Each week on Dark Tuesdays, we will bring you “The Saratoga Skinny” looking at the coming week of racing at Saratoga and looking back at the big action the week before. “The Saratoga Skinny” will be broken into five sections: The Break (looking at the biggest story of the week), The Turn (focusing on Stakes races on Saturdays), The Stretch (focusing on big races in the upcoming weeks), Going to the Whip (some thoughts on the week before and a few light-hearted jokes, when appropriate), and The Finish Line (discussing important events in Saratoga). Now that you know how “The Saratoga Skinny” works, let’s get into it!
The Break: Travers Distance
For this week’s Saratoga Skinny, we’ll evaluate the 2017 Travers field by asking one simple question about each of the entries:
“Can this horse thrive at the grueling 1 1/4 mile distance of the Travers?”
Run at the same distance as the Kentucky Derby, the Travers is known as “The Mid-Summer Derby” because it lines up the best 3-year-olds in the country each summer, much like how the Kentucky Derby lines up the best 3-year-olds on the first Saturday of May. This year’s group is very competitive, as no sophomore male has taken a clear lead in the 3-year-old male division.
Getting the distance is the key to the Travers, so let’s answer that question for each Travers candidate, starting with the horses that may not thrive at 10 furlongs:
May not get the distance:
The list of horses that may struggle at the Travers distance must start with McCraken. That may surprise some handicappers, as the Ian Wilkes-trainee may be one of the betting favorites after a strong second-place finish in the Grade 1 Haskell. Personally, I’ve never thought of him as a distance horse. This was one of the main reasons I was against him in the Kentucky Derby, and he proved me right when he finished a steady 8th. McCraken packs a dynamite move on the far turn that I think is more indicative of a miler.
I’ll surprise many people again and say that Irap is next on the list of horses that may not thrive at the Travers distance. Another probable top betting choice in the Travers, Irap finished 18th in the Kentucky Derby at this distance for trainer Doug O’Neill, a fact that’s tough to get past. Yes, I know he has been awesome since the Kentucky Derby, rattling off wins in the Grade 3 Ohio and Indiana Derbies, but neither one of those wins was even close to this class level or at this distance.
Giuseppe the Great was still sprinting two starts ago for trainer Nick Zito and might not have the necessary foundation built up to thrive against this competition going long. His sire Lookin At Lucky gives strong distance influence, but this stretch out may not work, even after snatching second in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy, the local main prep race for the Travers.
Gunnevera won the Grade 2 Saratoga Special as a juvenile sprinting and now is looking to win the Travers over the same track for trainer Antonio Sano. The multiple graded-stakes winner is another that may do his best racing at shorter distances, even though he was making up some ground wide and late in the Kentucky Derby.
May get the distance:
Fayeq is famously the half-brother of champion mare Rachel Alexandra and is starting to live up to his pedigree. Fayeq beat elders earlier in the Saratoga meet while going 9 furlongs, but with only four lifetime starts, the Kiaran McLaughlin trainee is giving up a lot of experience to the group. This is the longest distance that he’s run in his career, so he will need to prove that he can stretch out.
West Coast is another stretching out to 1 1/4 miles for the first time in his career. As the lone hope for trainer Bob Baffert and jockey Mike Smith to repeat as Travers winners, West Coast will take a truckload of money in the win pool based solely on his connections. As a son of Flatter, distance influences in his pedigree are somewhat questionable. Additionally, this is a class test after winning the non-graded Easy Goer at Belmont and Grade 3 Los Alamitos Derby in his last two starts.
Girvin‘s class cannot be questioned after he won the Haskell in dramatic fashion at Monmouth to end July. Unlike the other poor Kentucky Derby performers that were discussed earlier, Girvin’s 13th-place finish should not be held against him. Girvin ran in the Derby shortly after suffering a quarter crack in one of his hooves, so his Derby can be looked at as admirable in retrospect. The Joe Sharp pupil will need to prove himself at the distance.
