My betting strategy for the 150th running of the Travers Stakes involves two horses. Tacitus is the most likely winner on paper, a horse who appears on the verge of putting it all together with a major win, but he’s been his own worst enemy at times losing the last three starts. Perhaps blinkers will make the difference but concerns remain about his early positioning.
Similar to last year, I expect a moderate pace that puts late runners at a disadvantage. Tacitus will be included in all multi-race wagers, but Looking at Bikinis is my top choice.
Plenty of chatter surrounds the dead rail on the Jim Dandy program (July 27), but the day before featured one of the most negative rail biases I’ve ever seen. The inside played like quicksand and speed had no chance on July 26, with wide rallying horses winning every race prior to the Curlin Stakes, and Looking at Bikinis took the absolute worst of it in his first two-turn start. He still ran huge to finish third in my estimation.
Javier Castellano tried to stay a few paths off the inside with the front-runner but when Rowayton advanced to engage him on the backstretch, Looking at Bikinis basically got forced up against the rail for the final half-mile of the race. The poor positioning took its toll, but Looking at Bikinis never quit trying in his stakes debut and outfinished a rival late for third.
Considering his inexperience, Looking at Bikinis looks poised to improve off the first career setback. The Chad Brown-trained colt possesses good speed and should be either showing the way or very close to the action from the start. It’s easy for me to anticipate the right trip and I have no concerns about the 1 ¼-mile distance: the Lookin at Lucky colt is out of a mare by Travers winner Bernardini and counts Machiavellian and Sadler’s Wells as his second and third damsires.
I am betting Looking at Bikinis (6) to win and place, and will box him in the exacta with Tacitus (10). And use both exclusively in any multi-race bets.
Here are some thoughts on the undercard stakes:
Ballerina (G1): Doesn’t appear to be the strongest edition of the Ballerina and there is plenty of speed entered. Dawn the Destroyer (7) will be running late and is intriguing to me at a price. It looked like she didn’t like the surface at Belmont Park in in her last two starts, struggling to stay within contention during the early stages and basically only running through the stretch. However, the mare ran some big races at Aqueduct earlier this year (102 and 103 BRIS Speed ratings) and showed an affinity for Saratoga previously, finishing third in the six-furlong Prioress and taking an allowance at today’s seven-furlong by open lengths. She could get the right set-up at long odds.
Ballston Spa (G2): Secret Message (3) was in too tough last time against the likes of Sistercharlie, Rushing Fall and Homerique, but offered a solid run for fourth and can rebound in this spot. I like how she’s improved at age 4 for Graham Motion.
Personal Ensign (G1): Elate (4) has dropped both starts against Midnight Bisou this year but those races came at 1 1/16 miles. She enters on the upswing Bill Mott, recording an impressive win in the Delaware H. (G2) last out, and can turn the tables on her rival. Midnight Bisou is winless from three attempts at the distance and I’ll play straight exactas over a pair of distance specialists, Wow Cat (5) and Golden Award (6).
Sword Dancer (G1): Horses who relish the Saratoga turf can hold their form while stepping up in class. We witnessed it earlier this meet from Get Stormy, who parlayed a win in a restricted stakes win for distaffers into a victory over males in the Fourstardave (G1). And last year, Glorious Empire won the Sword Dancer at 15-1 after dead-heating in the Bowling Green (G2) earlier in the meet at long odds. Channel Cat (4) fits the same bill. He ran a big race in the United Nations (G1) at Monmouth Park two back, missing by less than a length in third, and carried that form forward in the Bowling Green, gamely digging in to score by a half-length in a career-best. The four-year-old colt registered excellent BRIS Speed (102) and Late Pace (106) numbers and I expect another big effort here.
Good luck on Travers Day!