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Travers Stakes Preview: 150th Edition of the Mid-Summer Derby

Travers Stakes Preview: 150th Edition of the Mid-Summer Derby

It doesn’t get much better than Travers Day at Saratoga. The country’s oldest sporting venue will host its premiere event for the 150th time this Saturday, adding to the legacy and history of this fantastic event. This year, 12 horses will attempt to etch their names into the history books in what seems to be a wide-open race.

Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey has won this contest three times. He brings in Code of Honor for this year, who is coming off of an impressive romp in the Dwyer Stakes (G3) at Belmont Park last time out. The horse also won the Fountain of Youth Stakes (G2) earlier in the year and was second in the Kentucky Derby (G1). Shug knows how hard it is to win this race, as stated in Saratoga Slim’s article earlier in the week.

“When you start winning them, you think you’re going to win them all the time, and it doesn’t always happen that way,” McGaughey said. “We’ve had some other opportunities, but they didn’t work out. It would be a thrill for us to be able to win it again.” 

Another trainer who has had recent success in this race is Bob Baffert, who will bring Mucho Gusto to New York after Game Winner came down with a virus and was unable to make the trek. Mucho Gusto missed the Triple Crown races, but he has won two of his last three starts. His loss during that stretch may have been his best effort of the year, though, as he finished a close second to Maximum Security in the Haskell Invitational Stakes (G1)

The Jim Dandy Stakes (G2), the local prep for this race, should produce two horses with solid chances in this event. Tax, the winner, is coming into the event in top form, while runner-up Tacitus had all kinds of trouble in that last effort and will add blinkers this time around, which could help with some of his in-race antics. Both horses have won big races in New York this season. 

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Top Choice 

#2 Code of Honor – After a less than stellar start to the season, it looks like trainer Shug McGaughey really has this colt figured out. He rebounded from a poor Mucho Macho Man Stakes showing to win the Fountain of Youth (G2) before a solid third in a pace-less Florida Derby (G1). He then was able to battle for a solid second in the Kentucky Derby (G1), despite getting interfered with in the stretch. Last time out, he may have had his most impressive race yet, winning the Dwyer Stakes (G3) in a romp at Belmont Park. His workouts have been extremely strong leading up to this and Shug seems ultra-confident in his chances. He also comes into the race well-rested and ready to roll. He could be sitting on a big one. 

Horses to use in Multi-Race Wagers 

#6 Tacitus – 2019 will forever by known as the year that could have been for Tacitus. After picking up wins in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and Wood Memorial Stakes (G2), he seemed primed for a huge run in the Kentucky Derby. He showed up with a big effort that day, but a tough trip caused him to finish third. After another wide trip in the Belmont Stakes (G1), he was second, but last time out, his Jim Dandy (G2) effort was a total disaster. He went to his nose out of the gate, fell well behind the leaders, and attempted to rally along a dead rail in the stretch. Despite all of that, he still was able to finish a close second to Tax, and many believe that he was the best horse in the race. With a clear trip, he should win this race – it’s just a matter of if he can stay out of his own way. 

#7 Mucho Gusto – In a surprise entry, Bob Baffert will bring Mucho Gusto to this race after Game Winner was knocked out of the event by a virus. Mucho Gusto’s early speed brings a different dynamic to the event, while Game Winner would have been more of a closer. Expect this horse to play a factor into the pace off of the best race of his career when he finished second to Maximum Security in the Haskell Stakes (G1). He has matured physically in recent months, and Baffert is on record as saying he is doing very well coming into this challenging spot. 

#9 Lookin At Bikinis – He faded to third after setting the pace on the worst part of a dead-rail track in the Curlin Stakes. Going into the Curlin, he had all kinds of hype, and trainer Chad Brown is supposedly very high on him. Look for him to rebound at a pretty decent price. 

Exotic Plays

#12 Tax – I’ve always doubted this horse, but even I had to give him major props for his win last time out in the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2). In my eyes, that was the best race of his career, which could mean that he has improved since the Kentucky Derby Trail. His grind-it-out style should suit this distance perfectly, and he also has solid tactical speed that makes him playable at a price that should be good enough to give him a hard look. 

#3 Highest Honors – There was no better-looking horse in the paddock on Curlin Stakes Day than Highest Honors, who then went out and ran to those looks with a workman-like victory over a decent field. Brown is having an unbelievable Saratoga meet this season, but it’s important to note that he has never won this race. It’s possible that Highest Honors is getting really good at the perfect time, which makes him one to consider, especially in the underneath positions. 


Party Crashers 

#1 Owendale – He is the “sneaky” horse in the race after flying under the radar for most of the season, despite running third in the Preakness Stakes (G1) two starts back. He may have been the best horse in that race, but a wide trip cost him greatly. Last time out, he came was victorious in the Ohio Derby (G3), though this is going to be a big time jump up in class. Still, if the pace turns out to be swift, he could be the one picking them off in the late stages of the race. 

Throw Outs 

#8 Chess Chief – Dallas Stewart is known for being a longshot specialist, which also makes you nervous when he enters a race like this one. Chess Chief was no match for Mr. Money in his last two races, though, which makes you think that he’ll have all kinds of trouble in this spot. This group is too classy for him. 

#4 Laughing Fox – He’s had a few chances against this sort of competition without much success. After finishing fifth in the Preakness Stakes (G1), he was fourth last time out in the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2). It’s not like either effort was terribly bad, but he didn’t show enough to give you confidence in him, either. 

#11 Endorsed – This one came in with a lot of hype with for the Curlin Stakes, where he finished second behind Higher Power. There is no doubt that it was a positive effort and that he could move forward, but will it be enough to compete with this tougher level of competition? 

#5 Everfast – Inconsistency has defined his season. The Preakness Stakes (G1) was by far his biggest effort of the season; however, we haven’t seen anything like that from him since. Last time out, he was a well-beaten fourth in the Haskell Stakes (G1). The pace will have to completely meltdown for him to have a shot. 

#10 Scars are Cool –  Let’s see if this horse can go straight from a maiden-breaking effort to the Travers Stakes. It seems unlikely, but at least he is trending in the right direction. 

1OwendaleFlorent GerouxBrad Cox6/1
2Cod of HonorJohn VelazquezShug McGaughey4/1
3Highest HonorsLuis SaezChad Brown10/1
4Laughing FoxRicardo Santana, Jr.Steve Asmussen30/1
5EverfastMartin ChuanDale Romans30/1
6TacitusJose OrtizBill Mott5/2
7Mucho GustoJoe TalamoBob Baffert6/1
8Chess ChiefMike SmithDallas Stewart30/1
9Looking at BikinisJavier CastellanoChad Brown10/1
10Scars Are CoolTyler GaffalioneStanley Hough30/1
11EndorsedJoel RosarioKiaran McLaughlin15/1
12TaxIrad Ortiz, Jr.Danny Gargan6/1

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