Horse Racing: An In-Depth Look at the 2013 Travers Stakes at Saratoga

Generally speaking, I start off by saying this weekend’s Horse Racing Race of the Week is such and such…but not this week. No, actually this weekend’s Horse Racing Race of the Week is more like Horse Racings Race of the Year as we will be taking an in-depth look at the 2013 Travers Stakes at Saratoga Racetrack in upstate New York. The “Mid-Summer Derby” has drawn all but one of the top three year old males of 2013 in Orb, Palace Malice and Verrazzano.

The one exception is Preakness Stakes winner Oxbow, who injured an ankle in the Haskell Stakes and, as a result, will miss the remainder of the year.

With Oxbow out of the picture, should Kentucky Derby winner Orb, Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice or Wood Memorial and Haskell winner Verrazano win the Travers that horse would assume the pro-tem division lead and be sitting in the cat-bird seat in as far as winning the year end championship for best three year old male.

You can make a strong case for, or against, any of the aforementioned horses which, in turn, makes this race a nightmare to handicap…but more on that in the breakdown.

For now though, let me shift gears for a minute and point out several other key races being run this weekend across the country.

The under-card on Travers Day is strong with several other stakes being run. Be sure to catch the (Race: 9) Test Stakes, a race that annually draws the top three year old female sprinters in the country. This year the seven furlong event drew seven fillies and So Many Ways and My Happy Face look like the stand outs to me.

The same goes for the (Race: 11) King’s Bishop Stakes, which is also a seven furlong sprint except for three year old colts and geldings. The King’s Bishop drew a full field of 14. The race is fairly wide open but I like Forty Tales, who will be attempting to win his fourth straight stakes having already captured the Grade 3 Derby Trial, Grade 2 Woody Stephens and Grade 2 Amsterdam.  The stretch running Capo Bastone, Declan’s Warrior and Central Banker also look strong in this Grade:1 test.

The next day, (Sunday) Saratoga will play host to the $600,000 Personal Ensign Stakes for three year old and up fillies and mares going nine furlongs. Yet another Grade:1, the Personal Ensign drew a field of just five including two-time champion Royal Delta. Royal Delta, who won the Grade 1 Delaware Handicap by 10 ¾ lengths in her last start on July 20, will attempt to make amends for her runner-up performance as the odds-on favorite in last year’s Personal Ensign.

When trainer Bill Mott was asked how Royal Delta was coming into this race, Mott replied: “She is doing pretty darn good”

Also on Sunday, and on the other side of the country, Del-Mar Racecourse is running their premier race of their meet in the $1 million Pacific Classic where leading Horse of the Year candidate Game On Dude will face 12 others in the Grade: 1, 10 furlong event.

Game On Dude ripped five furlongs in :59 3/5 on Monday at Del Mar in his final major work.

The work, which was the third fastest of the day, was timed in fractional splits of :23 3/5, :35 3/5, and :47 1/5. He galloped-out six furlongs in 1:12.3 and a blazing 1:24 1/5 for seven-furlongs

“(It was a) Good work and he needed it,” said trainer Bob Baffert, who will also saddle stakes winner Liaison in the race, “He has been getting a little fresh on me lately and he needed this.”

Baffert wasn’t happy losing Game On Dude’s regular rider Mike Smith (who opted to ride Royal Delta in the aforementioned Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga the same day) but understands Smith’s decision and was glad to get Joel Rosario to replace him.

“I knew this day might come,” Baffert said. “They always got to go with the woman, so I can’t blame him. He has more history with the filly. One thing about Rosario, he’s good on the lead and that’s the only way to go with him. There’s not a lot of thinking involved. You just have to put him on the lead and you can’t worry about anything else. He likes a faster pace, and you have to let him get it on.”

When asked who he thought might give Game On Dude the most trouble in the Classic Baffert said: “I saw Dullahan on the track for first time since last year and he looked really good. He really moves up on synthetic, and I think it’s between these two. He’s the horse who worries me most. He’s beaten us before and he likes the track.”

 

SaratogaSaturday, August 24, 2013

Race 12 – 5:46 PM    

Travers Stakes (Grade 1)

Purse $1,000,000

For Three Year Olds

One and One Quarter Miles.

