By Kevin Martin
This Saturday’s Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course in upstate New York will include among its 12 entries the three winners of this year’s Triple Crown races. It will be the first time since 1982 that a trio of Classic winners will meet in the Travers.
The race is dubbed the Mid-Summer Derby for its importance to thoroughbred racing’s 3-year-old division. It has a long history dating back to its first running in 1864, making it one of the oldest sporting events in North America.
A superstar has yet to emerge from this year’s 3-year-old class. With a talented field of runners, including nine graded stakes winners, the Travers will serve as a key race to establish the best of a talented bunch. Here is a look at the field:
Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and Preakness champ Cloud Computing returned to the races from their Classic wins in the Jim Dandy Stakes last month at Saratoga. They finished a disappointing third and fifth behind the upstart winner Good Samaritan who is also among the entries in the Travers. Both will look to rebound Saturday. Cloud Computing’s human connections give him a discernible edge. His jockey, Javier Castellano, has won a record five editions of the Travers Stakes. His trainer, Chad Brown, has never won the Travers but set a record with 40 wins at the Saratoga meet in 2016.
Prior to winning the Jim Dandy, Good Samaritan had run all of his races on turf, where he proved capable against high class grass runners. He relished the new surface in his first start on dirt for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. He soundly beat the two Triple Crown stars with a powerful stretch run after running last for most of the race. A win on Saturday would move Good Samaritan to the top of the 3-year-old pack and give Mott his first victory in the Travers. Mott won the Alabama Stakes — the 3-year-old filly equivalent to the Travers — last weekend at Saratoga.
Guiseppe the Great ran the best race of his career when finishing second to Good Samaritan in the Jim Dandy. He has yet to win a stakes race, but finished second in the Grade 2 Woody Stevens back in June. He will be among the longshots, listed at 30-1 on the morning line in spite of his race in the Jim Dandy. His trainer, Nick Zito, won the Travers back in 2004 and has a history of scoring big upsets in big races.
Belmont Stakes winner Tapwrit hasn’t raced since his career-defining win in the last leg of this year’s Triple Crown series. Todd Pletcher trains Tapwrit along with Always Dreaming and is expected to have a third entry with Outplay, a front running winner in his last race at Saratoga in July. Tapwrit is the tepid morning line favorite at 7-2. Summer Bird was the last colt to complete the Belmont/Travers Stakes double in 2009.
Girvin won two graded stakes in Louisiana before a rough start in the Kentucky Derby ruined any chance there. He has run twice since returning to the races with a second place finish in the Ohio Derby. In his last start, he won the biggest race of his career, with a gutsy victory in the Grade 1 Haskell where he beat a solid field of 3-year-olds. It has been sixteen years since a colt won the Haskell and Travers. Triple Crown winner American Pharoah won the 2015 Haskell but finished second in the Travers — his only loss that year.
Irap, the horse that beat Girvin in the Ohio Derby, also won this summer’s Indiana Derby. These less prestigious Derbies carry big paydays but rarely produce serious contenders for the Travers. Irap won the Grade 1 Bluegrass Stakes earlier this year at Kenneland before finishing 18th and beating only two horses in the Kentucky Derby.
Gunnevera, McCraken, and West Coast round out the Travers’ runners with graded stakes wins in their past performances. McCraken has three graded wins and just missed winning the Haskell when finishing a nose behind Girvin. Gunnevera won last year’s Grade 2 Saratoga Special in only his second career start and impressed when winning the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth early in 2017. He finished seventh in the Kentucky Derby and fifth in the Preakness.
West Coast is trained by Bob Baffert, who brought a relative unknown named Arrogate to the Travers last year. Arrogate not only won the Travers, but he also set a track record while doing so. West Coast isn’t another Arrogate and his career resume is thin. Even so, the Baffert factor definitely influenced the morning line oddsmaker. He is the second betting choice behind Tapwrit at 4-1.
Looking at Lee has only two lifetime wins in thirteen career races, but has earned over one million dollars in career purses with a series of placings in graded stakes races. He finished second in the Kentucky Derby at 33-1. It’s hard to imagine him notching his first graded stakes win in the Travers, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him cash another check with a top four finish.
Fayeq is the least accomplished of the Travers field. He is a half brother to the great Rachel Alexandra, but has nothing on a three race career resume that suggests he can upset the Travers. He shares the status of longest shot on the morning line with Looking at Lee. They are both listed at 30-1.
While this year’s Travers lacks a star, one could very well emerge with a win on Saturday. The Travers headlines a big day of racing that will include seven graded stakes races at the historic track in Saratoga Springs. Post time for the Travers is 5:44 ET.
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