2022 Travers Stakes Cheat Sheet: Get to Know the Horses

From left to right: Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike, Grade 1 winner Zandon, and Belmont Stakes winner Epicenter are part of a strong field assembled for the $1.25 million Runhappy Travers Stakes Aug. 27 at Saratoga Race Course. (Eclipse Sportswire)

In 2022, the 3-year-old dirt male division in North American Thoroughbred racing has been highly competitive with a pecking order constantly in flux. Three different horses won Triple Crown races and injuries and setbacks have affected the campaigns of several top contenders. That makes Saturday’s $1.25 million Runhappy Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course even more important than usual – this year’s renewal is shaping up to be a colossal battle for supremacy.

The 1 ¼-mile, Grade 1 Travers is the centerpiece of Saratoga’s meet and is, aside from the Triple Crown, the most sought after prize for 3-year-old racehorses. It’s been won by some of the sport’s biggest stars since its inaugural running way back in 1864, and 21 Travers victors have been named champion 3-year-old male since divisional honors first were awarded in 1936, when Granville won the race and was later voted champion.

Notable Travers winners since then include Whirlaway (1941, champion); Native Dancer (1953, champion); Gallant Man (1957); Sword Dancer (1959, champion); Buckpasser (1966, champion); Damascus (1967, champion); Arts and Letters (1969, champion); Alydar (1978, by DQ); Temperence Hill (1980, champion); Forty Niner (1988); Easy Goer (1989); Holy Bull (1994, champion); Thunder Gulch (1995, champion); Point Given (2001, champion); Medaglia d’Oro (2002); Bernardini (2006, champion); Street Sense (2007); Arrogate (2016, champion); and Essential Quality (2021, champion).

The 153rd Travers brings together a star-studded field highlighted by a rematch of the winner, runner-up, and third-place finisher of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve in Rich Strike, Epicenter, and Zandon, respectively. Other main contenders include Preakness Stakes winner Early Voting, TVG.com Haskell Stakes winner Cyberknife, and Curlin Stakes winner Artorius.

The Travers will be broadcast nationwide on FOX during NYRA’s “Saratoga Live” show, which covers the entire jam-packed Saturday card at the Spa including five other graded stakes. Post time is set for 5:44 p.m. ET.

Bet the world-famous Runhappy Travers Stakes this weekend with a $200 sign up bonus from NYRA Bets, the official betting partner of Saratoga Racetrack. Available in 31 states nationwide, NYRA Bets offers best-in-class HD live video and replays, online contests, exclusive player promotions, and expert picks and analysis. With an easy to use, free to download app, betting horse racing online with a $200 sign up bonus has never been easier. Download the NYRA Bets app today to get started.

Read on for information on all Travers Stakes contenders.

Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO

1. Cyberknife (7-2 morning-line odds)

Jockey: Florent Geroux

Trainer: Brad Cox

Owner: Gold Square

Career record: 9 starts – 5 wins – 2 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $1,596,520

Earnings per start: $177,391

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 104

Pedigree: Gun Runner – Awesome Flower, by Flower Alley

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Press the pace/stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Cyberknife was made the 7-2 second choice on the Travers Stakes morning line coming into the race off of an impressive Grade 1 win in the TVG.com Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park. The chestnut colt won the Arkansas Derby back in April to emerge as a Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve contender, and then rebounded from a no-show 18th in the run for the roses to post game back-to-back wins in the Matt Winn Stakes (by a nose) and the July 23 Haskell (by a head). This son of red-hot young sire Gun Runner may have career-best Equibase Speed Figures that are slightly below several of his Travers opponents, but he’s won four of his past five races and another win Saturday would arguably place him atop the 3-year-old division. He should also be forwardly placed in a Travers field that, aside from Early Voting, doesn’t have a lot of speed, which could be an advantage. Look for jockey Florent Geroux to be aggressive with him breaking from the rail post position. Since the Haskell, Cyberknife has put in three timed workouts on Saratoga’s main track, and signaled he’s ready for the Travers with a five-furlong drill in one minute flat on Aug. 20. His ability to handle the Travers’ mile-and-a-quarter distance is a question mark, but if Cyberknife is in contention when the field hits the homestretch, he’s a good bet to give it his all and keep fighting to the finish. As such, he’s a must-use in exacta and trifecta tickets. Reigning Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox won the Travers last year with Essential Quality.

