As far as grade I races go, this weekend's Travers is as difficult as it gets. Here is just a sampling of what we, as handicappers, have to tackle:
*Only two of the 11 horses in here enter off a win, and one of those was a maiden.
*Several trainers have been quoted as saying something to the effect of "I wouldn't be surprised if anybody won."
*The second choice on the morning line, and possible post time favorite, Trappe Shot, was not even committed to the race until the morning of the draw because they were considering a sprint for him.
*The fourth choice, First Dude, was not committed to the race until he galloped over the track the day before the draw. By the way, he is also eligible for a first-level allowance race. And he adds blinkers for the first time.
*The co-third choice, Super Saver, is looking to rebound from two poor races and trying to shed the label of a fluke Kentucky Derby winner, by some.
*The Derby runner-up, Ice Box, is also coming off two bad efforts and nobody is quite sure what to make of him.
*The expected pacesetter, Miner's Reserve, might be scratched, leaving the tactical angle of the race up in the air.
*That maiden winner we were talking about, Admiral Alex, who has made exactly one start in his career, has a jockey who has been quoted as saying, "I would be surprised if he didn't win." Huh?
*Fly Down, the third Nick Zito horse entered, was the beaten favorite in the Jim Dandy and as good as he looked in the two races prior to that one, has been inconsistent this year.
I guess what I'm trying to say here is, help.
Let's face it, this year's 3-year-old season has been a head-scratcher from the start. It seemed that a different horse won every Derby prep and other than Lookin At Lucky, who wasn't exactly easy to figure out either because of his bad trips, there are no standouts. In fact, of the nine grade I races for 3-year-olds on dirt this year, he is the only two-time winner.
Back to the Travers. What to do? What to do?
On this week's That Handicapping Show, I picked First Dude. And even though I'm not going to back off him, it's a tentative pick, especially if Miner's Reserve scratches. One of the reasons I liked First Dude to finally break through is because I think he will be better if he has something to run at. If Miner's Reserve is not there to show the way, First Dude will inherit the lead, again, like has in the last three races. If he is on the lead early, he is still good enough to go the distance, but it will be more difficult.
As it is, I think First Dude has been a consistent, and unlucky, colt all year. I expect him to run big again and I trust that Ramon will give him a smart ride. I'm not sure what to make of the blinkers. If it moves him up, even a little, it should be good enough. But it could also backfire or make no difference at all. I also like that First Dude will again be a nice price.
I am curious to see what the price on Afleet Express will be. I like him, but I was surprised to see him as the co-third choice at 6-1. I'm hoping he is more like 8-1 at post time, and if he is I will play him across the board. He is a horse that looks like he is getting good now. This is his third start at two turns and I think he will run his best race. His speed numbers fit well in here against the top contenders and he stays with the hottest jockey around, Javier Castellano. He should be sitting right off the leaders, which is a nice place to be in here.
I also think it would be unwise not to use A Little Warm somewhere on your tickets. He is in just too good of form right now to leave out. He will probably be right around his morning line odds by post time, which is great odds for a streaking horse like this, so that is not an excuse not to play him. He too will be involved early and should be a factor all the way around.
I was thinking about using Super Saver, and might wind up doing so on the bottom end, but if I had to fill out my superfecta right now it would probably be with Fly Down. I'm willing to excuse his Jim Dandy because it wasn't all that bad an effort and he did have trouble in the lane, which probably compromised his ability to hit the board. Also, he has finished ahead of First Dude all three times they met, so I would be stupid not to include him.
There, that was easy.
I wish I had more time to get into the rest of the weekend, especially the King's Bishop, which is a very intriguing race. Instead, I will give my quick picks:
Ballston Spa: Maram
Victory Ride: Touching Beauty
Ballerina: Informed Decision, Rightly So exacta box
King's Bishop: D' Funnybone/Bulldogger straight exacta
Personal Ensign: Rachel by 5. Persistently to place/show
Pacific Classic: Battle of Hastings
Good luck to all. Who do you like?