Saratoga (Horsephotos.com/Jamie Newell)

by Joe Kristufek

Digging deep into the seven graded stakes that compromise Travers Day at Saratoga, I unearthed a mixture of potential slam dunks, races where I think I can narrow and others where I’ll be forced to spread. I feel like the opinions are good, now it’s just a matter of playing them the right way, the horses and jockeys doing their jobs and the stars aligning.

“A” horses represent my potential plays in the Travers Day $16,000 Place Payout. B & C horses are horses I will also use in multi-race wager scenarios

6TH Race – H. Allen Jerkens Stakes (G1), 7 furlongs dirt

On paper, it looks to me like only three horses can win – Promises Fulfilled (#1) (8-5 ML) on the lead, Engage (#3) (4-1) from a stalking position or Firenze Fire (#8) (5-2) from a little farther out of it. The wild card, Gidu (#6) (10-1), is also somewhat intriguing and regardless of the finish, as the only other potential speed, he should play an important role in the race. He’s been routing and the pedigree is turfy, but he did fire a bullet work on Saratoga dirt July 27.

Promises Fulfilled smoked Engage in the Amsterdam (G3) last out, but the overall resumes are interchangeable to me. The edge goes to Firenze Fire, who after a less than inspiring spring on the road to the Kentucky Derby (G1), and settle into being a one-turn horse. His win in the Dwyer (G3) was explosive and I trust him the most.

A – 8
B – 1, 3
C – 6

7TH Race – Personal Ensign (G1), 1 1/8 miles dirt

If Abel Tasman (#1) (6-5) doesn’t win this race, the chances of me having a profitable day will decrease significantly. She’s my favorite to win the Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) and I truly think she’s one of the best horses in training, male or female. She had a troubled trip and was on the wrong part of the track in the La Troienne (G1) at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks Day, and her follow-up romp in the Ogden Phipps (G1) at Belmont was simply breathtaking. From the rail draw, I’m guessing Mike Smith nudges his partner out of the gate to hold position, lets the speed clear, and then takes over early on the backstretch. We’ve seen this act before.

Based on her reputation and comfortable comeback win in the Delaware Handicap (G2), Elate (#6) (7-5) will take plenty of action as the second choice. She’s obviously the main threat, but I seriously believe she will have to run a lot better and Abel Tasman will need to regress in order for her to win. She beat absolutely nothing in the seasonal debut and I was far from overwhelmed visually.

A – 1
C – 6

8TH Race – Ballerina (G1), 7 furlongs dirt

Marley’s Freedom (#7) (5-2) has always been a nice horse, but she’s taken her game to a new level for Bob Baffert. The Desert Stormer (G3) win was head turning at Santa Anita, and the follow-up score at Los Alamitos in the Great Lady M (G2) fit right into the big picture plan.

Lewis Bay (#6) (3-1) has had her moments, but the Bed o’ Roses (G3) at Belmont Park put her on another level. Bret Calhoun has done a phenomenal job with Finley’sluckycharm (#5) (3-1) and an argument can be made that she’s better than ever. The pace does not project to be fast, which helps both mares.

With nine races under her girth thus far, Union Strike (#8) (15-1) may still have some upside, and if that’s the case, new trainer Steve Asmussen is the one to get it out of her. If she’s on edge for her new barn, likes Saratoga, and others fail, an upset is not completely out of the question.

A – 7
B – 5, 6
C – 8

9TH Race – Forego (G1), 7 furlongs dirt

City of Light (#8) (9-5) is the deserving favorite, and the outside post in the field of eight certainly doesn’t hurt the cause, but when last seen in late May, he was competing at 10 furlongs. I’m thinking he might be vulnerable. The problem is I like four others fairly equally.

Warrior’s Club (#7) (10-1) has done some of his best work at Saratoga, and his recent second-place run behind the freaky good Imperial Hint was better than it looks. If you like him, C Z Rocket (#6) (9-2), who beat him easily two back at Churchill, has to also be on your radar. Loaded with talent, he can be his own worst enemy, but that super-fast win may have taken him to that next level. Race winner Limousine Liberal (#1) (3-1) and runner-up Whitmore (#3) (4-1) both had a ton of trouble in the Belmont Sprint Championship (G2), but the former was slightly better late, and his works since have sizzled, but I’m not a big fan of his rail post.

A – 6, 7, 8
B – 1, 3

10TH Race – Sword Dancer (G1), 1 1/2 miles turf

Yikes. This is a spread race. The problem is, I’m not in the minority in thinking this way.