 

P#

PP

Horse

A/S

Med

Jockey

Wgt

Trainer

M/L

1 1 Romansh 3/C L J Castellano 126 T Albertrani

12/1

2 2 Orb 3/C L J Rosario 126 C R McGaughey

4/1

3 3 Verrazano 3/C L J R Velazquez 126 T A Pletcher

2/1

4 4 Golden Soul 3/C L R Albarado 126 D Stewart

20/1

5 5 Will Take Charge 3/C L L Saez 126 D W Lukas

10/1

6 6 Moreno 3/G L J L Ortiz 126 E J Guillot

12/1

7 7 War Dancer 3/C L A Garcia 126 K G McPeek

15/1

8 8 Palace Malice 3/C L M E Smith 126 T A Pletcher

5/2

9 9 Transparent 3/C   I Ortiz, Jr. 126 K P McLaughlin

10/1

 

 

Analysis: (In Post Position Order)

 

PP#1- Romansh- this colt by the gorgeous Bernardini has only passed the finish line first once in his career (A maiden race over the mud at Belmont) yet has two victories to his credit as he was second in the (July 26) Curlin Stakes but was awarded the win on a disqualification.

Between that maiden race score and the Curlin, trainer Thomas Albertrani liked what he saw.

“I could see just a big progression from then to the Curlin Stakes,” Albertrani said. “The horse is making giant steps forward – that’s what I like. Even though we didn’t win the race, I thought he ran a big race and could improve off it.”

“This is definitely a stronger Travers than we’ve seen the last couple of years,” Albertrani added. “We need to make a step up, but I like the progress this horse has made every race. I couldn’t be happier with how he’s been training. He looks fantastic going into the race.”…agreed Mr. Albertrani, to win the Travers with just four career races under your belt (and with really only one win) he’s going to have to “step-up” big time. I just can’t see him taking that big of a step even with the steady rise in speed figures…..pass.

 

PP#2- Orb- looked like a champion in the making in the winter and spring when he reeled off four consecutive victories in a row including the Fountain of Youth, Florida Derby and, of course, the Kentucky Derby.

But all that came crashing down with a defeat (fourth, beaten nine lengths) in a strangely run Preakness Stakes two weeks later (He had a horrendous trip, over a weird; tiring surface.)

I was willing to forgive him of that race and thought for sure he’d bounce back in the Belmont Stakes, after all,  Belmont Park is his home base and he was running in his “backyard” sort of speak.   I knew he liked the surface and was training well over it but that was not to be either.

In the Belmont, even though this good looking colt by Malibu Moon was as far back as 13th and some 12 lengths off the early lead, he did make a huge run on the turn but lost momentum at about the eighth pole and finished third, beaten five lengths (by Palace Malice).

He was then sent to Fair Hill for a little R & R.

“I think the time off after the Belmont kind of helped mature him more, like he did over the winter,” said trainer Shug McGaughey. “We were just trying to get him back where we wanted him. I thought the Fair Hill thing really worked well for him, the different therapies and being able to be out (side) a lot. They kept him out for a long time. Even sometimes the night watchman would get him out and graze him. I think that experiment worked very well. I think he’s more of a horse now [than he was immediately after the Belmont Stakes]. When he got off the van here, I thought I saw things where he kind of matured as a horse. I see a lot more horse. I see a sparkle in his eye that just came back”

McGaughey added he believes Orb “will be awful tough” in this race.

I’ve been hearing (and seeing) nothing but glowing reports on him since his arrival from Fair Hill, he’s gained weight, filled out some and on Monday, he had his final workout for the Travers, a half-mile in :47.3, out five furlongs in 1:01 flat.

With his big late running style, he’s going to need a quick pace to close into and with Moreno, Verrazano and possibly Palace Malice all vying for the early lead, he should get it.

But my biggest question still remains….did this horse peak out in the late winter and spring and has regressed since? Or did the Triple Crown wear him out and the rest he got at Fair Hill (where he received hyperbaric chamber and a cold water spa treatments) do him a world of good and he bounces back to his Florida and Kentucky Derby forms?

 

 

PP#3- Verrazano- there are two schools of thought about this extremely handsome son of More Than Ready.

The first is he is a superior horse who is unbeaten on dry surfaces while recording a 6 for 6 record. His last two wins, albeit against inferior competition, were nothing short of spectacular while winning the Pegasus Stakes by 9 1/4 lengths (He got the last 2 ½ furlongs in a quick :29 seconds) and then walloped the field in the Haskell by 9 ¾ lengths  while getting the final furlong is a solid :12.4…..all that after only taking just a tap or two of the whip from jockey John Velasquez. What would have happened if Velasquez really got into him?

In the Haskell, he also registered an enormous 116 Speed Figure which is far and away the highest figure recorded by any other horse in the race (Palace Malice’s 107 in the Jim Dandy is the only thing that comes close).

