J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
the upcoming Saturday of racing at Saratoga is exceptional from start to finish-there
are seven graded stakes races on the card, including six Grade 1 events-the
highlight will undoubtedly be the $1,250,000 Travers Stakes (gr. I). For the
first time since 1982, three separate Triple Crown race winners will face off
in the ten-furlong "Midsummer Derby," and much like 1982-when the unheralded
Runaway Groom defeated all three Triple Crown winners in a nearly 13-1
upset-this year's Travers is shaping up to be a similarly competitive event
with plenty of contenders for victory.
take a look at the entries...
Cloud Computing (8-1): It's hard to know what to make of this
lightly-raced colt, who capitalized on a perfect setup to win the Preakness
Stakes (gr. I) and then finished last in the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) in his
very next start. To his credit, he was beaten less than a length for second
while running substantially farther than Giuseppe the Great (the runner-up) and
Always Dreaming (who finished third), but the performance was still a
disappointment from a colt that had shown steady improvement in his previous
starts. Drawing the rail probably isn't ideal and leaves Cloud Computing with
few options in terms of positioning, and in this deep field, I'm tempted to
look elsewhere for the winner.
Giuseppe the Great (20-1): This steadily-improving longshot from
the barn of Nick Zito rallied to finish second in the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr.
II), but that race produced an unusual result with Good Samaritan romping to
victory and the remaining four starters finishing less than a length apart.
There are certainly reasons to believe that Always Dreaming and Cloud Computing
can rebound to turn the tables on Giuseppe the Great... but then again, isn't it
possible that Giuseppe the Great is simply improving at the right time and
could take another step forward at the much more attractive odds of 20-1?
Perhaps his pedigree is geared toward shorter distances than ten furlongs, but
I think Giuseppe the Great is an intriguing candidate to hit the board at a big
West Coast (4-1): Memories of Arrogate's stunning victory in
the 2016 Travers might cause the odds on this Baffert-trained runner to drop a
bit, but there's every reason to believe that West Coast is capable of giving
Baffert back-to-back wins in the "Midsummer Derby." Never out of the exacta in
six starts so far, West Coast signaled his potential when making an early move
into a quick pace in the Lexington Stakes (gr. III), where he lost by just a
head in a strong effort, and he's gone unbeaten in three starts since then.
Following an allowance win at Santa Anita, West Coast shipped to Belmont Park
and dominated the 8.5-furlong Easy Goer Stakes, unleashing a huge move around
the far turn to draw off and win by nearly four lengths while earning a 99
Beyer. A month later he posted a similarly impressive win in the Los Alamitos
Derby (gr. II), waiting until late in the stretch before producing a powerful
run that carried him to a 2 ¾-length victory with a 100 Beyer.
Baffert has been very patient with West
Coast, allowing him to progress steadily in easier races, and now it appears
that West Coast is perfectly positioned for a big run in his Grade 1 debut.
He's already shown that he can ship east successfully, and both his pedigree
and his performances suggest that ten furlongs won't be an issue. The only
concern is that drawing post three could put West Coast in a tricky position
early on thanks to his late-running style, but with Hall of Fame jockey Mike
Smith in the saddle, I'm hoping that West Coast will find his way out of
traffic and rally to win at 4-1.
Tapwrit (7-2): The Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner will seek
to emulate Birdstone by winning the Belmont and the Travers without any prep
race in between. The layoff might not be a huge concern, and he's got enough
tactical speed to be forwardly placed if the pace is slow, but the bigger
question mark is his inconsistency. He finished a soundly-beaten last in his
debut at Saratoga last summer, and during the spring he ran fifth by 11 ½
lengths as the second wagering choice in the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I). Is he
worth playing as the favorite in a year when the top three-year-olds have
repeatedly taken turns beating each other?
Good Samaritan (5-1): This talented son of Harlan's Holiday
figures to attract a lot of wagering support following his decisive victory in
the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II), in which he rallied from far back over a deep
and tiring track to win by 4 ¾ lengths with an eye-catching 100 Beyer. That
race marked his debut on dirt, and if he runs a similar race it's easy to envision
him winning the Travers. But although his talent is undeniable, it's worth
noting that he was able to avoid any significant kick-back in the Jim Dandy,
which featured a small field. Now he's facing a large field in the Travers and
has drawn one of the inside post positions, almost guaranteeing that he'll have
some dirt kicked in his face during the course of the race. With a question
mark like that to consider (along with the fact that Saratoga has been playing
faster as of late than it was for the Jim Dandy), I'm tempted to look elsewhere
for the Travers winner.
Girvin (10-1): The Louisiana Derby (gr. II) winner didn't
have much of an impact on the Triple Crown, but has come back strong since then
to finish second in the Indiana Derby (gr. II) and first in the Haskell
Invitational (gr. I), winning the latter race with a sharp rally from off the
pace. However, the main track at Monmouth seemed to be favoring outside runners
on the day of the Haskell, essentially giving closers an advantage while
putting horses on the rail (and setting the pace) at a disadvantage. For this
reason, I hesitate to take Girvin's Haskell performance at face value, and
while his overall form is excellent, I'll likely lean against him in the
Always Dreaming (6-1): Which Always Dreaming will show up in
the Travers-the one that scored decisive victories in the Florida Derby (gr. I)
and Kentucky Derby (gr. I), or the one who disappointed when eighth in the
Preakness (gr. I) and third in the Jim Dandy (gr. II)? It's hard to ignore the
way Always Dreaming faded after setting a slow pace in the Jim Dandy, but
Pletcher has noted that Always Dreaming wasn't fully cranked for the race,
which was contested over a deep and tiring track. Always Dreaming figures to be
part of another modest pace in the Travers, and assuming that he's stepped
forward since the Jim Dandy, he could be poised to rebound in a big way over a
quicker racing surface. That said, it's been ten years since a Kentucky Derby
winner came back to win the Travers, and 6-1 seems like a pretty short price on
a horse that may have peaked in the spring.
