By TimeformUS Analyst Mike Beer
>>Go to the TimeformUS PPs for the Travers | Post Time 5:46 EDT Saturday
The Grade 1 Travers, for 3yos over 1 1/4 miles, is always the centerpiece of the Saratoga race meet. This year's running has taken on added significance due to the participation of one horse. That horse is, of course, American Pharoah, who arrived, via much fanfare and with a full-on media escort, at the historic race track on Wednesday.
Racing's first Triple Crown winner since 1978 has proven too much for his fellow members of the crop of 2012 during an impressive run of victories dating back to last September, when he broke his maiden in the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity. He has not lost since that day, nor has he come particularly close to losing, and he enters the Travers on the back of perhaps his most impressive victory yet: a supremely confident win in the Grade 1 Haskell, where he managed to earn a career-best TimeformUS Speed Figure of 129 while never appearing to get out of a gallop.
He has been installed at 1/5 on the ML, but he has scared no one away. Nine other 3yos are expected to line up against him on Saturday, though the possibility remains that Upstart, who chased American Pharoah to no avail in that Haskell, could still opt for the Pennsylvania Derby instead.
American Pharoah is clearly the best horse in the Travers field; there is no longer any point, or any daring, in arguing the point. To us, as impressive as his Haskell win was, American Pharoah has never been more impressive than he was in completing his historic Triple Crown sweep in the Belmont Stakes. Put right on the lead over a testing 1 1/2 miles, he always traveled strongly, and he still appeared a fresh horse once swinging into the stretch. If anything, there appears to be even less early speed in this Travers field than he encountered in the Belmont, as is so clearly illustrated by the TimeformUS Pace Projector. He is unlikely to need the advantage, but there it is.
This is horse racing. The best horse loses more often than many think, and any horse, no matter how talented, can be had. But standing against American Pharoah vs. his fellow 3yos with any real conviction is folly at this point. Simply put: They have him to beat, and it is not going to be easy.
The field around American Pharoah contains its share of filler, but there are other talented colts entered, any one of whom would have to be considered a worthy winner of a race like this. All of them, however, have tried American Pharoah at least once already, and they have proven to be no match.
Upstart is one of those, though there is every question as of this writing whether he'll scratch from the Travers and choose an easier spot. Two for two over the main track at Saratoga, he was a leading light from the east on the way to the Kentucky Derby. He failed to fire that day, but he returned to form in putting up a new TFUS Speed Figure top of 120 while unable to get near American Pharoah in the Haskell. He can run, and he has forward to go as he makes just his second start since the first Saturday in May.
Texas Red closed down the Breeders' Cup Juvenile last November in the absence of American Pharoah, and he has not run against that horse yet as a 3yo. No match for American Pharoah in last year's Front Runner, Texas Red is a much improved horse since then, having earned consecutive new TFUS Speed Figures tops of 114 and 120 since starting back from a layoff last month. His trainer has made quite a positive impression from a limited number of starters in NY this year, and he appears to be holding one of the biggest threats to the favorite in this field.
Frosted has been brought along expertly by Kiaran McLaughlin as a 3yo, and, after encountering some trouble in the Derby, he came though with a performance in the Belmont Stakes that would have been good enough to win that race most years. Unfortunately for him, it wasn't close to good enough in the face of American Pharoah this year. We loved his prep for this, when he fired a good one through the stretch behind Texas Red in the Jim Dandy, and we think he may once again be the one American Pharoah has the most to fear from on Saturday.
Keen Ice is a closer who will be trying to impact the Travers field late. He has failed to come close to American Pharaoh in any of his last three starts, but he owns the top Late Pace Rating in this field (123), and he does not appear to have any distance limitations.
We are not against American Pharoah in the Travers. He has simply proven himself to be too dominant this year, and he has already posted comprehensive victories over most of his main rivals in the Travers field. Texas Red is the one new face to the crew after missing the Triple Crown, and he has clearly improved as a 3yo. Perhaps he can close the gap, but it is difficult to envision him improving enough to get all the way there on Saturday.