by Scott Shapiro
The 2018 Travers Stakes (G1) is one of the more compelling renditions in some time. The “Mid-Summer Derby” drew a field of 11 and presents horseplayers with several ways to go in the 1 1/4-mile event contested over the Saratoga main track. Here are the four horses I am most interested in on Saturday afternoon at the Spa.
The half-brother to Grade 1-winning sire Into Mischief and four-time champion Beholder has disappointed in both of his three-year-old starts in the States for trainer Aiden O’Brien, but I still think his best effort can beat this group.
The $3 million Keeneland September purchase illustrated he is capable of shipping into North America and beating Grade 1 company last November when be bested a field of 14 in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (G1).
After the victory over the Del Mar lawn, O’Brien freshened Mendelssohn up before bringing him back for a pair of preps for what his connections hoped would be a victory in the Kentucky Derby (G1). The second of the two starts saw the son of Scat Daddy win by 18 1/2 lengths in the UAE Derby (UAE-G2). However, he did take advantage of an inside speed bias that day under regular rider Ryan Moore.
Mendelssohn went off at 6-1 in the “Run for the Roses,” but never got a fair shake when he was bumped around at the start. That performance was obviously excusable. In his last start in the Dwyer Stakes (G3), he dueled early with Noble Indy and put the Todd Pletcher trainee away but was no match for eventual winner Firenze Fire. I would have liked to have seen him show more fight in the lane that day, but he is probably better served at two turns.
If Mendelssohn was not ready for his best on Saturday I doubt that O’Brien would have shipped him in to tackle this tough field. If the price is right (8-1 or higher) I think he is worth gambling on.
Trainer Steve Asmussen made it clear that this Winchell Thoroughbreds colt was going to be at his best going a route of ground when he debuted the homebred at 1 1/16 miles in February at Oaklawn Park. The Kentucky-bred went to the lead in that first start and never looked back. He followed it up with a neck victory in his initial try versus winners a month later.
From there Asmussen moved him into Grade 1 company, where he put forth just one top-three finish in three starts before getting some time off after a troubled-trip fifth in the Belmont Stakes (G1) in June. He was not badly overmatched in any of those races, especially in the Preakness Stakes (G1) where he may have won with a different trip. I still thought there was a chance his best races were ahead of him.
I expected a big effort from Tenfold off the bench in the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) and he ran well, but lost focus in the lane almost cost him the win in his first start over the Saratoga main track. He comes into the Travers off a pair of local works and should sit a nice midpack trip under one of the best young jockeys around in Ricardo Santana Jr. Like Mendelssohn, I will need to get the right price to consider him on the win end, but he is not without a chance in this year’s “Mid-Summer Derby.”
The $1 million Keeneland September purchase broke his maiden in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) and has been extremely consistent ever since. The more proven half of the uncoupled Chad Brown entry, the chestnut son of Curlin won the Blue Grass Stakes (G2) before running second in the Kentucky Derby to Justify. Brown gave him some time off after running extremely hard in the Preakness and he came back strong with a three-length victory in the Haskell Invitational (G1) at Monmouth Park.
The win at the Jersey Shore was impressive, but he faces a much more difficult task in the Travers. I have a great deal of respect for Good Magic and his accomplishments, but I still do not think he is at his best going 1 1/4 miles. I expect the E Five Racing colt to run his race, but for there to be one or two better than him on Saturday afternoon. Furthermore, in a loaded group his price is likely to be short to get excited about.
The “other” Chad Brown colt makes his second start in the States after breaking slowly, but running on late for a strong runner-up finish in the June 9 Belmont Stakes. The son of Lonhro did get a dream run up the rail in the third leg of the Triple Crown, but he showed me a lot in overcoming a terrible start under jockey Jose Ortiz.
He may be a bit too ploddy to run down this entire group and he will need to avoid another poor start if he wants to be a factor late, but he has trained well since the Belmont and should be rolling late. Joel Rosario should fit his late-running style well. He takes over for Jose Ortiz who stays aboard his stablemate.