The other school of thought is he’s over-rated and has won several races in his career by huge margins while beating up on inferior horses and that he is not a 10 furlong horse based on his absolute flop in the Kentucky Derby.

Personally, I was skeptical myself after the Derby. I mean, it was (or is still?) possible he can’t run a step over nine furlongs.

But the more I watched the Haskell annihilation several weeks ago, (and yes, I realize his biggest competitor Oxbow was injured during the running) the more I realized maybe…just maybe…this colt just didn’t like the either a) the quirky Churchill Downs surface, b) the muddy Churchill Downs surface or c) both a and b.

I began to think he can handle a 10th furlong….evidently so does trainer Todd Pletcher who when asked recently about Verrazano’s ability to get the distance said: “The track was very demanding that day, probably the slowest Monmouth track I’ve ever seen, and for him to draw away the way he did at the end of a mile and an eighth put away any concerns I ever had”

It appears the Saratoga surface won’t be a problem for him either based on a string of good (half mile) works over the past six weeks or so.

In order to win this race he must not, under any circumstances, get hooked in an early speed dual with #6 (Moreno), if he does, he’ll be vulnerable late.

However, if he doesn’t, he should have the lead by the quarter pole and they’ll have to run him down in the stretch for all the money.

 

PP#4- Golden Soul- his claim to fame was a late running second at almost 35-1 odds in the Kentucky Derby, but unfortunately that’s where his progression stopped.

As I mentioned earlier this week, after the Derby he was beaten a total of 40 ½ lengths combined in the Belmont and Haskell Stakes’.

He has been working well here at the Spa, but the fact still remains that, aside from the Derby, he’s shown he’s not in the same league as these horses and his speed figures have dropped like rocks in his last three races (100, 85 and 68)…that and he’s still just 1 for 8 lifetime. He’s going to need a bounce back in form big time to contend in this race…..next.

 

PP#5- Will Take Charge- speaking of bouncing back, after defeats of 12, 16 and 17 lengths respectively in the Derby, Preakness and Belmont, this colt by the Unbridled’s Song suddenly “woke up” and closed with a rush to finish second in the Jim Dandy Stakes (his last race).

In the Jim Dandy he scored a strong 105 Speed Figure. That was a very impressive number…..however, it was totally out of the norm being his three previous speed figures were nothing over 86 (86, 81 and 78).

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas gave Will Take Charge his final preparations for this race on Monday with a five-furlong breeze in 1:01.4 on the Oklahoma training track.

“He’s had a good month since the Jim Dandy,” Lukas said. “I’m hoping the extra little distance is going to help. There’s a lot of speed in the race, and maybe we can use that to our advantage. He’s maturing nicely.”

“He was a little immature through the whole Triple Crown,” Lukas continued. “I like what I see now, so maybe we’re just finding out about him. I look for a big effort from him.”

 All that said, the bottom line is this….this horse’s average speed figure throughout his career is 77.54 which makes me think that Jim Dandy performance (105) was a “freak” performance and he is set-up to “bounce” in this race….pass.

 

PP#6- Moreno- this speedster by the incredibly fast Ghostzapper got good over the past 10 or so weeks.

Over that time period, he wired a field of maidens (won by 7), ran his five other opponents off their feet in the Grade: 2 Dwyer at Belmont (wire to wire, won by 7) then stepped up to the big leagues (The Jim Dandy) and didn’t run badly at all.

This gelding set an honest early pace in the Jim Dandy, and albeit was weaving in and out down the stretch, he was dead game to finish third, beaten just over three lengths to Palace Malice.

Nice work last Sunday (five furlongs- :59.3) and trainer Eric Guillot could not have been anymore right when after the work-out he said  “That was a good work…now it’s going to be up to the kid (jockey Ortiz) to ride a smart race and get some better (slower) fractions. It’s all about the fractions.”

“If I can get a 24-and-change, a 48-and-change, a 1:11-and-change, or 1:12, I think turning for home, I’ll be salty,” said Guillo

I fully expect him to be the early leader, and the old adage “pace makes race” is a glaringly obvious fact that will determine his success….get out front, slow it down a bit and he might be still battling in deep stretch like last time….get out there and blitz the first five, six, seven furlongs and ….well….it could get ugly for him in the stretch.

 

PP#7- War Dancer- is tough to read…I mean, he’s definitely an improving animal as his speed figures have risen steadily of late topped off by a 93 in winning the Virginia Derby on July 13 in his last.

