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HRN Original Blog:
From Coast to Coast

Handicapping the Travers Stakes

Wicked Strong wins 2014 Jim Dandy.
Photo: Adam Mooshian, NYRA
 
Nicknamed the Mid-Summer Derby, the Grade 1 Travers Stakes at Saratoga is the biggest race of the summer for the sophomore class. It also tends to be the last time the 3-year olds race strictly against their own age, as summer gives way to fall, towards a run at the Breeders’ Cup. A look at the winner’s list reveals a storied past, as champions, equine and human, pepper the page.
 
 
Back in 1979, General Assembly set the stakes record of two minutes flat for the current distance of 1 ¼ miles. Jockeys Jim McLaughlin, Eddie Arcaro, Braulio Baeza and Pat Day have all won the race 4 times. Trainer Bert Mulholland stands alone as the only trainer to win 5 editions of the Travers, and owners Dwyer Brothers Stable, George D. Widener, Jr. and Rokeby Stable have all sent out 5 winners.
 
 
This year’s renewal features a rematch between the reigning Belmont Stakes and Jim Dandy winners with the addition of the Haskell winner to the fray. With California Chrome still on the sidelines, this gives his “classmates” the opportunity to catch up to him in the race for a year end championship. Once again, Pedigree Power’s Laurie Ross and I team up to break down the field and pick the winners from the also-rans.
 
 
Laurie
Ashley
Commanding Curve—(Master Command - Mother, by Lion Hearted) is Golden Soul part duex. Both were my long shot pick in the Kentucky Derby. Both flopped in the Belmont Stakes and the Haskell.  Commanding Curve’s speed figures peaked in Kentucky and have gone down in subsequent starts.  Pass.
Commanding Curve—Has not replicated his Kentucky Derby performance in his two starts since then. Additionally, he seems not to appreciate the Saratoga main track. I supported him in the Jim Dandy, but I'm passing here.
Bayern—(Offlee Wild - Alittlebitearly, by Thunder Gulch) is California speed. He did the Baffert BBQ in his last two races, running them all off of their feet. Bayern got his last 1/8 mile in the Haskell in a respectable :12.33 and finished a time zone ahead of the rest of the field. Now the negatives.  I’m iffy about his distance capabilities. None of Offlee Wild’s offspring have won or placed at 1 ¼ miles in a stakes race. Thunder Gulch is the damsire of two dirt stakes winners at 1 ¼ miles, neither raced in this country. Even Baffert has no clue how far this one wants to go, although drawing the rail didn’t hurt.  The last Haskell winner to capture the Travers?  Point Given.  Pass.
Bayern—It is my personal belief that the Haskell was a fluke. He got an easy lead on a speed favoring track, and the rest, as they say, is history. Aside from the Haskell, he hasn't had any luck routing around two turns. Regardless of whether or not he gets an easy lead for the Travers, I see the extra furlong and the deeper surface taking their toll on him in the stretch. Exotics use only.
 
