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Travers Stakes Preview: 3-Year-Old Puzzle Continues with Saratoga Showdown

Travers Stakes Preview: 3-Year-Old Puzzle Continues with Saratoga Showdown

The Travers Stakes, Saratoga’s featured race of the year, is always a special occasion, but this year could be one of the best in its storied history. For the first time since 1982, the race drew all three of the year’s Triple Crown race winners: Kentucky Derby victor Always Dreaming, Preakness Stakes winner Cloud Computing, and Belmont Stakes hero Tapwrit will all step into the starting gate in the 148th running of the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers Stakes. This is only the second time in history that all three Triple Crown winners will face off in the Travers.

However, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners struggled in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy. Always Dreaming set an easy pace before fading to third, while Cloud Computing finished last in the race. Trainer Todd Pletcher feels as though Always Dreaming is in a better position here to show up with his best performance.

“We’ve done a better job with him coming into this race,” Pletcher said of Always Dreaming. “Honestly, I think we left him probably a little bit short for the Jim Dandy. I wasn’t anticipating quite as demanding of a racetrack that it turned out to be at that time. We put four works in between the Preakness and the Jim Dandy, so I think that race hopefully brings him forward, plus (he’s had) two good works since then.”

Trainer Chad Brown had similar feelings about his Preakness winner Cloud Computing. One thing both trainers have eluded to was the fact that the Saratoga main track was very deep and tiring early on in the meet but has since leveled out and could play more fair.

“The track was very demanding (for the Jim Dandy),” said Brown. “This horse has never let us down in a workout or a race except that one day. (He) just didn’t come out of that race like we’ve normally seen. Since the race, I’ve thought about the Travers a little bit. He’s come back and worked great twice going to the (main) track. It’s tightened up nicely and he’s ready to run his race.

“This race is right at the top of the list (of ones that I want to win),” added the native of nearby Mechanicville, N.Y. “Since I’ve began training, if someone asked me what race I really want to win, it’s this one. My team feels the same way, and with a horse training as well as he is, it’s hard to stay in the barn, so we’re going to run.”

Pletcher’s other Triple Crown race winner, Tapwrit, skipped both the Jim Dandy and the Grade 1 Haskell, instead training up to the Travers. His workouts have been strong over the track, leading Pletcher to believe that his strategy of staying patient could pay off.

“Everyone was in agreement that the Travers was the race for him,” said Pletcher, who won it in 2005 with Flower Alley and in 2011 with Stay Thirsty. “We felt like if we ran in either the Jim Dandy or the Haskell, we’d leave a little something on the table that we wanted to save for the Travers. I think he’s been training exceptionally well and has put in some good breezes. I feel good that we have him fit enough and fresh enough to fire his ‘A’ race”

Last weekend, trainer Bill Mott stole the show when his star filly, Elate, took home the Grade 1 Alabama. He’ll have a real shot to do it again this weekend with Good Samaritan. Making his first start on dirt in the Jim Dandy, Good Samaritan cruised past the field with ease to win going away. Mott expressed confidence in his horse’s ability, but he also knows that this will be a tough challenge.

“You got horses from everywhere (in the Travers), all the best,” said Mott, who is searching for his first Travers win with his eighth starter in the race. “You got the Derby winner, the Preakness winner, the Belmont; you’ve got everybody. It shaped up to be a really good field. So now, we’ve got to go out there and run our race. No issues at all. All is good up to this point.”

Can the Triple Crown race winners get the job done, or will the stars of the spring give way to the stars of the summer? Here are my thoughts on the race:

Top Choice

#5 Good Samaritan – He impressively won the Jim Dandy last time out while never being asked to run much. Even more impressive was the fact that the Jim Dandy was his first race on the dirt! Going into that race, Always Dreaming and Cloud Computing were obviously the story, but Good Samaritan beat them like they were standing still. It was surprising to me that the horse was able to transition to the dirt so well after also running well on the turf. Amazingly, I have picked this horse every single time that he’s been entered, except for once – last time out in the Jim Dandy. Now that I’m back on him, who knows what will happen, but I felt like his Jim Dandy race was as impressive as anything I’ve seen this year from a 3-year-old. Hopefully, he can do it again.

