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Travers Stakes adapts to new role as key Kentucky Derby prep

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.

Mike Brunker’s horse racing column appears Fridays. He can be reached at mbrunker@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4656. Follow @mike_brunker on Twitter.

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