Lookin At Lee (30-1): The Kentucky Derby runner-up has run
well in a several major races dating back to last summer, but remains 0-for-10
in graded stakes company and around two turns. He most recently finished third
in the West Virginia Derby (gr. II) while rallying from the back of the pack,
but he benefited from racing on the outside (the better part of the track) and
was still beaten 4 ¼ lengths. He also benefited from a fast pace and a perfect
ground-saving trip in the Kentucky Derby, so unless similar circumstances arise
in the Travers, this race might be a little deep for him.
McCraken (12-1): Trained by Ian Wilkes, McCraken has shown
flashes of major-league talent during his career, but slight injuries and
troubled trips derailed his spring campaign and he could only finish third in
the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) and eighth in the Kentucky Derby. To his credit,
he rebounded from his difficult spring to win the Matt Winn Stakes (gr. III)
and finish second by a nose in the Haskell Invitational (gr. I), but like
Girvin he benefited from rallying wide over a track that seemed to be favoring
outside closers, and McCraken has given the impression that he might be a bit
better at distances shorter than ten furlongs.
Irap (8-1): Few horses have come as far this year as
Irap, who went from a 0-for-7 maiden to a three-time graded stakes winner in
the span of less than four months. With the exception of an eighteenth-place
finish in the Kentucky Derby (for which numerous excuses can be made), Irap's
recent form is exceptional, as he defeated subsequent Haskell Invitational (gr.
I) winner Girvin in the Ohio Derby (gr. III) prior to winning the Indiana Derby
(gr. II) by five lengths in a visually stunning performance. In that race, a
very wide trip didn't even begin to bother Irap, who made an early move to
seize the lead around the far turn before drawing off with complete authority
while running the final five-sixteenths of a mile in a quick :30.43.
Furthermore, it's not as though Irap defeated
an easy field in the Indiana Derby, for the
runner-up-Colonelsdarktemper-returned to win the West Virginia Derby (gr. III)
in his next start. With recent Beyers of 102 and 98, Irap fits well on speed
figures, and his outside draw should give him plenty of options to work out a
good trip. Remember, he won the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. II) after tracking the
early pace, and in the event that the Travers pace is modest, Irap could work
out a perfect trip racing close to the lead. I suspect his odds could drop
slightly from 8-1, but in the event that he does start at that price-twice the
price offered by West Coast-Irap might offer the best value in the race.
Gunnevera (20-1): During the winter, Gunnevera looked like a
serious Kentucky Derby contender when he rallied to a powerful 5 ¾-length
victory over Practical Joke in the Fountain of Youth Stakes (gr. II), but his
long campaign seemed to catch up to him during the sprint and he could only
finish seventh in the Kentucky Derby and fifth in the Preakness Stakes while
never seriously threatening in either race. However, following a brief rest,
Gunnevera return to win the 8.5-furlong Tangelo Stakes earlier this month by
five lengths, overcoming a slow pace to rally past four rivals and win easily.
While the slow pace obviously helped his finishing kick, it's still worth
noting that Gunnevera ran the fourth quarter-mile in a quick :23.30 and
finished the last sixteenth in :06.26 while easing across the wire, suggesting
that he had plenty left in the tank. With this race serving as a sign that
Gunnevera might be returning to form, I think he's worth including at 20-1.
Don't forget, he was quite impressive winning the Saratoga Special Stakes (gr.
II) at Saratoga last summer.
Fayeq (30-1): This half-brother to Rachel Alexandra lost
his first two starts sprinting but is 2-for-2 since stretching out beyond a
mile. On July 26th he won a nine-furlong allowance race at Saratoga
by 3 ½ lengths despite refusing to switch from his left lead at any point in
the race, and while the final time wasn't eye-catching-1:51.19-the track was
slow and the effort produced a respectable 92 Beyer. Fayeq strikes me as a
promising colt with the potential to be a graded stakes winner if he can put
everything together, but going ten furlongs against a field of this
caliber-especially while breaking from post position twelve-figures to be a
To condense all of these thoughts into
something simpler, West Coast and Irap are the two horses I like best in
the Travers, though I also have a lot of respect for Tapwrit. I view these three as the main players and would lean on
them in multi-race wagers, with a preference for West Coast as my top choice.
For the trifecta or superfecta, I'll also put in a good word for Giuseppe the Great and Gunnevera, a pair of late runners that
could have an impact at 20-1 or so.
Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the
The Unlocking Winners Road to the Breeders' Cup Classic Handicapping Challenge is back for a third consecutive year! Please be sure to post all entries, prime horses, and stable additions on the official contest page. Thanks, and enjoy the racing!
J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.