Travers Stakes 2022 Entries: One of the best fields ever for historic race?

The 2022 Travers Stakes, the Mid-Summer Derby, is scheduled for Saturday. The Horse-by-Horse Guide is ready to fly, just like those 3-yr-olds will be ...
The 2022 Travers Stakes, the Mid-Summer Derby, is scheduled for Saturday. The Horse-by-Horse Guide is ready to fly, just like those 3-yr-olds will be ...

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Race 11: 1¼ (Dirt), Travers Stakes (G1), Purse $1.25 Million, 3 (Saturday)

Late August means one thing for Thoroughbred horse racing … the Mid-Summer Derby … also known as the Travers Stakes! Always a highlight during Saratoga’s Meet, it was always intended to offer another leg, an extension of the season’s Triple Crown. Once the Breeders’ Cup took shape in the 1980s, Travers lore took on an even greater significance as a “stepping stone” to November. The moniker, “Graveyard of Champions” has held true too, as several odds-on-favorites have suffered defeat—namely American Pharoah in 2015 to Keen Ice. Over the past 10 years, different trainers have celebrated a well-earned score, but no other jockey has more victories than Javier Castellano. He nimbly piloted Catholic Boy in 2018 for Jonathan Thomas. Who will revel in the honor of having that canoe painted in their barn’s colors? This might be one of the best-matched fields in the history of this storied race … high praise indeed!

Now, let’s find out about this field…

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#1 Cyberknife (Jky: F. Geroux/Trn: B. Cox):

The Gold Family has owned some nice runners before, but this son of Gun Runner could be the best of all-time. We know that Haskell winners have not fared well in the Travers, but that is not stopping trainer Brad Cox from trying to go back-to-back. A year ago, he celebrated with Essential Quality. What we do know is that his 3-yr-old already has 5 wins over 9 career starts … that is impressive. His victory in the Arkansas Derby (G1) remains my favorite race to re-watch. Florent Geroux was up against D.W. Lukas’ Secret Oath, and despite a furious middle move by the filly, the jockey saved enough for a final push down the lane. The KYD148 performance was a definite bust, but his talent at other times (i.e. Haskell S.) is undeniable. A top selection … connections prove it …

Grade: A-

 

#2 Rich Strike (Jky: S. Leon/Trn: E. Reed):

The Eric Reed story, and his horse’s, has a certain line that is one in a million. The 80/1 shot with Sonny Leon came roaring towards the finish under the Twin Spires, and shocked the racing world. It was the son of Keen Ice’s day … and it is ironic that it was that sire that upset American Pharoah in the Travers in 2015. Maybe the team can upset the apple cart again at Saratoga … maybe … Leon was vaulted into the limelight, and he handled it with gratitude. It is always wonderful to see underdogs … long shots … rise to the top, especially when a sport needs it. However, this horse’s effort in the Belmont Stakes (G1) was a clear miss. I think we expected more, considering that the decision was made to skip the Preakness. It could be argued that the colt lost the edge, and that lightning in a bottle could not be captured again. This is a very good runner, but I have doubts that he can even hit-the-board.

Grade: C+

 

#3 Ain’t Life Grand (Jky: T. Gaffalione/Trn: K. Von Hemel):

Out of that popular sire, Not This Time, here is a 3-yr-old that has run almost all of his races at Prairie Meadows in Iowa for trainer Kelly Von Hemel. Part of a great legacy of conditioning, this Von Hemel brings this colt to Saratoga to take on a very tough field. A win in the Iowa Derby $250k, with Elwin Gonzalez aboard, was a major highlight. With tactical capability, it will be up to new jockey, Tyler Gaffalione, to use his mount’s skills to the fullest extent. One point … beating the talented Conagher in Iowa’s big race does prove that he can face down talent, but there will be nothing easy when it comes to running in his first Grade 1.

