Handicapping

Saratoga Skinny: Travers Jump Start

Jose Ortiz celebrates winning the Haskell aboard Good Magic (Credit: EQUI-PHOTO)

The story of this Saratoga summer has sadly been soggy.

With 43 total races rained off of the turf and some of the meet’s biggest graded stakes run over a muddy dirt or a soft turf course, fans and handicappers alike are looking for a ray of sunshine through the clouds that have shrouded the country’s most prestigious meet.

A breath of fresh air and clear weather may arrive just in time for Travers Day this Saturday, the super-sized spectacle that features six Grade 1s and a Grade 2.

For bettors that have trudged through Saratoga’s several puddles and are looking to turn the tables on the meet, Saturday is indeed the time to shine. With large pools, large fields, and some of the country’s best runners on display, the opportunities to score are abundant – if a focused approach is formulated.

Too often, bettors just handicap and don’t take the time to construct tickets and map out wagers. With the Travers Day probables already out, it’s time to jump start your strategy and begin formulating where your strongest opinions reside.

Without further delay, let’s first analyze the headline event by collecting all of the important replays into one place, then throughout the week, RacingDudes.com will have articles and podcasts studying the rest of the card. Hopefully, you formulate some ideas that help build a foundation towards Saturday’s big day.

The Mid-Summer Derby

The Pick 4 ending with the Travers will have a massive pool and be one of the most sought-after wagers to hit all meet, but the Travers itself is a great betting opportunity, with a field of at least 10 likely to enter the gate.

Right now, I’ll have to go chalky here and pick the likely betting favorite (and defending Juvenile champ) Good Magic. He looked strong in his Grade 1 Haskell Invitational triumph at Monmouth to end July, and with a runner-up finish in the Kentucky Derby at the same 1 1/4-mile distance as the Travers, he’s proven the ability to go long, even though it may not be optimal. In the Derby, Audible was running at him late, but Good Magic held on for the place by a nose, so even though it’s likely that the son of Curlin may be wobbly-legged in the latter stages of the Travers, who’s at his class level that’ll be coming at him late? With Hofburg skipping the Travers due to a fever, I’m not sure if any other entry here will have the late kick needed to track down Good Magic in the final 100 yards. Below, you can watch Good Magic chase Justify in the Kentucky Derby before cruising in the much easier Haskell:

Additionally, the pace that he attended in the Derby was much faster than the pace that he’s likely to face in the Travers, so Good Magic should be able to use his tactical speed to sit a very good trip throughout. The Haskell – Travers double is a tough task to conquer and hasn’t been accomplished since Point Given did it in 2001, but leaning on Good Magic to do it this year is where most of my multi-race money will reside.

Travers Backups

On backup tickets, I’ll try to get away with using the only two horses that I think are developing enough and can excel at the distance: Catholic Boy and Tenfold.

Catholic Boy is a true classic distance horse, and even though he may be better on turf, he could’ve been a threat in the Kentucky Derby if he hadn’t bled in the Grade 1 Florida Derby. When I interviewed his trainer Jonathan Thomas as part of my Generation Now series, he told me that the incident was a one-off event, so there should be little fear that the Grade 1 Belmont Derby winner will bleed again upon returning to dirt. He has immense heart that can’t be measured in his past performances and he won’t be giving up late. Watch the replay below to see what I mean:

Tenfold is the type of horse that I just can’t let beat me in the Travers, so I’ll have to use him as a backup, too. His Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes win left a lot to be desired, especially when he lugged out late and nearly lost, but trainer Steve Asmussen said that he just seemed distracted by the infield Jumbotron. Tenfold is still developing, and who knows if we’ve seen this son of Curlin’s best yet. He also has the advantage of having won over this course before, as you can see below:

Lastly, maybe use Mendelssohn on multi-race tickets as a back-up, just on the chance he gets loose on the lead over a speed-favoring track like he did in his Group 2 UAE Derby romp (seen below). He’s a win-or-bust-type.

Travers Underneath Plays

For in-race wagers, using Bravazo underneath Good Magic, Catholic Boy, and Tenfold may be the play. Bravazo is always lurking around late in big races, including runner-up finishes in the Haskell and the Preakness Stakes, which he very nearly won, as you can see (most of it, anyway) below:

Playing Against

When it comes to a large field, you can’t play them all. You have to make some tough decisions about who can or can’t beat you. The Belmont Stakes runner-up Gronkowski is entering after a long layoff and an undisclosed setback, which are enough reasons for me to take a stand against. I can’t back Vino Rosso’s inconsistent performances and running style, and what trainer Mark Casse is doing by running his filly Wonder Gadot versus the boys here is admirable, but this is a major class test. These three should take a good deal of money and give more value to my choices above. Expect New England Patriots fans to play Gronkowski (seen below in the Belmont), those who liked Vino Rosso’s late Jim Dandy charge to throw money at him, and fans of the Canadian champion Wonder Gadot to deflate her odds.

The other potential entries – King Zachary, Meistermind, and Trigger Warning – all seem to be a cut below.

Wrap-Up

Using the ABC method for multi-race plays to rank the 2018 Travers runners before the post position draw, here’s how I break them down:

A: Good Magic

B: Catholic Boy, Tenfold

C: Mendelssohn

As stated before, underneath plays in the exacta, trifecta, and superfecta should include Bravazo. It’s still early, and these opinions may be altered before the gates fly open, but right now, this is where my opinions are for the big race. Now I can focus on growing out my strategy on the undercard during the week.

I’ll be covering Travers Day all week long, so please follow me on Twitter @SaratogaSlim for continuous updates and feel free to hit me up if you’ll be there!

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