This Saturday at Saratoga is the biggest day of the biggest race meet of the summer season – Travers Day.
Saratoga’s Saturday program features a 13-race card headlined by “The Mid-Summer Derby,” the Travers Stakes (G1) for three-year-olds at 1 1/4 miles. While this year’s Travers is an unsatisfying race in the context of the overall three-year-old division due to the absence of Maximum Security, War of Will, Mr. Money, Game Winner, Omaha Beach and others, it nonetheless will have a full field of 12 horses and should be a good betting race for horseplayers as the centerpiece of one of the year’s best days of racing and wagering.
Will morning-line favorite Tacitus (#6) (5-2) emerge with the major Grade 1 win that has eluded him so far? Or will another sophomore, such as Code of Honor (#2) (4-1), step up to the plate on horse racing’s biggest summer stage and put themselves into the mix in the hunt to be 2019’s top three-year-old? Will Chad Brown pull another rabbit out of his hat with one of his entrants, Highest Honors (#3) (10-1) or Looking at Bikinis (#9) (10-1)? Or can Bob Baffert ship in his West Coast-based Mucho Gusto (#7) (6-1) and make off with the top honors? Or could the winner be a longshot like Preakness Stakes (G1) runner-upEverfast (#5) (30-1), or Steve Asmussen’s Laughing Fox (#4) (30-1)?
Here are four horses to use in all of your Travers exotics plays:
SARATOGA RACE 11, TRAVERS STAKES EXOTICS PICKS:
CODE OF HONOR (#2) (4-1) has been hanging around the upper echelons of the three-year-old division with a win in Belmont’s Dwyer (G3) coming on the heels of his Fountain of Youth (G2) victory, and his third-place finish (2nd vis DQ) in the Kentucky Derby (G1). In this field, those credentials are enough to make Code of Honor the most likely exacta partner along with Tacitus with regular rider Johnny Velazquez riding for Shug McGaughey.
EVERFAST (#5) (30-1) is worth a flyer in this field as a 30-1 longshot who realistically could land in your exactas, just like he did at 29-1 odds in the Preakness behind War of Will at a distance just a tad shorter than this 1 1/4 miles. He was coming late in the Preakness, indicating this distance will be in his wheelhouse. No dice in the Travers, and then could not close last time in the Haskell on a Monmouth track unfriendly to come-from-behind horses. It’s too early to give up on this horse versus this kind of competition (a race lacking all of the stars of the division). Dale Romans’ son is the agent for jockey Martin Chuan, and that choice of rider is likely to ensure big odds.
TACITUS (#6) (5-2) owns by far the best credentials in the Travers field and is the horse to beat in the Travers based on his late-running second-place finish in the Jim Dandy (G2) at Saratoga in a paceless race that was not well-suited for his running style. Trained by Bill Mott, Tacitus is perhaps the only horse in the Travers who is by no means a second-rung player in the three-year-old division this season based on his wins in the Tampa Bay Derby (G2) and Wood Memorial (G2) and runner-up finish in the Belmont Stakes (G1). His three-quarter length loss in the Jim Dandy was a good effort in defeat in a shorter race with insufficient pace, but he Travers will offer him a longer distance to work with and a better pace to chase. Plus, the Jim Dandy was essentially a prep, because the goal for Bill Mott and Tacitus was never the Jim Dandy – it was the Travers all along. Blinkers on.
MUCHO GUSTO (#7) (6-1) makes a ton of sense in this race if you, like me, subscribe to the idea that Maximum Security is the best horse in this year’s three-year-old division. Finished second behind Maximum Security in the Haskell last time for trainer Bob Baffert, and has quietly pieced together a fantastic under-the-radar season this year with graded victories in the Robert Lewis (G3), the Laz Barrera (G3) and the Affirmed (G3) stakes all at Santa Anita. The Haskell effort proved he could run big outside of California, and the BRIS Speed figure he earned there is the best last-race figure earned by any of the horses in the Travers field. The big question he’ll need to answer here is the 1 1/4-mile distance, which may be too far for him but perhaps not too far to keep him out of the exotics.
Boxing these four top horses in the exotics gives you both the legitimate favorite in the race, Tacitus, as well as the horses in the field with the best chances of posting the upset, or at last rounding out the exactas and trifectas. Even though these bets include both the favorite and the second favorite, they should offer some value because the exclude two Chad Brown-trained horses, as well as the winner of the local Travers prep, the Jim Dandy.
Bet Code of Honor (#2), Everfast (#5), Tacitus (#6) and Mucho Gusto (#7) in the exotics, and you will have the potential for some solid returns. Best of luck!
TRAVERS (FOUR-HORSE) EXOTICS WAGERS:
$2 Exacta Box 2, 5, 6, 7 = $24
$1 Trifecta box 2, 4, 5, 6 = $24
PHOTO: Everfast running second in the Preakness Stakes (G1) (c) Horsephotos.com/Kathleen O’Leary