A Plethora of Picks for Travers Day

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

Get ready, racing fans! Half a dozen graded stakes are slated to take place on Saturday at Saratoga, including a quintet of Grade 1 prizes led by the prestigious $1.25 million Travers S. (G1).

Rather than handicap just one of these star-studded events, let's take quick looks at all six:

Race 4: Ballston Spa S. (G2)

Top turf trainer Chad Brown conditions three of the five fillies and mares in this 1 1/16-mile grass event, with #5 Technical Analysis (1-1) looming as the runner to beat. Victorious in the Lake George S. (G3) and Lake Placid S. (G2) at Saratoga last summer, Technical Analysis recently returned to the Spa with a game runner-up effort in the Diana S. (G1).

In the Diana, Technical Analysis finished ahead of New York S. (G1) winner Bleecker Street and next-out Beverly D. S. (G1) heroine Dalika, so it's safe to say she ran a strong race against tough competition. Technical Analysis has the tactical speed to work out a perfect trip in Saturday's largely paceless field and looks ready to beat stablemate #2 Lemista (3-1) to the finish line.

Race 5: Forego S. (G1)

I can't really make a case against reigning champion male sprinter #3 Jackie's Warrior (1-2), who dominated the Alfred G. Vanderbilt H. (G1) at Saratoga with complete ease last month. Jackie's Warrior is 4-for-4 this year and 5-for-5 lifetime at Saratoga, so the speedy four-year-old would have to run below form to lose the Forego, and I have no reason to believe he will.

For second place, I'm a fan of the red-hot #5 Cody's Wish (7-2), who is a neck away from bringing a six-race win streak into the Forego. His best efforts have come racing one mile, including a five-length romp in the Westchester S. (G3) at Belmont Park, but cutting back to seven furlongs shouldn't be a problem. A quick early pace might even sharpen Cody's Wish's homestretch kick.

Race 8: H. Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1)

#6 Jack Christopher (6-5) has done little wrong since dominating his Saratoga debut by 8 3/4 lengths last summer. He trounced the Champagne S. (G1), Pat Day Mile (G2), and Woody Stephens S. (G1) in succession before finishing third in the 1 1/8-mile Haskell S. (G1), beaten only two lengths while the winner broke the track record.

The Haskell marked Jack Christopher's first start around two turns, so the fact he weakened in the final furlong isn't too surprising. He's bred top and bottom to thrive as a sprinter/miler and should relish cutting back to seven furlongs for the H. Allen Jerkens, setting the stage for a rebound victory over two-time Saratoga graded stakes winner #8 Gunite (6-1). The latter runner nabbed the Hopeful S. (G1) over this track last summer by 5 3/4 lengths.

Race 9: Personal Ensign S. (G1)

There are plenty of ways to go in handicapping this deep 1 1/8-mile test for fillies and mares. Many bettors will support #3 Clairiere (6-5), winner of the Ogden Phipps S. (G1) and Shuvee S. (G2) in her last two starts. But three-time Grade 1 winner #5 Malathaat (5-2) was a game runner-up in both those races, and #1 Letruska (3-1) led all the way to defeat Clairiere in the Apple Blossom H. (G1) during the spring.

Ultimately, I'm going to give a slim edge to #2 Search Results (7-2), winner of the Acorn S. (G1) last year. In the Ogden Phipps, Search Results pressed Letruska through a blazing pace and took a clear lead down the homestretch before weakening late to finish third behind Clairiere and Malathaat, beaten only 2 1/4 lengths. She bounced back to win the Molly Pitcher S. (G3) by three lengths over next-out stakes winner Leader of the Band, with a more relaxed trip being a key to her victory.

Search Results isn't the most accomplished of the Personal Ensign entrants, but she enters in deceptively good form, and I can envision a scenario where she tracks Letruska through modest fractions before outkicking Clairiere and Malathaat down the homestretch.

Race 10: Sword Dancer S. (G1)

#9 Channel Maker (8-1) won this race two years ago and remains in strong form, even at the age of eight. He's 2-for-3 this season, sandwiching a pace-pressing victory in the 1 1/2-mile Elkhorn S. (G2) and a gate-to-wire score in the 1 1/2-mile Grand Couturier S. around a troubled ninth-place finish in the 1 1/4-mile Manhattan S. (G1).

The Sword Dancer is contested over Channel Maker's preferred 1 1/2-mile trip, and drawing an outside post should allow Channel Maker to work out a comfortable trip pressing or stalking #7 Tribhuvan (5-1) through the early going. I'm optimistic Channel Maker can turn back the clock and pick up another Grade 1 win, with 2021 Breeders' Cup Turf (G1) runner-up #3 Broome (3-1) completing the exacta.

Race 11: Travers S. (G1)

A strong field has assembled for the 1 1/4-mile "Midsummer Derby," with four Grade 1 winners and a couple of classic winners among the entries. But my top choice isn't one of the established top-level winners; instead, it's morning line favorite #6 Epicenter (7-5).

Epicenter is a bit unlucky not to have won at the Grade 1 level already. He arguably moved too soon into a hot pace when beaten less than a length in the Kentucky Derby (G1), and early traffic trouble compromised his chances when rallying to finish second in the Preakness S. (G1).

But Epicenter was back to his best in the 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy S. (G2) at Saratoga last month, charging home over a slow track to beat a deep field by 1 1/2 lengths in the quick time of 1:48.99. On average, Epicenter might be the best three-year-old in training this year, and he can prove it if he works out a clean trip in the Travers.

#8 Zandon (5-1), third in the Kentucky Derby and second in the Jim Dandy, can battle with up-and-coming Curlin S. winner #5 Artorius (9-2) to round out the Travers exacta.

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in Saratoga's Saturday stakes?


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J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, videographer, voice actor, 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.

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