Updated August 6, 2020 - 5:50 pm
Saturday’s $1 million Travers Stakes at Saratoga, usually the next big thing for 3-year-olds after the Triple Crown, this year lands smack dab in the middle of the series.
And that makes the Grade 1 Spa fixture a very different race from the Midsummer Derby we’ve come to know and love.
While the Kentucky Derby winner and a couple other seasoned Triple Crown veterans would normally share the Travers stage with some late-developing horses trying to show they belong at the elite level, this year’s Travers is all about getting positioned for the Derby, now just a month away.
As the first major prep race to be run at the Derby distance of 1¼ miles also will provide handicappers with some solid clues as far as the stamina of various competitors.
Tiz the Law, who would be favored in the Run for the Roses if that race was held today, will open as the even-money favorite in the field of eight.
The Barclay Tagg-trained son of Constitution is very deserving of the high expectations, having won five of six lifetime, including the Belmont Stakes on June 20 in his most recent start. He’s also shown the ability to do what very good racehorses do: Break alertly, secure a stalking position behind the leaders and stay out of trouble until the real running begins.
Read on to see what the #RJhorseracing handicappers and I think about Tiz the Law’s chances, but remember that they don’t call Saratoga the “graveyard of favorites” for nothing. (Insert obligatory Onion, Secretariat reference here.)
No summer racing in Nevada
Both the Elko and White Pine county fairs this summer have been canceled, meaning there will be no live horse racing in Nevada this year.
County fair boards took the actions after concluding they could not conduct racing safely and profitably under the state’s COVID-19 requirements.
One can only hope that these institutions will be back next summer and not follow so many other small fair meets into oblivion.
#RHhorseracing featured races
As telegraphed, the Travers is on the crowd ‘cappers menu this week, along with the $150,000 Yellow Ribbon Stakes at Del Mar.
In the Travers, which will be the centerpiece of a Fox TV network broadcast from 2-3:30 p.m. PT, the crew is almost unanimously backing Tiz the Law to keep on rolling. They have the Bob Baffert-trained Uncle Chuck (5-2 on the morning line) finishing a distant second with Country Grammer (6-1) completing the trifecta.
I can’t fault their logic, but I’m going to embark on a fool’s mission and lightly wager that Uncle Chuck can fend off the heavy favorite. My reasoning is twofold:
One is that, like all his rivals, he will be trying the 10-furlong distance for the first time, though Tagg says he foresees no problems there.
The other is that as the leader on the Kentucky Derby points board, Tiz the Law’s connections don’t need him to win the Travers, which will award 100, 40, 20 and 10 points to the top four finishers, to punch his ticket to Louisville. Uncle Chuck, on the other hand, needs to add to the 20 points he earned winning the Los Alamitos Derby on July 4 to be assured a spot in the starting gate. As a result, Baffert has put four stiff works into the colt to ensure he’s totally fit for the Travers.
In the Yellow Ribbon, a 1 1\16th mile turf handicap for fillies and mares 3 and up, the crowd cappers are tightly knotted between the 5-2 morning line favorite Jolie Olimpica and last year’s Yellow Ribbon winner, Beau Recall (3-1), on the morning line, with the former holding the slightest edge at deadline. They have Keeper of the Stars (7-2) in third.
This time I am in full accordance with my peeps on the winner, as the Richard Mandella-trained Jolie Olimpica should get a perfect stalking trip from the outside post under Mike Smith. I’ll use Lady Prancealot (5-1) to place and Beau Recall to show.
Ellis Starr’s Travers Stakes analysis
Tiz the Law stands out in this year’s Runhappy Travers Stakes field. In his first start as a 3-year-old in February, Tiz the Law earned a spectacular 117 Equibase Speed Figure which is unheard of for that time of year. Nearly two months later when dominating in the Florida Derby by 4 1/4 lengths, Tiz the Law earned a 112 figure, then following nearly three more months off he earned a 113 figure winning the Belmont Stakes. Not only did Tiz the Law dominate and beat a total of 23 other horses in those three races by an average of 3 1/2 lengths, he never gave any other horse a chance to win in the last eighth of a mile. Putting those figures in perspective, they amount to a “triple advantage,” as the lowest of the three figures is higher than the best figure of any of the other seven horses in this race. With the ability to relax in second or third in the early stages of his races then find another gear to drive by the field and coast home, Tiz the Law is likely to win the Travers Stakes as easily as he has won his other three races this year and enter the gate for the Kentucky Derby as the first prohibitive favorite in many years.
That being said, it is not out of the realm of possibility either Caracaro or Country Grammer could post the upset to win the Travers. Three weeks ago in the Peter Pan Stakes run at the slightly shorter distance of 1 1/8th mile at Saratoga, Country Grammer and Caracaro engaged in a stirring stretch battle, with Caracaro securing the advantage by a head with an eighth of a mile to go and Country Grammer asserting himself on the finish line by that same margin. They both earned 95 figures for the race, which isn’t even in the same area code as the 113 figure Tiz the Law earned a few weeks earlier winning the Belmont Stakes. Still, both colts had run better prior to that and have the breeding to run even better at this 1 1/4 mile distance. Caracaro improved to a 103 figure in January in only the second start of his career, an 11 point improvement off his debut. As such, having been off from January until the Peter Pan six months later, improving another 11 points off the 95 figure effort puts him in line with the 117 figure effort Tiz the Law put forth in his best this year. Country Grammer had been off for three months before his June 4 prep for the Peter Pan in which he finished third with a 98 figure and he too could leap frog past that previous best to have a big say in the outcome of the Travers.
The rest of the field, with their best Equibase Speed Figures: First Line (96), Max Player (105), Shivaree (106), South Bend (98) and Uncle Chuck (98).
Ellis Starr is the national racing analyst for Equibase. Visit the Equibase website for more on the race or to purchase handicapping products.