By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
Saturday's running of the
$1.25 million Travers S. (G1) at Saratoga is one for the ages. The Kentucky
Derby (G1), Preakness S. (G1), and Belmont S. (G1) winners are lining up
against the reigning champion two-year-old male, with three other stakes
winners (including a Grade 1 winner) mixed in for good measure.
Let's take a horse-by-horse
look at the field:
#1 Forte: The
champion two-year-old male of 2022 is arguably the horse to beat after battling
his way out of a pocket to win Saratoga's Jim Dandy (G2), a pivotal prep for
the Travers. Forte might have won by more than a nose if he'd gotten a clear
run, which makes his flashy 106 Beyer Speed Figure all the more impressive. Forte
defeated Kentucky Derby winner Mage in the Florida Derby (G1) earlier this year
and ran second in the Belmont despite racing much wider than eventual winner
Arcangelo, so any way you slice it Forte should be tough in the Travers. The
only concern is drawing the rail; in a race without much pace on paper, Forte
risks getting boxed in behind rivals.
#2 Arcangelo: The
rapidly improving Arcangelo pulled out a perfect rail rally to win the Belmont
by 1 1/2 lengths over Forte, a career-best performance that followed an
unwaveringly tenacious triumph in the 1 1/8-mile Peter Pan S. (G3). Arcangelo
finished fast from behind a slow pace in the Peter Pan and looms as one of the
main threats to Forte. There are a couple of concerns though: Arcangelo hasn't
run in 11 weeks, and he received a better trip in the Belmont than Forte, who was
coming off a 10-week break at the time.
#3 Tapit Trice: The
stretch-running Blue Grass S. (G1) and Tampa Bay Derby (G3) winner is adding
blinkers after falling too far off the early pace when seventh in the Kentucky
Derby (G1), third in the Belmont, and fifth in the Haskell S. (G1). Tapit Trice
has a strong stretch kick on his best day, but it remains to be seen whether he
can maintain that kick if he gets more involved in the early pace.
#4 Mage: A
fast pace may have benefited stretch-running Mage in the Kentucky Derby, but
his victory over next-out Ohio Derby (G3) winner Two Phil's was hardly a fluke.
Mage had previously finished second in the Florida Derby, and he followed up
with a pace-compromised third in the Preakness and a solid second in the
Haskell. It should be noted, however, that the Haskell has produced only one
Travers winner since 2010, and the prospect of a modest pace at Saratoga won't
necessarily play to Mage's strengths.
#5 National Treasure: There's
no denying that National Treasure has talent; he placed in multiple Grade 1
races last year and led all the way to beat Mage in the Preakness. But National
Treasure benefited from a perfect trip in the Preakness, setting remarkably
slow fractions of :23.95, :48.92, and 1:13.49 before accelerating through the
final seven-sixteenths of a mile. When he set a faster pace in the Belmont,
National Treasure faded down the homestretch to finish sixth. He's facing a capable
pace rival (Scotland) in the Travers, so National Treasure is unlikely to
secure as easy a lead as in the Preakness.
#6 Disarm: The
Kentucky Derby fourth-place finisher is going to be a Travers longshot after
coming home fourth in the Jim Dandy, but he was only beaten 2 1/4 lengths by
Forte, and modest early fractions of :23.93, :48.10, and 1:12.30 didn't help
his chances. Speed generally carried in the Jim Dandy, so Disarm (rallying from
last place in a field of five) didn't get a favorable setup. He'd previously
rallied to win the Matt Winn S. (G3) over next-out Indiana Derby (G3) winner
Verifying, so Disarm has the credentials to vie for a top-four finish if he
gets a little more pace to chase in the Travers.
#7 Scotland: The
biggest wildcard in the Travers field is Scotland, the only horse without a
graded stakes win under his belt. In fact, Scotland has yet to race in a graded
stakes, having scored his signature victory when wiring the ungraded 1 1/8-mile
Curlin S. at Saratoga last month. But Scotland was much the best that day,
winning eased-up by 3 1/4 lengths over next-out Smarty Jones S. (G3) winner Il
Miracolo and Preakness runner-up Blazing Sevens, so there's a lot of promise
and potential here. Interestingly, Scotland employed stretch-running tactics in
his first two victories, so he's versatile in terms of running style. There's a
good chance we'll see Scotland track National Treasure through a controlled
pace in the early stages of the Travers, placing the chestnut gelding in the
perfect position to vie for victory.
The Travers is a deep race
with many viable win threats. Forte is the horse to beat, but he'll need to
avoid a traffic-filled trip while breaking from the rail.
Scotland might be the least experienced
of the Travers entrants, but he brings a promising profile to the table and
figures to work out a favorable trip. His 12-1 morning line odds are enticing,
so we'll take a shot backing Scotland to steal top honors in this talent-packed
Now it's your turn! Who do
you like in the Travers?
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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.