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The $1 million Runhappy Travers Stakes (G1) is set for this Saturday at Saratoga, and while the field of eight is certainly shorter than most years’, the presence of Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Tiz the Law and Bob Baffert’s up-and-comer Uncle Chuck makes this legendary event extremely exciting.
The Travers also shares the card with four other stakes events, including the Ballerina (G1) (a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” for the Filly and Mare Sprint), the Longines Test (G1), the Troy (G3), and the Waya (G3). Also, for the first and probably last time ever, the Travers will serve as a Kentucky Derby prep event, with 100 Derby points awarded to the winner, 40 for second, 20 for third, and 10 for fourth.
Tiz the Law comes into this race as the top 3-year-old in American. He has won all 3 starts this season with ease, including a complete romp in the Belmont Stakes (G1). He drew perfectly for this race in stall 6, with regular jockey Manny Fracno once again aboard.
His biggest challenger is easily Uncle Chuck, who is a perfect 2-for-2 in his career. The Baffert trainee dominated his competition in the Los Alamitos Derby (G3), winning by 4 lengths under wraps. Luis Saez will once again be aboard while breaking from post 3.
An interesting entry is the Belmont Stakes (G1) third-place finisher Max Player. Prior to that, he won the Withers Stakes (G3) back in February at Aqueduct. His Belmont race was impressive, considering he was coming off of a long layoff. The red-hot Joel Rosario is back aboard to break from post 4.
The full field from the rail out: First Line, Country Grammer, Uncle Chuck, Max Player, Shivaree, Tiz the Law, Caracaro, and South Bend.
#6 Tiz the Law – It’s really hard to go against this horse until someone can beat him. His running style is pretty much perfect when it comes to avoiding upsets: he has enough early speed to keep from getting too far behind, but he also has no problem rating behind the front-runners and avoiding a pace duel. Spacing-wise, this race works out perfectly with the schedule that he’s kept all year, and his morning works have been sensational. All systems are go for this guy, and if he runs his best race, these horses probably can’t beat him. He’s the king until proven otherwise.
#3 Uncle Chuck – Any time a horse is compared to the 2016 champion Arrogate, you have to pay attention. This monster has been ultra-impressive in both of his starts so far, crushing Thousand Words by 4 lengths in the Los Alamitos Derby (G3) – that horse just won last weekend’s Shared Belief Stakes. The sky seems to be the limit, and Baffert dominates New York stakes, but can he beat Tiz the Law in just his third lifetime race? He’s been a bit green in both of his starts and has had trouble changing leads, which is something that he cannot afford to do Saturday.
#4 Max Player – With his running style, he will always be a logical hit-the-board candidate. He put that on full display last time out in the Belmont Stakes (G1) when he passed tired horses to get up for third. He is always going to be pace-dependent, which might not set up for him well in this spot. Look for him to be moving down the stretch with a shot to get up in the late stages for a minor award.
#2 Country Grammer – This horse proved last time out that he needs two turns when he won the Peter Pan Stakes (G3) over this surface, and the added distance here should only help him. His biggest issue is that he lacks a big turn of foot. He is mostly a grind-it-out type, which will make it hard for him to win a race of this caliber, but not to hit the board.
#7 Caracaro – After a long six-month layoff, he ran well in the Peter Pan Stakes (G3) last time out, finishing a close second to Country Grammer. He got a very wide trip compared to the winner as well, hinting that perhaps he was the best horse in the race. Logic dictates that he should be even more prepared to fire a big race in this spot and has the best shot at pulling a big upset if the two top choices fail to fire.
#8 South Bend – We’ll need to see some improvement if he hopes to make an impact, though his runner-up effort in the Ohio Derby (G3) was encouraging. This competition is a lot tougher, but at least he’s trending in the right direction.
#5 Shivaree – Without a big reversal of fortune, it’s hard to see this one making an impact here. Other than his runner-up effort in the Florida Derby (G1), he just hasn’t shown that he is this caliber of horse.
#1 First Line – A maiden special weight winner here at the end of July, he wheels right back in this difficult spot. There is in no reason to not take a shot in a short field like this, so credit his connections for trying, but he has some major improving to do if he wants to compete with this group.
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