SARATOGA SPRINGS – If you haven’t seen a race all summer, the Travers promises to be the one to watch.
For the first time since 1977, the main event of the 40-day Saratoga meet will produce a crowded field of 13 in the gate for the $1.25 million Grade 1 race.
Preakness winner Exaggerator (3-1) and Belmont Stakes winner Creator (15-1) add to the intrigue and provide the race with class. In addition to the two classic winners, colts from the barns of Hall of Fame trainers Bob Baffert and Steve Asmussen also are entered.
The top two trainers at Saratoga this summer, Chad Brown and Todd Pletcher, will add a combined four horses to one of the most competitive Travers in recent memory.
It all adds up to a great race, and more specifically, a great betting race.
The betting odds are sure to be juicy when the latch springs this afternoon.
One example: Belmont Stakes-winner Creator, who also has another Grade 1 win on his resume, is the eighth choice on the morning line, at double digit odds of 14-1.
The two Baffert horses, American Dream and Arrogate, are 6-1 and 10-1 on the morning line, respectively.
Destin, Pletcher’s big bullet and runner-up to Creator in the Belmont, is listed at 10-1. The son of Giant’s Causeway has a jockey aboard who has earned the most Travers wins in history (five) in Javier Castellano.
Laoban, the horse that won the Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes earlier in the meet, is also listed as 15-1 on the morning line. The Jim Dandy has produced 18 Travers winners in history, and 10 horses have completed the Dandy-Travers double.
Let’s just say if you are fortunate enough to hit the Travers trifecta, a visit to the IRS window is likely in your future. The winner of the Travers has the color of its silks painted on the traditional canoe that sits in the infield lake at the Spa. Should you happen to have the trifecta in this race, you may need to borrow that canoe to cart home the winnings.
The race coined the Midsummer Derby is run at a distance of a mile-and-a-quarter, the same distance as the Kentucky Derby. A victory in the Travers is coveted by owners for breeding value, before they send them off to a second career in the breeding shed.
The Travers, along with the Grade 1 Sword Dancer, will be televised nationally on NBC from 4:30 to 6 p.m. The winner will earn $670,000 and the second-place finisher $230,000. Post time for the Travers (Race 11) is 5:44 p.m.
Horses such as the morning-line favorite Exaggerator and Creator both will favor a hot early pace to benefit their closing running styles. They also are the lone two Grade 1 winners in the field in a race that demands class, so it would be hard to ignore either of these two on your tickets.
There likely will be some pace with Baffert’s lightly raced Arrogate firing from the rail to position himself early. Curlin winner Connect (4-1) and Laoban also figure to be somewhere near the lead early.
With Creator’s price likely to be in the double-digit range, he seems to be the best value play. The bad races on his ledger had little pace (Jim Dandy) or produced major traffic issues (Derby), and he has trained well at Saratoga for Asmussen.
Asmussen, who has high hopes for the son of Tapit, is drawing a line through the Jim Dandy. He thinks Creator will redeem himself, while counting on a different pace scenario.
“I don’t think [the Jim Dandy] did anything for him,” Asmussen said. “I just think he’s trained very sharp since. I think there should be a more favorable set-up for him this time in this competitive of a field than there was in the Jim Dandy.”
A horse that will be making an equipment change for Baffert that likely will be stalking the leaders is American Freedom. Baffert will remove the blinkers after American Freedom ran second to Exaggerator on a sloppy surface at Monmouth Park in last month’s Haskell Invitational after leading for most of the race.
Even with the fast fractions, he didn’t fade late in the race and held on gamely for second. His breeding suggests that a mile-and-a-quarter should not be an issue, and he should be able to settle from his inside No. 2 post. Rafael Bejarano will ride for the Hall-of-Fame trainer.
Todd Pletcher, a two-time Travers winning trainer, is hoping that Destin can get over the hump and get that elusive Grade 1 victory.
“Just being beaten a whisker in the Belmont is a pretty good effort,” Pletcher said. “We feel like he has a big one in him.”
Destin didn’t pressure Laoban in the Dandy and it cost him dearly as he finished third in a race where the winner lulled the field to sleep and took them around like a merry-go-round.
“If we could have a do-over, we’d put a little more pressure on Laoban, but at the time, it seemed like a sensible move to wait and turn up the pressure,” Pletcher said.
Throw out the last race for Gun Runner, the third-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby. He’s shown he can get the distance, and his non-effort in the slop at the Haskell is enough of an excuse to let it slide. He was moving forward before that race and could be the dark horse in the field that will be dismissed due to the Haskell effort and the far outside post.
It will be Gun Runner’s first race over the track, and he may be ready to deliver a big effort at a nice price.
As for Exaggerator, we’ll use him underneath in the exotics but will play against in a 14-horse field after the difficult campaign he has gone through over the Triple Crown season and his recent effort in the slop in Jersey.
Post Time Outlook: 1 –Creator ; 2 –American Freedom; 3 –Destin; 4 – Gun Runner.