Saratoga Picks & Stakes Analysis for August 28: Travers Day

It is Travers Day! The Mid-Summer Derby has arrived! We have you covered with our expert analysis that is free, free, free ... Check us out, below ...
It is Travers Day! The Mid-Summer Derby has arrived! We have you covered with our expert analysis that is free, free, free ... Check us out, below ...

The Travers (G1) has historical and cultural significance to not only the Thoroughbred calendar, but also as the final signal that summer is almost over.

Outside of the Triple Crown Series, and the Breeders' Cup, it is the most important race of the year. The "Mid-Summer Derby" will crown a new champion once again, and it will be time to paint that canoe once again! Our turf-man will be with you every step of the way ... for this massive 13 race card!

All of the key undercard stakes contests will be scrutinized below, and he will outline some best bets that are sure to offer you a different perspective! Remember, there are also Breeders' Cup Challenge Series trips at stake in the Personal Ensign (G1) for the BC Distaff (G1), the Ballerina (G1) for the BC F&M Sprint, and the Sword Dancer (G1) for the BC Turf (G1). Trips to Del Mar are on the line!

If you're looking for picks elsewhere around the country this Saturday be sure to check out our free Horse Racing Picks via the gold button below.

Horse Racing Picks

Race 7: Dirt, 7F, Ballerina H. (G1), $500k, F&M 3+

A true “Super Saturday” is headed your way, and on many horizontal tickets you will find this race to be a clear “Single” in many a mind. A ticket to the Breeders’ Cup F&M Sprint (G1) is on the line … just to add to the drama. Certainly, glancing over Gamine’s #1 record since the KY Oaks (G1), it looks as though Bob Baffert’s older filly is unbeatable. Coming into this spot, she has rattled off 4 wins in-a-row ... the first of those dating back to a score at Keeneland in the BC F&M Sprint (G1) last year. There is little doubt that she has talent, but I think her last 3 races (@SA, CD, and Los Al) are all fraught with problems. None of them were against particularly tough fields, and that includes the Derby City Distaff (G1) on the KYD147 undercard. I am against her in this spot because I do not think she can win. Plus, who wants to take 3/5 … not me.

Looking elsewhere, you could easily go with the 2 alums from the Princess Rooney (G2), a salty race that took place down at Gulfstream Park in early July. Trainer Juan Arriagada’s Estilo Talentoso #6 lost the battle down the lane to Mike McCarthy’s Ce Ce #7, as the mare blazed away to a 3+ length score with legendary jockey Victor Espinoza aboard. Clearly, sprinting agrees with the daughter of Elusive Quality, and if she can utilze that kind of power late, she looks to be priced correctly at 4/1. Bo Hirsch LLC must be pretty proud of this homebred. When it comes to training well, there are few that can match Mike McCarthy’s drive and determination. His organization structure is sound as can be. Top pick in this race for me … checking the power that Baffert always commands in the name of all well-intended glory.

Wagering Recommendation: $100 Bankroll, Graduated Wager, WPS #7 ($10-W, $15-P, $75-S)


Race 8: Dirt, 7F, Forego S. (G1), $600k, 4+

Moving right along, we come to another sprint race on the Saratoga MT, and it is named for one of the all-time greats—Forego. What a power runner this one was back in the 1970s. His record stands as a testament to what it looks like when time and motion merge to be one. This year’s race came up extremely tough in my mind, as we have 8 very accomplished older males. While a few are on the make, class-wise, most belong in this spot … so, I would imagine that wagers will be pretty evenly distributed; thus, making this a magnificent contest to bet.

I am very much looking forward to a Vanderbilt alum rematch between Saffie Joseph’s Mischevious Alex #1, Ron Moquett’s Whitmore #2, Jack Sisterson’s Lexitonian #3, Todd Pletcher’s Mind Control #4, and Kelly Breen’s Firenze Fire #8. Of course, out of these, it was Sisterson’s runner who shocked most by winning that Grade 1 at the mammoth odds of 34/1. Our Editor Neil had it, but I sure did not. Of these, I am most interested to see how Pletcher’s speedster runs after that head bob he won against Breen’s charge in the Nerud (G2) back at Belmont in early July. I am not sure if either of these older runners are really up to scratch against a much better field here at Saratoga. I would also say the same about Moquett’s aged star, even though that might be construed by those in a certain state that abuts Oklahoma, Texas, and Louisiana, as sacrilege. Sorry … #2 is off my list.