Grade: C

 

#4 Gilded Age (Jky: J. Alvarado/Trn: B. Mott):

The son of Medaglia d’Oro for HOF trainer Bill Mott came back from running in the UAE Derby (G2) over in Dubai, and he barely won an OC80k contest at Churchill Downs against Brigadier General. He was 6th at the top of the lane … that means he closed extremely well. He tried the Curlin S. $135k next time out, and it was a losing affair by 4+ lengths versus Artorius #5. One has to think that this step up in class will be a major challenge, even with Mott’s “go-to” rider, Junior Alvarado, at the controls. We know this runner has form, but these waters are much deeper.

Grade: B-

 

#5 Artorius (Jky: I. Ortiz/Trn: C. Brown):

Lightly-raced, the Juddmonte homebred only has 3 races to his credit, but he has improved each time he has hit the track. An injury kept him from competing earlier than April, when he debuted at Keeneland against MSW Co. Clearly, his signature “win” to-date in the Curlin S. $135k at Saratoga in late July was a breakthrough. Channeling his sire, Arrogate, he won by 4+ lengths, which made trainer Chad Brown think that he could handle the stretch out. Having the services of Irad Ortiz once again only sweetens the deal. Against more experienced runners, it will be interesting to see how this one responds going 1¼ at The Spa. A big chance, at what could be a more than square price come Saturday. This could be a sleeper pick …

Grade: B

 

#6 Epicenter (Jky: J. Rosario/Trn: S. Asmussen):

My argument is that this son of Not This Time has the most to prove on Saturday. He was the lukewarm favorite in the Kentucky Derby (G1), but Steve Asmussen was unable to celebrate with Ron Winchell in that “special” Churchill winner’s circle. A horse beat him … 80/1. The colt was 2nd in the Preakness S. (G1), and skipped the Belmont S. (G1). Certainly, his performance in the Jim Dandy S. (G2) warranted favoritism in Saturday’s Travers. Joel Rosario is one of the best in the business, and matching wits with him can be a tall mountain to surmount. Still, I think he is up against as tough a field as he has faced. It will not be easy. I am willing to take a chance playing against him because he will be too short a price … that could be folly. He has travelled quite a road through the Louisiana Series, and we cannot wait to see where it goes from here.

Grade: B+

 

#7 Early Voting (Jky: J. Ortiz/Trn: C. Brown):

The most-accomplished of the Chad Brown entries, the son of Gun Runner captured the Preakness S., the 2nd leg of the Triple Crown, by running into an honest pace. Jose Ortiz was able to track from just off the lead, and he had enough left in the tank to get the job done. Owned by Klaravich Stables, the colt will be looking to rectify a poor showing in the Jim Dandy (G2) last month. Frankly, I am not overly impressed with this runner, and I will be flabbergasted if he wins the Travers. There is talent here, of course, but he will need a dream trip, like he had at Pimlico, if owner Seth is going to celebrate in The Spa circle. Ortiz can make a world of difference, but not this time.

Grade: B-

 

#8 Zandon (Jky: F. Prat/Trn: C. Brown):

The power that this son of Upstart exhibited in the Blue Grass S. (G1) at Keeneland was certainly impressive. Trainer Chad Brown has different kinds of entries for the Travers, but this 3-yr-old is the most consistent. He ran very well in the Kentucky Derby (G1) with Flavien Prat in the irons. The 3rd Place ending showed heart, especially when you consider that Mach 1 pace that the field was forced to run into. Even though he could not catch rival Epicenter #6 in the Jim Dandy S. (G2) last time out, it was still a quality start. Honestly, he hasn’t competed all that much since the spring, so it is reasonable to assume that there is more to do coming back to the track at Saratoga. Prat has enjoyed as smooth a transition as possible, coming from Southern California to the East Coast. Will probably be my top choice … owner Jeff Drown landed a nice one. We cannot have Mo Donegal because of an injury … here is the next best thing.

Grade: A-

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Join us Saturday for all of our Saratoga selections! Should be a great set of races from NYRA’s celebrated track! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter … Horseracing_USA !!!

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