Bet Cyberknife in the Travers Stakes

Eclipse Sportswire

2. Rich Strike (10-1)

Jockey: Sonny Leon

Trainer: Eric Reed

Owner: RED TR-Racing

Career record: 9 starts – 2 wins – 0 seconds – 3 thirds

Career earnings: $2,016,289

Earnings per start: $224,032

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 106

Pedigree: Keen Ice – Gold Strike, by Smart Strike

Color: Chestnut

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: What kind of year is it when the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve winner is considered a Travers outsider? Welcome to 2022. Anticipation was at full blast for Rich Strike in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets after he summoned an 80.80-1 Kentucky Derby shocker and his connections skipped the Preakness, but the deep closer never threatened at Big Sandy and finished sixth of eight, 13 ¼ lengths behind Mo Donegal. His Equibase Speed Figure dropped from 106 in the Derby to 90, raising the legitimate concern that his win on May 7 was an all-stars-aligned-in-the-cosmos fluke. Since the Belmont, Rich Strike trained steadily at Eric Reed’s Mercury Equine Center in Kentucky and at Churchill Downs prior to shipping north, and Reed expressed confidence that he’ll put forth a much better showing in the Travers (he’s been stabled with Dale Romans leading up to the race and blitzed five furlongs in :59.82 Aug. 19 in his first timed workout at Saratoga). From a pedigree standpoint, handling 1 ¼ miles is right up Rich Strike’s alley, as his sire Keen Ice authored another of the 21st Century’s greatest upsets when he reeled in Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the 2015 Travers. Let’s face it, though: this colt is a pace-dependent closer, and it’s unlikely that he’ll ever see the suicidal fractions from the 2022 Derby (:45.36 for a half-mile) again. Look for jockey Sonny Leon, who made his first start at Saratoga in the 2021 Jockey Club Gold Cup (last of six), to save ground and get Rich Strike in position to make his rally at the top of the stretch. Bouncing back from the Belmont to hit the board should be considered a success for this working-class hero, all things considered.

Bet Rich Strike in the Travers Stakes

Coady Photography

3. Ain’t Life Grand (20-1)

Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione

Trainer: Kelly Von Hemel

Owner: RPM Thoroughbreds

Career record: 8 starts – 5 wins – 0 seconds – 2 thirds

Career earnings: $399,883

Earnings per start: $49,985

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 106

Pedigree: Not This Time – Cat d’Oro, by Medaglia d’Oro

Color: Dark bay or brown

Running style: Stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Ain’t Life Grand is stabled with trainer Dale Romans at Saratoga while he prepares for the Travers. The Iowa-bred has fashioned a fine résumé since debuting in July 2021 competing in a decidedly lower rung on the class ladder. That being said, Ain’t Life Grand gives a consistent effort and is by one of the most promising young sires around in Not This Time. He also showed affinity for Saratoga’s track in his second timed workout there Aug. 20, speeding through four furlongs in :45.88, the fastest of 79 workouts at that distance on the day. Two starts back, Ain’t Life Grand earned a career-top 106 Equibase Speed Figure when he caught tiring pacesetter Conagher to win the 1 1/16-mile Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows, and subsequently he posted a seven-length win in the Iowa Stallion Futurity at the same track, a one mile and 70-yard, two-turn race on July 23. Conagher came back from the Iowa Derby to win a seven-furlong race at Colonial Downs and has established himself as an elite sprinter in the 3-year-old division, but Saturday’s field is a world apart from what Ain’t Life Grand has faced to date and the Travers’ 1 ¼-mile distance is a formidable hurdle as well. He’ll vie with Gilded Age as the longest shot in the Travers when the starting gates open and will need a career-best performance to sneak into the superfecta.

