Travers Stakes looms as pivotal 3-year-old race of the year

Updated August 24, 2017 - 8:32 pm

We’re conditioned to view the Triple Crown races as the pivotal ones for 3-year-olds, but the division’s key race in 2017 almost certainly will be the 148th running of the Travers Stakes on Saturday.

As I wrote in June, the 3-year-old picture is as muddy as the Mighty Mississippi this year, with early favorites such as Classic Empire faltering and other contenders taking turns beating one another.

While the Breeders’ Cup could still decide the eventual 3-year-old champ, Saturday’s Travers Stakes (Grade 1) at Saratoga, which will be broadcast from 1:30-3 p.m. on KSNV-3, will go a long way toward shaking out a division that has defied all attempts to define it.

The field of 12 for the 1¼-mile “Midsummer Derby” includes the three winners of the Triple Crown races — Always Dreaming (Kentucky Derby), Cloud Computing (Preakness) and Tapwrit (Belmont) — as well as almost every other contender for the 3-year-old crown.

That includes horses who made an impact on the Triple Crown trail — Girvin, Gunnevera, Irap, Lookin At Lee and McCraken — without winning one of the big three, as well as promising late-developers Fayeq, Good Samaritan, Giuseppe the Great and West Coast.

Saratoga morning line maker Travis Stone made Tapwrit the 7-2 favorite, followed by West Coast at 4-1.

#RJhorseracing featured races

The Travers is so competitive it was an automatic pick for our #RJhorseracing handicappers. But to add some spice to the menu, we also dissected the fifth race on Saratoga’s Saturday card, a salty optional claiming race on the lawn.

Our handicapping corps is thinking upset in the Travers, with the Bill Mott-trained Good Samaritan (5-1 on the morning line) upsetting the apple cart. They see West Coast and Girvin as the top threats.

“Good Samaritan — hope doesn’t stop to help a horse!” quipped Tom Mahoney in making the last-out winner of the Jim Dandy Stakes (Gr. 2) his top pick.

I like Good Samaritan as well but think that what should be a fairly tepid pace could keep him from winning. I’ll go with the sharp Irap (8-1), who should get a perfect stalking trip behind expected pace-setter Always Dreaming. I’ll also use him in exactas with Good Samaritan, West Coast and McCraken.

In Saturday’s 5th race at Saratoga, our handicappers are siding with class-dropping Sycamore Lane, who made a middle move before fading in the United Nations Stakes (Gr. 1) at Monmouth Park. There is value there, as he’s an attractive 8-1 in the morning line.

I’ll side with Ray’s The Bar (4-1), a first-time gelding from the always hot Chad Brown barn. He ran competitively against graded stakes company before the surgery and wouldn’t need to improve much to get the job done here.

You can get in on the fun next week. Send me an email or follow me on Twitter and you’ll receive notice each week on the featured race(s) and access to free past performances, courtesy of Equibase. Then just email or post (using the #RJhorseracing hashtag) your top three selections, a bit of analysis and your wagering strategy by 5 p.m. Thursday.

If I use your comment in the column that appears in the newspaper, you’ll receive a fabulous pack of Review-Journal breath mints. It doesn’t get much better than that.

You’ll also receive a full rundown via email of how our handicappers view the race. That was a good thing last week, when they nailed the winning exacta in the Pacific Classic and the winner of the bonus race at Del Mar.

Contact Mike Brunker at or 702-383-4656. Follow @mike_brunker on Twitter.

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