizfiz, by Tiznow

Color: Bay

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: There are some very interesting contenders lined up for the Travers Stakes, horses with a lot of untapped potential heading in the right direction. Caracaro, Country Grammer, Max Player, and Uncle  Chuck certainly qualify. That being said, Tiz the Law towers over this field in all aspects – and having only made six career starts, he’s got plenty of upside, too. Though three starts this year at 3, this physically striking colt owned by Sackatoga Stable of Funny Cide fame is undefeated and has yet to be seriously challenged, winning the Holy Bull Stakes, the Curlin Florida Derby, and the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Stakes by a combined 11 lengths. In the June 20 Belmont, shortened to a one-turn 1 1/8 miles and placed first in the Triple Crown series due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tiz the Law sat in a stalking position behind the early leaders as usual and took over on jockey Manny Franco’s cue on the turn to draw clear of nine opponents and win with plenty in reserve. Now, he returns to two turns and extends another furlong for the Travers, and there’s nothing in his pedigree or past performances that suggest he’ll have trouble stretching out. He’s also got winning experience at Saratoga, having turned heads at last summer’s meet with a 4 ¼-length romp in his career debut, and he’s been training lights out at the Spa in recent weeks, posting a bullet five-furlong workout on Aug. 1 in :59.94. Having amassed a division-leading 272 Kentucky Derby points, Tiz the Law obviously doesn’t need to win the Travers (or even finish in the superfecta) in order to qualify for Derby 146 … but it would be very surprising if he doesn’t run well enough to convince trainer Barclay Tagg and Sackatoga to send him along to Churchill Downs, where he suffered his only career defeat last fall on a sloppy track.

Bet Tiz the Law in the Travers Stakes

Lauren KIng/Coglianese Photo

7. Caracaro (10-1)

Jockey: Javier Castellano

Trainer: Gustavo Delgado

Owners: Top Racing and Global Thoroughbreds

Career record: 3 starts – 1 win – 2 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $53,800

Earnings per start: $17,933

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 104

Kentucky Derby points: 20

Pedigree: Uncle Mo – Peace Time, by War Front

Color: Bay

Running style: Press the pace/stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Caracaro returned after a six-month absence in a very tough assignment, jumping into graded stakes company on July 16 in the Peter Pan Stakes at Saratoga. Coming off of a sharp maiden win at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 11, he had solid support in the Peter Pan at odds of 3.20-1 and validated that backing with a game runner-up effort to Country Grammer. After stalking the pace, Caracaro swept into contention racing four wide at the top of the stretch in the Peter Pan, while Country Grammer moved up along the rail. The two dueled throughout the final furlong, and the ground loss plus some late bumping may have cost Caracaro the victory. Since then, this son of champion Uncle Mo has posted one easy workout at Saratoga on Aug. 1, and if he can improve a bit in his second start off of the layoff he’s got a good chance to hit the board in Saturday’s Travers. A third-place Travers finish and 20 more qualifying points would put him on the fence for making the Kentucky Derby starting gate on Sept. 5, but first or second would seal the deal. Look for Hall of Fame rider Javier Castellano to position Caracaro close to the pace in a Travers field that lacks much early speed. Castellano has won the Travers a record six times: Bernardini (2006); Afleet Express (2010); Stay Thirsty (2011); V. E. Day (2014); Keen Ice (2015); and Catholic Boy (2018).

Bet Caracaro in the Travers Stakes

Coady Photography

8. South Bend (15-1)

Jockey: Jose Ortiz

Trainer: Bill Mott

Owners: Peter Deutsch, Gary Barber, Wachtel Stable, and Pantofel Stable

Career record: 11 starts – 3 wins – 2 seconds – 2 thirds

Career earnings: $325,114

Earnings per start: $29,556

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 103

Kentucky Derby points: 8

Pedigree: Algorithms – Sandra’s Rose, by Old Trieste

Color: Bay

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This colt makes his first start in Bill Mott’s barn after showing promise several times through his first 11 starts while trained by Stanley Hough. He was purchased privately by his new owners after his most recent start, a late-closing runner-up finish behind Dean Martini in the Ohio Derby on June 27. That was his first start back on dirt after he raced in five consecutive turf stakes, finishing second once and third twice. South Bend made his first four career starts on dirt during 2019 and early 2020 and started out 2-for-2, including a win in the one-mile Street Sense Stakes at Churchill Downs last October. Overall, this son of Algorithms is a solid second-tier contender worthy of consideration for trifecta and superfecta tickets in the Travers. Jockey Jose Ortiz will be aboard for the first time and should have his mount positioned in the rear guard of horses behind what projects to be a modest pace before calling on his late kick when the field turns for home. If he repeats, or better yet, improves on his Ohio Derby showing, South Bend is certainly capable of picking off some horses in the Travers homestretch, but he’ll need to finish first or second – tall orders both – in order to move on to the Kentucky Derby. Ortiz has finished second twice in the Travers, in his debut aboard Moreno in 2013 and last year on Tacitus. Hall of Famer Mott has also come close in the Travers with three runner-up finishes: Vision and Verse (1999); Hold Me Back (2009); and Tacitus.

Bet South Bend in the Travers Stakes

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