Travers Stakes Handicapping
General Handicapping Thoughts
All different styles of runners have won the race in recent years, and the last race favorites to win were Stay Thirsty in 2011 and Alpha in 2012, who won in a dead heat with 33-1 long shot Golden Ticket.
Various training and racing regimens have led horses into the Travers, but watch the Jim Dandy Stakes as the key lead-in race. Belmont Stakes for runners are also a threat in the Travers if they show the ability to get the distance. But front runners, pressers or stalkers have fared best at the Travers in more recent years, so review those races leading into the Travers and also watch for fresher horses training well with pedigree and graded stakes wins against quality competition, as the Travers brings together many of the best 3-year-olds in training.
Few knew about Arrogate having won an allowance race on the west coast prior to making his stakes debut in the Travers, so watch for trainers who have well-meant runners and understand that 3-year-olds can continue to make rapid improvement while others like Preakness winner Exaggerator in 2016 may have peaked or are not as fresh or fit as other improving 3-year-olds.
Still, even a Triple Crown winner in great form like American Pharoah can be beaten in the Travers, like he was in 2015 by Keen Ice marking another upset at the ‘Graveyard of Champions”. Don’t be afraid to bet on a longer shot or include them in exotic betting as some bigger payouts have been commonplace in recent years at the Travers.
Travers Handicapping Overview
The $1 million Travers Stakes takes place at Saratoga in late August and often presents a challenge for handicappers. The 1 1/4-mile race for three-year-old Thoroughbreds features horses from the Triple Crown races and other prospering members of the division.
There are two local preps are offered a month beforehand, the Grade 2 Jim Dandy and Curlin Stakes, and both 1 1/8 races have produced winners in recent years, Will Take Charge and V.E. Day, respectively. The Curlin is typically offered on a Friday, a day before the Jim Dandy.
The $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park is also held the same weekend, a day after the Jim Dandy, and always produces Travers contenders.
The Haskell and Jim Dandy are typically the most important prep races for the Travers but West Coast-based horses can also be dangerous, with Colonel John (2008) and Deputy Commander (1997) using California races in preparation.
A couple of 2-1 favorites, Stay Thirsty (2011) and Alpha (dead-heat in 2012), have prevailed this decade, but the Travers is not always so predictable. The 33-1 Golden Ticket reached the finish line at the same time as Alpha and V.E. Day scored at 19-1 odds in 2014.
Expect a large and competitive field.
Handicapping the 2017 Travers Stakes
This renewal of the Travers (G1) is a fascinating betting exercise. Like any race, though, it’s best to have a strong opinion before investing. We have a lot of negative ones regarding a large chunk of the field.
Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Always Dreaming and Preakness (G1) winner Cloud Computing were unimpressive in the Jim Dandy (G2) and don’t inspire confidence that a complete form reversal is forthcoming.
Of the three classic winners, Belmont S. (G1) hero Tapwrit might have stronger claims, but this is a tough ask to win the Travers without an interim prep. Only Birdstone (2004) has ever done it, and he didn’t face a field with this depth.
Giuseppe the Great, Lookin at Lee, Gunnevera, and Fayeq appear outclassed. McCraken still hasn’t run a race fast enough to win this.
West Coast is the least exposed major contender in the field, and appears capable of seizing control of
divisional leadership with continued progression off two good-looking wins in which he endured very wide trips.
Irap is arguably the most improved member of the crop. His Indiana Derby (G3) was visually stunning. Girvin is also in fine fettle after getting over foot troubles that cost him in the Kentucky Derby.
Good Samaritan perked up big time on the switch to dirt in the Jim Dandy. He might be capable of inhaling this field as well.
We’ll use those four liberally in our vertical exotics, and also toss Tapwrit and McCraken in the lower rungs.