Funtastic (#3) (9-2) has the connections (Chad Brown and Jose Ortiz), speed and upside. Hi Happy (#4) (6-1) also has natural speed in what should be a slow-paced race and I’m willing to excuse the boggy turf clunker in the Bowling Green (G2). My sleeper is Revved Up (#9) (15-1). A turn-of-foot closer over shorter distances, I really like the way he grinded to run a good second behind Divisidero and in front of Synchrony in the Arlington Handicap (G3) over 1 3/16 miles. After training unsatisfactorily the day after arriving in Chicago for the Arlington Million (G1) two weeks ago, Graham Motion scratched Spring Quality (#2) (4-1) and rerouted here. He overcame a lot to upset the Manhattan (G1) in the start prior and is capable of showing much better tactical early hoof. In tight between horses and shuffled back behind a slow pace, Highland Sky (#5) (12-1) ran better than it looked last out and he too should provide value. I can’t see Seahenge (#8) (30-1) winning, but everyone else is worthy of being used on a ticket or two.

A – 2, 3, 4, 5, 9
C – 1, 6, 7, 10

11TH Race – Travers (G1), 1 1/4 miles dirt

Good Magic (#9) (2-1) is the deserving favorite, but I think an off-the-board finish might be just as likely as a win. The Kentucky Derby runner-up went hoof to hoof early with Justify in the Preakness (G1), only to succumb late and finish fourth. He bounced back 10 weeks later to win a very average edition of the Haskell Invitational (G1) at Monmouth. He’s versatile, consistent and solid as a rock. Is there still room for improvement, or has he reached his ceiling?

Transferred to Chad Brown and rerouted to the Belmont Stakes (G1) after missing the Kentucky Derby with a minor injury, Euro-import Gronkowski (#3) (4-1) proved he deserves to be mentioned with the best in the three-year-old division by running a hard-charging second behind Justify in the Belmont, and if not for a compromised start and slow pace, perhaps he could have sprung the upset. Brown has raved about his recent training, and I think he has a more than legitimate shot of taking down the Travers.

The enigmatic Mendelssohn (#8) (12-1) has a legitimate excuse for his last-place run in the Kentucky Derby, but I can’t get his dull third in the Dwyer out of my mind. He was on the wrong lead in the stretch and had no punch. Perhaps the distance was too short and he needed the race. If that’s the case, he’s a great bet in Saturday’s Travers, and I’m certainly not going to let him pay $20 without me.

Tenfold (#10) (8-1) ran great in the Preakness and was sneakily compromised in the Belmont. He won the Jim Dandy (G2), but the erratic stretch run left more questions than answers. The connections have been high on him all along and they firmly believe he will only get better with age and experience. I am also in that camp.

One of the toughest reads in this year’s sophomore class, Catholic Boy (#11) (8-1) has done most of his damage on turf, but he’ll get another chance to prove his main track merits in the Travers. His two previous dirt runs produced somewhat disappointing results, but according to trainer Jonathan Thomas, a change of tactics in a pair or recent turf wins may translate well on both surfaces. Instead of taking back and trying to finish, he was allowed to use his natural speed as a weapon, so expect him to be forwardly placed on Saturday.

The filly Wonder Gadot (#2) (5-1) is getting a lot of hype off her two recent wins over the boys, but last I checked the Queens’ Plate is run on Tapeta, the Prince of Wales was a sea of slop and both races were against a very average crop of Canadian-breds. Bravazo (#4) (12-1) and Vino Rosso (#5) (10-1) are what they are and I don’t think King Zachary (#7) (15-1) is good enough. They are useable underneath, but I’m willing to fade them on the win end for multi-race purposes. Trigger Warning (#1) (30-1) is a toss.

It would be one of the greatest upsets in Travers history if Meistermind (#6) (30-1) won, but I’ll be using him on a ticket or two. A half to both Mine That Bird and Dullahan, he was borderline freakish in the Churchill maiden breaker over 1 1/4 miles on June 30. He beat an average field that day, but he absolutely cantered home and I won’t hold the allowance fifth last time over a muddy track against him.

A – 3, 8, 9
B – 10
C – 11

12TH Race – Ballston Spa (G2), 1 1/16 miles turf

A Raving Beauty (#1) (7-5) is my second strongest single of the day. One could argue that she was every bit as good as eventual Beverly D. (G1) winner Sistercharlie in the Diana (G1) at Saratoga. Loaded on the rail turning for home, she checked hard behind a wall of horses and was also in tight during the stretch run. Off Limits (#6) (3-1) possesses a serious stretch kick, but a hot pace is doubtful.

A – 1
C – 6