Bet Ain’t Life Grand in the Travers Stakes

Coady Photography

4. Gilded Age (30-1)

Jockey: Junior Alvarado

Trainer: Bill Mott

Owners: Grandview Equine and Don Alberto Stable

Career record: 8 starts – 2 wins – 1 second – 1 third

Career earnings: $204,579

Earnings per start: $25,572

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 97

Pedigree: Medaglia d’Oro – Angela Renee, by Bernardini

Color: Bay

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This Travers longshot has shown steady progress over the past nine months, hitting the board in all four starts in North America and earning Equibase Speed Figures in his two starts on these shores since a fruitless trip to Dubai when he finished 13th in the UAE Derby Sponsored by Mubadala. That being said, Gilded Age might be up against it in Saturday’s “Mid-Summer Derby”: he’s the only entrant without a stakes win to his name, and he has been decisively defeated by both Early Voting (third to him by 4 ½ lengths in the Withers Stakes back in February) and Artorius (second to him by 4 ¾ lengths last out in the July 29 Curlin Stakes). His two wins have come at Churchill Downs, where he rallied from off of the pace to break his maiden in November 2021 in a 1 1/16-mile race and then won a 1 1/8-mile allowance-optional claiming race on July 4 by a head after closing into a swift pace and charging through the stretch. He made up late ground again in the Curlin Stakes but was no threat to Artorius, and the overall pace scenario for the Travers doesn’t inspire confidence for this colt’s chances to post the upset. Gilded Age will be running late, perhaps in tandem with Rich Strike, and spicing up the superfecta payout should be considered a success in the Travers. His pedigree is solid for 1 ¼ miles as a son of 2002 Travers winner Medaglia d’Oro and out of a dam who won a Grade 1 stakes at 1 1/16 miles and is a full sister (same sire [father] and dam [mother]) to multiple Grade 1 winner To Honor and Serve. Hall of Famer Bill Mott has finished second three times in the Travers (Vision and Verse, 1999; Hold Me Back, 2009; Tacitus, 2019).

Bet Gilded Age in the Travers Stakes

NYRA/Susie Raisher

5. Artorius (9-2)

Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr.

Trainer: Chad Brown

Owner: Juddmonte Farms

Career record: 3 starts – 2 wins – 1 second – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $142,250

Earnings per start: $47,417

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 102

Pedigree: Arrogate – Paulassilverlining, by Ghostzapper

Color: Dark bay or brown

Running style: Stalker/closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Bettors seeking an alternative to the five graded stakes winners entered in Travers 153 have a viable option in this fast-rising contender. Artorius comes into the “Mid-Summer Derby” off of a visually impressive 4 ¾-length score over Gilded Age in the July 29 Curlin Stakes at the Spa. He stalked the pace through the far turn of the 1/8-mile Curlin and surged clear in early stretch before being geared down in the final sixteenth of a mile by jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. Prior to that start, he posted a game maiden win in a one-turn mile race at Belmont Park on June 10, and since the Curlin, he’s put in two timed workouts at the Spa, most recently a swift four-furlong drill in 47 seconds on Aug. 20. Artorius is a son of the late Arrogate, who set a Saratoga track record time of 1:59.36 for 1 ¼ miles when he dominated the 2016 Travers Stakes, and his dam is multiple Grade 1 winner and $1.5 million earner Paulassilverlining, a daughter of Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Ghostzapper who did her best running at seven furlongs. This Juddmonte Farms homebred is bred to succeed at the highest level and oozes with potential – will he fulfill it in the Travers? He’s facing another stratosphere in talent compared with the Curlin Stakes but should not be overlooked, especially in exotic wagers. Trainer Chad Brown is seeking his first Travers win; his colt Miles D finished third in last year’s race. Juddmonte Farms owned and bred Arrogate as well as 2019 Travers runner-up Tacitus. Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., currently leading the rider standings at the Spa in both wins and earnings, surprisingly hasn’t hit the board in 10 prior Travers starts. 

Bet Artorius in the Travers Stakes

NYRA/Janet Garaguso

6. Epicenter (7-5)

Jockey: Joel Rosario

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Owner: Winchell Thoroughbreds

Career record: 9 starts – 5 wins – 3 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $2,270,639

Earnings per start: $252,293

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 111

Pedigree: Not This Time – Silent Candy, by Candy Ride

Color: Bay

Running style: Press the pace/stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: After coming up short as the favorite in both the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve and the Preakness Stakes, Epicenter re-staked his claim as the best 3-year-old in training with an authoritative 1 ½-length win coming back off of 10 weeks’ rest in the July 20 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga. That win made him the clear-cut morning-line favorite in a strong Travers Stakes field, and if he makes even the slightest improvement in his second start off the layoff he’ll erase any remaining doubts about his place in the division heading into Breeders’ Cup season. Other than a sixth-place finish in his debut way back in September 2021, this Winchell Thoroughbreds homebred has never finished worse than second, and his runner-up finishes in the Derby and Preakness, while disappointing to his connections, were high-quality efforts. He put it all together in the Jim Dandy, rallying from last in a four-horse field to win going away over Zandon with minimal urging from regular rider Joel Rosario. Epicenter therefore should have plenty in the tank for the Travers, and he could use his tactical speed to be more forwardly placed in his second Saratoga start, perhaps sitting as close as third off of the pace through the backstretch before making a bid for the lead on the far turn. Even against this accomplished field, it would be surprising if Epicenter failed to hit the board Saturday evening, and not at all surprising if he secures that elusive Grade 1 win. He put in his final timed workout for the Travers Aug. 22 at Saratoga, breezing four furlongs in :50.03. Asmussen nearly won this race last year when Winchell Thoroughbreds’ Midnight Bourbon fell a neck short of Essential Quality. Rosario has finished third twice in the Travers.

