by Scott Shapiro
There are a plethora of opportunities on the wagering menu for Travers Day at Saratoga, including a $1 million guaranteed All-Grade 1 Pick 4 that commences in Race 8 with the Ballerina Stakes (G1) and concludes with the featured event for three-year-olds. Here are my thoughts on the sequence:
RACE 8: Ballerina Stakes
Marley’s Freedom (#7) always showed talent in Southern California, but she has taken it to a new level since entering Hall of Famer Bob Baffert’s barn this spring. The Cicero Farms filly put forth a career-best 107 BRIS Speed rating two back in the Desert Stormer Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita Park in late May and followed that performance up with a 1 1/2-length score in the Great Lady M Stakes (G2) at Los Alamitos early last month.
The daughter of Blame heads east off a strong series of works at Del Mar and draws favorably to the outside in her first Grade 1 try since a fourth-place effort in the La Brea Stakes late last year. Baffert does not have a runner in this year’s Travers, but it is likely he will make a big splash somewhere on the undercard. I expect it to be with this four-year-old filly, who should sit a great trip under 2018 Triple Crown-winning jockey Mike Smith.
I will single Marley’s Freedom to get things rolling.
RACE 9: Forego Stakes
The second of two Grade 1, seven-furlong dashes over the dirt is up next.
City of Light (#8) is the one to beat based on four consecutive 100+ BRIS Speed ratings dating back to a two-length win in the Malibu Stakes (G1) last December. The $710,000 Keeneland September 2015 purchase has never finished off the board in eight tries and has earned just over a million dollars for trainer Michael McCarthy. His best effort likely wins this, but he has never raced over this racetrack and enters the Forego off a three-month layoff. I do not fully trust him in this spot, but his talent cannot be debated.
C Z Rocket (#6) comes off a 108 BRIS Speed rating in the Kelly’s Landing Stakes on closing day at the Churchill Downs spring meeting. The son of City Zip won his first three starts for trainer Al Stall Jr., but disappointed in two tries before putting it altogether on June 30 under the Twin Spires. The Frank Fletcher Racing Operations colt needs to avoid regression off that massive performance two months ago but, like City of Light, his best will make him tough to beat.
Limousine Liberal (#1) and Whitmore (#2) battled to the wire on July 7 in the Belmont Sprint Championship (G2) with Limousine Liberal besting his rival by a neck. They both have put together solid careers, having earned well over seven figures, but will need City of Light or C Z Rocket to run their “B” race if they want to get their picture taken on Saturday.
The same can be said for Warrior’s Club (#7). The Churchill Downs Racing Club colt has been an extremely savvy $25,000 purchase and comes in off a pair of top-three finishes dating back to late June. I just wonder how much more he has left “in the tank” after racing eight times already in 2018.
No Dozing (#5) took advantage of a perfect trip to win the first start of his four-year-old campaign for trainer Arnaud Delacour back on July 21. If he can avoid bouncing off that career-best 104 BRIS Speed rating, he has a chance to spring the upset.
RACE 10: Sword Dancer Stakes
The lone grass race in the sequence is contested at 1 1/2 miles over the inner turf.
Spring Quality (#2) merits serious respect off of a neck victory in the Manhattan Stakes (G1) on Belmont Stakes Day. He should be close enough early to have a shot to run down the pacesetters in the lane.
Funtastic (#3) captured his first try versus Grade 1 company in the United Nations at Monmouth Park on June 30 for leading trainer Chad Brown. He has progressed nicely in his four-year-old campaign, making him a must use on Saturday.
Sadler’s Joy (#10) brings his game in nearly every start, evidenced by his 13 in-the-money finishes in 19 career tries for trainer Tom Albertrani. I am not sure he gets the early pace he needs to be at his best, but he should be rolling late nonetheless under Javier Castellano
RACE 11: Travers Stakes
The 2018 Travers field is led by a pair of Chad Brown colts in Gronkowski (#3) and champion two-year-old Good Magic (#9). They both have a chance to get Brown his first “Mid-Summer Derby” victory, but there are others that will provide more value and are also quite capable of winning the big event for three-year-olds.
Suggested Wager: ($1 P4)
Race 8: 7
Race 9: 1+3+5+6+7+8
Race 10: 2+3+10
Race 11: 3+8+10
Ticket Cost: $54