When it comes down to it, I am a big fan of Joseph’s entry, and also Steve Asmussen’s Yaupon #7. Even though the former turned in a clunker of a race in the Vandy (G1), I think he just had a terrible go last out. I want to give him and Irad Ortiz another chance because there is sound form over his efforts that date back to Gulfstream. The distance, a little longer, is going to suit. As for North America’s all-time leading trainer and his entry, this colt is not as experienced as the others, but he makes up for it through with his Uncle Mo bloodline. Well-bred for a test like this race, he was just on fire as a 3-yr-old, rattling off win after win up until the BC Sprint (G1). His odds were the shortest of any runner that day at Keeneland (and that includes Monomoy Girl and Authentic), but his skill fell woefully flat. His HOF trainer took him back to basics, and after a failed attempt in Dubai on World Cup Night in the Golden Shaheen (G1), he returned for a freshening in a “Non-G” 100k at Pimlico … winning with somewhat ease. Now, he and jockey Ricardo Santana seem ready for the deeper end. If he can rate nicely, and keep close to the leaders, then he has a major shot to score his 1st G1 win. It will not be easy, and at 5/2, or thereabouts, he had better outrun even these odds. Let’s use him …

Wagering Recommendation: $2 Trifecta Wheel, 1/7 w 1/7 w 3/4/8


Race 9: Dirt, 7F, H. Allen Jerkens Memorial S. (G1), 3

Get the tractors out quickly for some harrowing because it is right back to the chute on the backstretch … as we are once again sprinting. This time, it is the talented 3-yr-old colts who are taking to the track. We are throwing a speedball fest here folks … as we have 6 that will be going forth. There are really 2 main storylines that are emanating from this Old No.9 … the first is the titanic renewed match race between Saffie Joseph’s Drain the Clock #1 and Steve Asmussen’s Jackie’s Warrior #2. I find the M/L odds to be pretty divergent here, and I disagree that the Asmussen runner should be tabbed as 1/1, while Joseph’s “slowpoke” is 6/1? That cannot be correct … is it? Certainly, it is true that last out in the Amsterdam (G2) these half-brothers (they are both sired by Maclean’s Music btw …) went hoof-to-hoof, with “Jackie” pummeling his sibling by a whopping 7+ lengths. I understand that was impressive, and would not suggest that we should not look at that seriously. But, that doesn’t mean that “The Clock” is off his game. In other words, I wouldn’t simply write him off, and conclude that he is winding backwards. On the contrary, a recent work on a wet surface makes me think he is ready to go at it again. This match is on!

The other story that is developing, involves the presence of a colt who never got to finish what he started along the Derby Trail back in the spring. Bob Baffert’s Life Is Good #6 was the darling of all Top Ten Lists … remember? Many were so bullish on him, that it seemed a foregone conclusion that he would be the favorite to enter the expansive Starting Gate under the Twin Spires. His injury, as he prepped for the Santa Anita Derby (G1) reverberated through the turfwriting world. Holding our breath after the Medina Spirit news in KYD147, we sort of forgot that “LIG” might return by the end of summer. Baffert cleared the way through the NY Judicial System, and now his colt out of Into Mischief seems ready to go. How good will he be in this spot? I am not sure … What we do know is that Mike Smith is of the opinion that his works speak to an impressive font of speed and power that is still there. That may be true, but we will not know until the bell goes off, and this runner has left the gate. Then we will know.

When it comes to a pick, I think Joseph’s entry is the most exciting because if his odds remain roughly 6/1, that qualifies as an overlay in my book. As Irad Ortiz takes up the pilot duties once again, he has another shot to best his rival, who will be guided by Joel Rosario. Whatever happens, this is going to be one heck of a race!

Wagering Recommendation: $2 Exacta Wheel, 1 w 2/6


Race 10: Dirt, 1 1/8th, Personal Ensign S. (G1), $600k, F&M 4+

Officially halfway through our analysis, it is time to raffle off another BC Challenge Series ticket to Del Mar in November. This time it is destination Distaff (G1), and all entry/expenses will be waived. Of course, the great and powerful Letruska #6, a homebred of renown, has already secured her spot with a convincing “win” in the Fleur Di Lis (G2) back at Churchill in late June. Fausto Gutierrez has quite a mare on his hands here, and the St George Stables frontend-type likes to go to the lead where she can just decimate the field. She is the Knicks Go of older female runners, and her record proves it. I get the feeling that her conditioner is trying his best to keep her training and competitive spirit headed in the right direction … namely, pointed towards Del Mar. That is what she has to prove each time she hits the track (she is No.1 on my NTRA Thoroughbred Poll), and with Irad Ortiz in the saddle, she can do it again in this spot.

Is there anyone that can challenge her ability in this G1? I am not sure … We would certainly like to make excuses for Kenny McPeek’s Swiss Skydiver #4, as the former Preakness Champ and her barn have had a tough go at The SPA. A quarantine, plus being forced to run in the Whitney (G1) against the boys did not help matters. McPeek said as much, and he is as honest and forthright as they come. I would like to think she could capture some of that magic from last year, plus the breakaway speed she displayed in the Beholder Mile (G1) at Santa Anita back in the spring. Switching now to Jose Ortiz, it is imperative that she goes with Gutierrez’s behemoth. If not, she is going to be left in the dust.

