Travers Preview: A Look at the Field
The historically short crescendo of the Saratoga Race Course Meet reaches its climax on Saturday, with the 143rd running of the Grade One, million dollar Travers. With the post positions now drawn, we take a brief look at each horse in the field.
1 - Speightscity - 30-1: Gary Contessa's morning line long-shot has already won going two turns at Saratoga, but has failed to impress since that juvenile campaign romp. He's finished out of the money in three of five races since, with his only win coming by way of a 75K claimer. Contessa emphatically announced that his colt will claim the lead in Saturday's early goings, but with Alpha sure to be on his heels, you can't expect him to stay there through to the wire.
2 - Five Sixteen - 15-1: Though he ran second in his last race - the 100K Curlin Stakes - I find myself unimpressed with the Rosie Napravnik mount. In said Curlin Stakes, Five Sixteen was the only contender who enjoyed a quality trip around the final turn. With those in front of him taken four, five, six wide around, this gelding cut the corner and still wasn't able to hold off Street Life - the widest of them at the top of the stretch. With one career win coming in a March Maiden race, don't look here for a viable betting option
3 - Golden Ticket - 20-1: Ken McPeek's late addition to the field makes for an interesting long-shot play, here. In nine career races this colt has never finished beyond sixth, collecting six finishes within the trifecta limits. Yes, his only win came off the turf in a 42K Maiden race, but in two graded stakes he's finished within three lengths of the lead and has worked exceptionally well in recent weeks. I don't think he's the quality of some other contenders in the field, but if you're looking for a long-shot, why not indulge in this colt with the Wonka-inspired name?
4 - Stealcase - 15-1: In last month's Haskell Invitational, Stealcase suffered a disastrous start. But stuck well behind the pack, the colt made a stirring run around the turn, impressively getting up for third. Trainer Mark Casse said his colt will be forwardly placed; he'll hope to capitalize on what figures to be nothing more than an average pace. If he brings that same run that saw him third in the Haskell, he makes a very, very interesting long-shot play.
5 - Street Life - 5-1: This Chad Brown colt and winner of Dandy Weekend's Curlin Stakes is the X-factor of the race, for me. Pushed six wide in that day's mile and an eighth run, Street Life was still able to run past them all in the slop. He'll likely get a similar pace to run at on Saturday, but with a much better field around him and on what figures to be a fast track - so to be honest, I'm not entirely sure what to make of the colt. If he's mid pack, he could be there. If he's at the back, there's no shot. I'll bet on Chad Brown figuring that out, though. He'll have him mid pack and live - a definite betting option, here.
6 - Alpha - 5-2: The morning-line favorite, Kiaran McLaughlin's colt was an impressive, wire-to-wire winner of the Jim Dandy - turning it on when needed, and turning back all comers in mid-stretch. Throwing out a tough Kentucky Derby, and a Breeders' Cup Juvenile when antics in the gate cost him any shot, this Godolphin Stable standout has four wins and two places in his career. Expect Ramon Dominguez to position Alpha close to the lead, likely with Speightcity in front of him, with Stealcase along side and Neck 'n Neck just behind. Their presence will press the pace a bit, so Alpha won't enjoy the slow fractions he did in the Dandy, but I'm not sure it will matter. Able to provide whatever jump Dominguez asked for on that July day, he won't have a problem with a pace that, while quicker, won't be fast. This is the one to beat.
7 - Atigun - 12-1: Given the pace, I don't love closers in this 143rd Travers, which points me away from this Ken McPeek colt. His third in the Belmont says that the mile and a quarter length of Saturday's race could suit him, but I just think that there's too much speed in front of him.
8 - Neck 'n Neck - 9-2: Out of a second place finish in the Jim Dandy, Neck 'n Neck enters Saturday the race's third choice, and one I don't think you should overlook. He fell victim to a very slow place in that Grade 2 loss to Alpha, but with more horses figuring to pressure the lead, he could sneak in with a winning run down the stretch. He was a run away winner in two previous races. On a fast track, with an honest pace, who's to say he can't do it again?
9 - Liaison - 8-1: I said it above: I don't expect a pace, I don't like closers. Bob Baffert's only entry into the race will likely sit close to the back and try to run on at the end, and with Hansen's front running ways out of the race, I can't peg this entry as likely.
10 - Nonios - 4-1: The morning-line second choice enters the race off of a quality effort in the Haskell Invitational - he finished second on a day that not even Pegasus was beating Paynter. Expect a forward position from John Velazquez aboard, here, and a menacing run through the stretch. With three wins, two places, and one show in six career starts, this horse is a must-consider when making your selections come Travers day.
11 - Fast Falcon - 20-1: This Nick Zito trainee was a non factor in the Jim Dandy, and doesn't figure to be one here today. He's another who will prefer to sit off pace and make a run at the end. While the extra length could help, I just don't see how he runs down the speed in front of him off of a moderate pace.
Check back on 1045theteam.com throughout the week for all of your Travers coverage. Later this week we'll provide a breakdown of how I expect the race to play out and what you should be looking to bet. Follow me on Twitter for updates throughout the week from Saratoga - including news, notes, and of course, handicapping advice. Good luck!