He’s been on the board in six of seven career outings and has already won at this 10 furlong distance.

But the elephant in the room when talking about this War Front colt is all the success he’s had has been on the turf. In fact, he shown just one race on the dirt in his career (it was an ok fourth versus maidens back in February.)

The $1 million question with this guy is….will he handle the dirt? One race, six months ago isn’t much to go on. If he does handle it, he could be a threat….if he doesn’t?….I think you know the rest…..too iffy for me to back (bet) with any confidence.

 

PP#8-Palace Malice- if Orb peaked out in the winter and spring , then this colt by Curlin is peaking out right now and that, readers, make him a serious threat and clearly the one to beat come Saturday evening.

After floundering thru his first seven career starts (winning just one) this colt seemed to put it all together while recording clear cut wins in the Belmont Stakes and Jim Dandy.

Remember that’s the 1 ½ mile Belmont Stakes, so you know the Travers distance won’t be an issue for him, and the Jim Dandy run at Saratoga, which gives him a big advantage by having a race over the track.

I like his versatility too as he can beat you from on or off the pace and he shows a couple of half mile works to get ready for this.

“He seemed to get bigger and stronger and better,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “That’s the key to the really good ones. They’re able to withstand those types of (Triple Crown) campaigns and actually flourish while doing it.”

Agreed Mr. Pletcher….the bottom line is this colt figures bang up anyway you slice it and is an absolute “must use” in any exacta or triple betting scenario. Lastly, if he’s standing in the winners circle at about 5:48 or 5:49 pm EST on Saturday, I won’t be the least bit surprised.

 

PP#9- Transparent- is another son of Bernardini who has quietly won three of his last four races (dating back to January) with his last win (an impressive come from behind win in the July 26 Curlin Stakes) coming off a 113-day layoff only to be disqualified for a situation at the quarter pole. (The layoff was from foot issues and he won the Curlin wearing glue on shoes).

It seems the foot issues are behind him and he has improved leaps and bounds in those last four races as his rising speed figures would indicate (71, 84, 95 and 100).

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin said he think this colt is “ideally suited” for a mile and a quarter and he could very well be right.

He takes a big step up in class but if he continues to improve like he has been, he could run a surprisingly good race on Saturday…..long-shot possibility?

 

Selections:

 1) Verrazano

2) Palace Malice

3) Orb

4) Transparent

 

Record: 16-42 = 38%

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Little Bets N’ Pieces:

**** Trainer Shug McGaughey said Tuesday that turf monster Point of Entry had his first gallop since being injured and he is “confident” the horse will make it back in time for the Breeders’ Cup Turf at Santa Anita Park on Nov. 2.

Point of Entry suffered a condylar fracture of the left hind cannon bone in his win in the June 8 Woodford Reserve Manhattan Handicap (June 8) that required surgery.

“He galloped a mile in Ocala this morning,” McGaughey said. “He’s the kind of horse who will come around quickly. After having two weeks of stall rest and two weeks of hand-walking, he’d been jogging the past week and had his first gallop today.”

 

Turf star Point of Entry, a stable-mate of Orb's, is on the comeback trail

Turf star Point of Entry, a stable-mate of Orb’s, is on the comeback trail

**** Tiz Miz Sue, who won the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps Handicap at BelmontPark in her most recent start (May 27), was retired Thursday, said Ran Leonard, the racing and breeding manager for the Cresran operation of Carol Ricks.

Tiz Miz Sue had recently resumed training after a short break but was a slightly lame during a routine workout.

An exam revealed “bone bruising” Leonard said.

“We started to crank on her this week, and she was a little off,” Leonard said. “The scan showed the natural wear and tear of a high-class racehorse. Obviously, she’s done enough for us, and we decided to retire her.”

 

Tiz Miz Sue was retired

Tiz Miz Sue was retired

 

**** Crack west coast sprinter Jimmy Creed has also been retired after sustaining a “minor sesamoid injury” according to Ned Toffey, general manager of Spendthirft Farms where the horse will stand for $12,500 next year.

The injury would have set him back enough to miss his year-end goal of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park, so the decision was made to retire the now 4-year-old colt.

“We were hopeful we could bring Jimmy Creed home to stud after the Breeders’ Cup because the entire team was very excited about his chances in the Sprint, but it wasn’t meant to be,” said Toffey,. “The great news is that we’re going to be able to offer breeders what we believe is a tremendous opportunity to breed to an exciting stallion prospect through our Share the Upside program.”

 

The fleet Jimmy Creed has also been retired

The fleet Jimmy Creed has also been retired