One other runner that I rather like, and might be playing against this heavy favorite, is Bill Mott’s Harvey’s Lil Goil #8. The local favorite is heading over from the turf, and though I do not normally like this type of move, I think it actually makes a ton of sense. She is well-bred out of American Pharoah, and has the class value from her grass days. With leading rider Luis Saez up, she might appreciate the surface switch, as her works will attest. If you have odds of 8/1 or even a touch higher … that is a super price on the tote. She will be my top selection, which might earn her a trip to SoCal come November.

Wagering Recommendation: $25/$50 WP #8


Race 11: Turf, 1½, Sword Dancer S. (G1), $750k, 4+   

Passage to the BC Turf (G1) is next up, as the Challenge Series completes its run at Saratoga for this weekend. When I completed my preview of the Sword Dancer (G1) a couple of days ago, I was pretty convinced that Aidan O’Brien’s runner, Japan #6, would be my top choice. It was a resounding, “No thank you” to both Chad Brown’s Tribhuvan #1, and Christophe Clement’s Gufo #2. I am sticking with those pronouncements because O’Brien’s Euro import combines great connections, form, and the bloodlines to get this one done. It will not be easy late in the game, but this is turf routing … never is. Traffic and rating, settling and late turns-of-foot, are just some of the factors involved.

What we know is that Ryan Moore travels around the world regularly to contest the biggest races on the planet, and other than Frankie Dettori, can win at an astonishing rate. Class-wise, there is really no one in this race that has seen the kind of competition that this 5-yr-old out of Galileo has. American bettors need to understand that … plus even though some pundits might think O’Brien Sword Dancer record is not up to scratch (and they would be correct), he still must be respected. I liked this one back in the Hardwicke S. (G2) at Royal Ascot, and I expect him to run much better today, even on what might be perceived as “firm” ground. Let me have 9/2 … great!

As for a “second choice” I am huge Mike Maker proponent, and I think Cross Border #7 has what it takes to get the job done, if O’Brien’s charge fails to fire late. This veteran router is out of English Channel, and is just waiting for a “signature” breakout Grade 1 win to add to his already impressive resume. Some will decry that he cannot do much when the chips are down, but I beg to differ. I like his ability (see the Pegasus WC Turf from earlier this year), and I think Luis Saez has proven more than a little capable when it comes to “choice-making” in the latter stages of a sod race. I would use him!

Wagering Recommendation: $100 Bankroll, Graduated Wager, WPS #6 ($10-W, $15-P, $75-S)


Race 12: Dirt, 1¼, Travers S. (G1), $1.25 Million, 3  

One of America’s most storied races is back, named for one of the founders of the Saratoga gem that is situated in beautiful upstate New York—William R. Travers. I will say this at the outset, The SPA is famously known as the “Graveyard of Champions,” but that will not be the case this year. Why? In short, because Brad Cox’s Essential Quality #2 wins! Not only does he score a Travers S. (G1) victory, but he does it in convincing style. He is the best horse in this field … has the Meet’s leading jockey aboard once again in Luis Saez … and his conditioner, Brad Cox, is humming along at another blistering pace as he hurtles towards another possible Eclipse Award.

This is not a question of who crosses the wire 1st; rather this is a question of who has to settle for the minors. In that vein, I have a couple of ideas about that. First, I am very interested in Kenny McPeek’s King Fury #7. This colt out of Curlin tried the turf in his Saratoga debut, and it was a miserable showing. Coming back to the MT, I think Jose Ortiz’s mount has a ton of upside. His fitness is strong, and with a double-digit price … he is a must to include. Another runner that should make some noise behind EQ, is the Todd Pletcher’s Dynamic One #4. Most bettors will be jumping on this Repole Stables fave because he was so game in the “Non-G” Curlin 120k outing last time. His 1st race since KYD147, he flashed some late speed that was pretty impressive.

Besides these runners, we could role in a couple of other alums from that “First Saturday in May.” Steve Asmussen’s Midnight Bourbon #1 and Robertino Diodoro’s Keepmeinmind #3 are consistently in the mix in races. Although the former lost Paco Lopez in that accident at Monmouth in the Haskell Invite (G1), he went back into training, thankfully progressing well. I want to use both of these veterans of class underneath in my horizontal wagers. They will suit …

Still … Cox’s EQ … he wins … as he hopefully points to the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) …

Wagering Recommendation: $2 Trifecta Wheel, 2 w 1/3/4/7 w 1/3/4/7


Enjoy your Travers Day from the SPA! The tradition at Saratoga Race Course marches on …

Horse Racing Results