Maybe the Preakness winner Cloud Computing will get better with longer distances, but the jury is still out on the distance influence of his sire, Maclean’s Music. Obviously, it looked like an extra 1/16 mile would be no issue for him in the Preakness with the way he tracked down juvenile champ Classic Empire in deep stretch to win, but his return race in the Jim Dandy was too bad to believe for trainer Chad Brown. He never looked comfortable over the Saratoga main track and is a huge question mark going into the Travers.
Has proven can get the distance:
Always Dreaming, the son of Bodemeister, won the Kentucky Derby at this distance, so there’s no doubt that he can thrive at the same distance in the Travers. He hasn’t finished well in his last two races (the Preakness and the Jim Dandy) at shorter distances, so he must prove that he hasn’t fallen off of the proverbial cliff for Pletcher after his peak performance in the Derby.
Good Samaritan looked like he was ready for another lap around the Saratoga main track when he crushed the Jim Dandy in his first career dirt start. Trainer Bill Mott was targeting Good Samaritan to the Kentucky Derby trail before his training was delayed to start the year, so a dirt campaign was always the plan. He ran this distance when finishing fourth in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby with no pace to close into, so while he hasn’t won at 1 1/4 miles, there’s proof that he’ll handle the added furlong from his Jim Dandy triumph.
Lookin At Lee closed along the golden rail in the Kentucky Derby to finish second. Even though he’s proven himself at this distance, he hasn’t won a race in over a year! He’s a grinder for trainer Steve Asmussen, and with his running style, I would not be surprised to see him hit the board at his favored distance.
Tapwrit was making up ground late to finish sixth in the Kentucky Derby and then returned to win the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes going 1 1/2 miles, so he is indeed proven going long. The Pletcher pupil has been well-rested since the Belmont with over two months off. Pletcher is known to fire fresh with his best horses in a big spot, so there should little to no worry that he will be “short” for this 10-furlong race.
The Turn: Travers Wagering Strategy
Last year, I picked Arrogate to win the Travers at 11/1 odds, so I have a lot to live up to this year. I will make Good Samaritan my official Travers pick, but I’ll be playing Tapwrit equally on multi-race wagers, such as the Pick 4. On backup tickets, I will use West Coast, since I don’t want to get beat by Baffert. In exotic wagers, like the exacta and trifecta, I will mix in Lookin At Lee underneath at a price.
The Stretch: Travers Guide
For the stacked Travers Day undercard, it is good to live by the old handicapping axiom: “Grade 1 winners win Grade 1 races.”
With five Grade 1 races highlighting the undercard and many big names lining up for them, it’s always good to include previous Grade 1 winners in your multi-race wagers because you may get them at a price. You can checkout all the undercard probables here.
For more wagering strategies, check out the Travers Guide that the Racing Dudes are putting together with Guaranteed Tip Sheet:
Going to the Whip: Elated
I’m very happy to have touted Copper Bullet in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special and Elate in the Grade 1 Alabama the past two weeks in The Saratoga Skinny and on my Twitter @SaratogaSlim! Hope all of you Skinny readers cashed some tickets!
Pletcher is on fire at The Spa and has surprisingly taken a four win lead over Chad Brown 29-25 in the trainers standings after 5 weeks.
Jose Ortiz won 5 races on Monday making a tight race with his brother Irad non-existent as he now has a 46-37 win lead in the jockey standings after 5 weeks of the Saratoga meet.
The Finish Line: Important Fundraising Event for ReRun
It’s always important to give back to the industry and thoroughbreds after their racing careers, and ReRun is a great organization to support. ReRun will be holding its “2nd Annual Saratoga Soiree” fundraiser on Tuesday, August 29th, from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. at The Lodge on One Nelson Avenue in Saratoga. Hall of Fame football coach Bill Parcells will be the event’s honorary chair.
Last year, I visited ReRun and wrote an article focusing on the good work that they do to find homes for thoroughbreds after their racing careers. For more information about the event or to donate, visit https://www.rerunottb.com/ and follow them on Twitter @ReRunOTTB.