Bet Epicenter in the Travers Stakes

Eclipse Sportswire

7. Early Voting (8-1)

Jockey: Jose Ortiz

Trainer: Chad Brown

Owner: Klaravich Stables

Career record: 5 starts – 3 wins – 1 second – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $1,347,500

Earnings per start: $269,500

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 106

Pedigree: Gun Runner – Amour d’Ete, by Tiznow

Color: Dark bay or brown

Running style: Pacesetter/press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Coming back off of an impressive win in the Preakness Stakes, Early Voting disappointed when tiring to finish fourth in the Jim Dandy Stakes won by Epicenter July 30 at Saratoga. Racing against only three opponents as the clear speed in the 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy, he set a moderate pace without a lot of pressure and remained in contention until early stretch only to drop anchor and finish last, 3 ¾ lengths behind Epicenter. In his Preakness win, Early Voting pressed the pace set by Armagnac and took over at will at the quarter-pole under Jose Ortiz to win by 1 ¼ lengths, with Epicenter rallying to get second. Perhaps this well-bred Gun Runner colt would best be served by pressing or stalking the pace rather than setting it … but on the other hand, there is no pure speed horse entered in this year’s Travers, so he might inherit the early lead once again. Based on pedigree and his success earlier in 2022 in two 1 1/8-mile races (a win and a second), Early Voting should be able to compete at the Travers’ classic 1 ¼-mile distance, and perhaps the Jim Dandy was just a needed tune-up after 10 weeks off (he’s posted two timed workouts since then, including a five-furlong breeze in 1:01 on Aug. 20). Can Early Voting call on a heretofore unseen reserve of stamina to defeat Epicenter, Zandon, and a handful of other top-class horses in the Travers? It’s doubtful but not impossible. Chad Brown’s best Travers finish from 12 prior starters came last year when Miles D checked in third. Jose Ortiz has finished second twice in this race (Moreno in 2013 and Tacitus in 2019).

Bet Early Voting in the Travers Stakes

Adam Coglianese/NYRA

8. Zandon (5-1)

Jockey: Flavien Prat

Trainer: Chad Brown

Owner: Jeff Drown

Career record: 6 starts – 2 wins – 2 seconds – 2 thirds

Career earnings: $1,133,000

Earnings per start: $188,883

Top Equibase Speed Figure: 109

Pedigree: Upstart – Memories Prevail, by Creative Cause

Color: Dark bay or brown

Running style: Stalker/closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Zandon ran a fine second to Epicenter in the July 30 Jim Dandy Stakes, which was his first race since finishing third with another good effort in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve behind Rich Strike and Epicenter. He can be expected to improve in his second start off the layoff, and that makes him a solid, second-line win candidate in a loaded Travers Stakes. Despite racing for leading Saratoga trainer Chad Brown, this colt actually has a bit of an underdog aura, as he is by a young and relatively unproven sire in Upstart and was bought for $170,000 as a yearling by owner Jeff Drown. On the track, he’s never missed the board through six starts and could very well have his best racing ahead of him. He’s been training steadily at Saratoga over the past six weeks, breezing five furlongs in 1:00.65 Aug. 20 in his final Travers tune-up. Zandon is an off-the-pace runner who should benefit from a larger field in Saturday’s contest than in the four-horse Jim Dandy, and getting an extra eighth of a mile to work with is another advantage. Expect him to be wheeling into contention at the top of the stretch under regular jockey Flavien Prat. There’s not a lot of early speed lined up for the Travers on paper, but this colt has been far too consistent and classy to leave off of exotic tickets. Chad Brown-trained Miles D finished third in last year’s race, with Prat aboard in his Travers debut.

Bet Zandon in the Travers Stakes

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