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Horses to Use in Multi Race Wagers

#3 West Coast – This Bob Baffert trainee has been running well lately, including a win in the Grade 3 Los Alamitos Derby last time out. A mile and 1/4 should be the perfect distance for him, and if he continues to progress, he could give Baffert back-to-back Travers victories. I nearly made this horse my top choice, but I wanted to get a little more value on him. His 4-1 odds seem a bit to low to me. If the odds float up when we get closer to post time, he could be worth a bet, though, and I will be playing him hard in exotic wagers.

#10 Irap – He might be the number-one dirt horse right now in this division. Irap is coming off of wins in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby, where he defeated Girvin, and in the Grade 3 Indiana Derby, where he crushed the competition by over 6 lengths. The second-place finisher in the Indiana Derby, Colonelsdarktemper, came back to win the Grade 3 West Virginia Derby. Also, let’s not forget about his springtime Grade 2 Blue Grass win against nice competition. That race has come back to be very productive as the year goes on and I’m excited to see how he does in this one.

#4 Tapwrit – Let’s start with the positive, which is simple: the last time we saw him, he won the Belmont Stakes. It’s hard to knock a horse for doing that, and he has also been working out very steadily for this contest. However, will the horses that have raced recently carry an advantage over him? Also, many times, the Belmont winner doesn’t go on to have much success the rest of the year. Finally, how is he the favorite in this race? That seems insane to me, and I really don’t think he will end up as the favorite when the gates open. Honestly, I have no idea what to do with him here. I think he needs to be on your tickets, but he’s a real wild card for me.

Exotic Plays

#8 Lookin At Lee – Here is your horse to key on the bottom of tris and supers. He will no doubt run the same type of race once again –  drop far back, then pass tired horses late. He’s always an attractive horse to play underneath but never seems to get up for the win. It’s been over a year since he’s won a race, but at a mile and a 1/4, you can bet that he’ll be in the mix for the minor awards again.

#6 Girvin – He won the Haskell impressively last time out despite not having the best of trips. However, the Haskell/Travers double is extremely hard to pull off. It has not been done since Point Given in in 2001; even American Pharoah failed to do it. I make a big deal every year about that double being so hard to accomplish, so I’ll let him beat me on top. However, I think you have to use him underneath.

Party Crashers

#7 Always Dreaming – The Kentucky Derby winner has fallen out of form in a big way, and if he doesn’t improve in this spot, then he will easily finish off the board. However, what if he can get back to his Florida/Kentucky Derby type of race? He will be very difficult to beat and looks to be the lone speed on paper. Last time out in the Jim Dandy, he was loose on the lead and still faded badly, but what if he is better prepared and more fit this time, like Pletcher has mentioned? All of a sudden, he looms a little dangerous in my eyes, and his price might not be too bad.

#1 Cloud Computing – There’s no way that he’s as bad as that Jim Dandy performance, right? Just like Always Dreaming, he threw in a complete dud, but also like Always Dreaming, his workouts leading up to this race suggest that he is doing very well. The theme of this year for the 3-year-olds has been a total lack of consistency, so perhaps that theme holds up and both of these horses bounce back. There are enough positives signs to be leery of them, and let’s not forget that Always Dreaming has Todd Pletcher and Cloud Computing has Chad Brown. Not a bad bonus to have on your side…

Throw Outs

#9 McCraken –  The tough-luck loser of the Haskell was just narrowly defeated by Girvin in the last jump. He seemed to tail off right before the Kentucky Derby but is back in great form now. This distance is questionable, though, and you have to take a stand against somebody in this race.

#11 Gunnevera – He used a small stakes at Gulfstream Park to prep for this instead of running in bigger races like the Jim Dandy or the Haskell. He picked up a win and some confidence, but I don’t think that he has ever matched up that well with the top-flight competition in this crop.

#2 Giuseppe the Great – He keeps getting better with each race and was at his best last time out in the Jim Dandy, finishing second. However, I’m not sure that more distance is what this horse wants. He may be a fringe play deep in your exotics, but it’s unlikely.

#12 Fayeq – He’ll jump up in class here, but he does have a nice win over the track. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin has pulled upsets like this in the past, but it’s really hard to see this one happening.

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