For the longest time, the Runhappy Travers Stakes has been considered a Derby, specifically the “Mid-Summer Derby.” Yet in a world battling COVID-19, the 2020 Travers is actually more like the first Saturday in May Kentucky Derby than the actual Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve in September.
The reason for this reversal of roles is that when the Kentucky Derby was shifted to Sept. 5, the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets became the first jewel in the Triple Crown and its distance was sliced to 1 1/8 miles. As a result, no one in a field of eight for the Grade 1 Travers has been tested at its 1 ¼-mile distance, which is usually a key element in the Kentucky Derby, and no one can speak with certainty about how any of Saturday’s starters will handle the 10 furlongs. As much as there’s the same type of uncertainty that blooms in May, on the bright side, at least in September there could finally be a Kentucky Derby with a few horses who experience racing at 1 ¼ miles.
1. First Line (30-1): His connections had high hopes for him from day one, but it took him four cracks to break his maiden – and when he did, it was by a neck at 12-1. To wheel him back in the Travers against the Belmont Stakes winner seems a bit ambitious, to say the least.
JOCKEY: David Cohen; TRAINER: Orlando Noda
2. Country Grammer (6-1): Back in January, trainer Chad Brown believed he would be his best Kentucky Derby prospect. With some help from a revised Triple Crown schedule, he just might be there at Churchill Downs. He was a gutsy winner of the Peter Pan Stakes on opening day and would be helped considerably if there’s a brutal pace in front of him.
JOCKEY: Irad Ortiz Jr.; TRAINER: Chad Brown
3. Uncle Chuck (5-2): When trainer Bob Baffert loads a horse on a plane and ships him cross-country, pay close attention. He may not have the seasoning to win this race, but he has the kind of speed could make him hard to catch. He has some obstacles to overcome, but his connections are well-versed in handling those problems.
JOCKEY: Luis Saez; TRAINER: Bob Baffert
4. Max Player (6-1): He was third behind Tiz the Law in the Belmont Stakes and should appreciate the added distance. He’ll need a quick pace to be effective, but chances are he’ll get it.
JOCKEY: Joel Rosario; TRAINER: Linda Rice
5. Shivaree (30-1): He figures to be out there on the lead with Uncle Chuck and he did finish second to Tiz the Law in the Curlin Florida Derby. But after finishing 11th last time out in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes, it’s unlikely he’ll be around at the finish here.
JOCKEY: Junior Alvarado; TRAINER: Ralph Nicks
6. Tiz the Law (even-money): He’s a perfect 3-for-3 this year, with two of the wins coming in two of the best races for 3-year-olds, the Florida Derby and Belmont Stakes. He’s won five of six overall, and has yet to win by a margin of less than three lengths. Maybe the 1 ¼ miles will be an equalizer, but for now he’s definitely the one to beat.
JOCKEY: Manny Franco; TRAINER: Barclay Tagg
7. Caracaro (10-1): Came out on the wrong end of a lively stretch duel with Country Grammer in the Peter Pan. It was a promising effort, considering it was first race against winners. Not sure if he wants 1 ¼ miles, but what will help immeasurably is having the services of Mr. Travers, jockey Javier Castellano, who has a record six wins in the “Mid-Summer Derby.”
JOCKEY: Javier Castellano; TRAINER: Gustavo Delgado
8. South Bend (15-1): He’s new to trainer Bill Mott’s barn and is versatile enough to run well on dirt or turf. He has the kind of late kick that makes him a nice fit at the distance and is nicely priced in the morning line. There are surely things to like about him.
JOCKEY: Jose Ortiz; TRAINER: Bill Mott
THE PICK: Tiz the Law
LIVE LONGSHOT: South Bend