Charge Now—(Tiznow - Supercharger, by A.P. Indy) is a half brother to Kentucky Derby winner and this year’s freshman sire sensation, Super Saver. He’s been brought along very patiently by Bill Mott and the only mark on Charge Now’s record is an off the board finish over a sloppy track.  Charge Now went five wide on the turn in the Curlin Stakes and finished second in a three horse photo. That was the first time he’s had to fight, and he’ll be a more experienced horse for it.  Charge Now’s speed figures have improved in each of his last three starts and he worked a pre-race bullet. Yes, the Curlin was a slow race, but at 15-1 on the morning line, he’s worth a hard look to hit the board. Exotics contender.
Charge Now—Laurie makes some good points in regards to this brother of Super Saver and Brethren. You have to admire Mott’s patience with this one, and it’s obviously paying off so far. Though I tend to believe Mott wouldn’t have Charge Now in such a deep spot unless he was sure that the colt was ready, I’m still hesitant to say that he’s ready for the step up in class. The odds are tempting, and he does look better than the rest of the class jumpers. So why not toss him in the exotics?
V. E. Day—(English Channel - California Sunset, by Deputy Minister) is a rare English Channel progeny who has won over dirt, against really slow horses.  Compare his final time of 1:50.51 in the 1 1/8 mile Curlin Stakes against Wicked Strong’s 1:49 in the Jim Dandy.  It’s generally accepted that each second is roughly five lengths. Trainer Jimmy Jerken’s dad Alan has the moniker of “Giant Killer” at Saratoga. Can Jimmy inherit the title?  Maybe, but not with this horse.
V. E. Day—Puts a 3 race win streak on the line and takes a huge step up in class. The Travers field will be heads and shoulders above what he and the rest of the contenders exiting the Curlin faced, and as Laurie pointed out, his win time for the Curlin was slow. That does not bode well here. Pass.
Viva Majorca—(Tiago - Quick Town, by Cape Town) was third, beaten a length in the Curlin after having to steady.  He jumped from a 6 ½ furlong optional claimer into a 1 1/8 mile restricted stakes and didn’t do too badly. Is he in the same class as the Belmont Stakes, Jim Dandy and Haskell winners?  I don’t see it happening. Pass.
Viva Majorca—Like the previous two, Viva Majorca exits the Curlin. He ran 4th that day but wasn't beaten by much. Charge Now stands a chance, but he’s the only one I like from that particular prep. Pass.
Tonalist—(Tapit - Settling Mist, by Pleasant Colony) regressed slightly in the Jim Dandy after two huge wins.  Yes, the trend for many years is that the Jim Dandy is usually the Travers winner, however, not 100% of the time.  Last year’s Travers hero Will Take Charge was second in the Jim Dandy before capturing the Travers. In 2010 Afleet Express was third in the Jim Dandy before upsetting the Travers.  Count Tonalist out at your own risk. Contender.
Tonalist—Has run three bang up races in a row. Winner of the Peter Pan and Belmont, he was beaten by 2 1/4 lengths by rival Wicked Strong in the Jim Dandy. If the Belmont was any true indication of his ability and preference (and I say that because the trend for success after the Belmont for the winners hasn’t been good lately), then he should appreciate the extra furlong. Contender.
Wicked Strong—(Hard Spun - Moyne Abbey, by Charismatic) upset Tonalist in the Jim Dandy.  That makes Wicked Strong the obvious winner of the Travers, right?  Not so fast.  Yes, he has a good shot, but quick – when has he strung together back-to-back victories?  Anyone?  Maybe he can do it in the Travers. Contender.
Wicked Strong—Winner of the Wood Memorial and Jim Dandy, Wicked Strong ran 4th in both the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont. He obviously likes the Saratoga surface and should handle the stretch back out to 10 furlongs just fine. So he hasn’t strung together back-to-back wins? No big deal. I think he breaks that trend this weekend. Contender.
Kid Cruz—(Lemon Drop Kid - Layreebelle, by Tale of the Cat) sounds like the name of a heavyweight boxer. The Kid has hit the board in seven of nine starts. His highest level victory is a Grade 3 and he was best of the rest in the Jim Dandy, finishing six lengths behind Wicked Strong. Can he win the Travers?  Only if Bayern leads the rest on a merry chase and everyone is staggering at the end. Exotics contender.
Kid Cruz—Wasn't good enough to top Tonalist and Wicked Strong at 9 furlongs last out, so the additional distance in the Travers won't do him any favors. He has class, though, and will likely fill out the exotics.
Ulanbator—(Offlee Wild - Ashapoo, by Petionville) is the troubled child of the race. There’s always one, and you know the type, blocked, stumbled, bumped, clipped heels. They live for drama and excitement and seem to have an excuse in every race, yet they are still talented enough to hit the board. Ulanbator for once had a decent trip in the Jim Dandy and had absolutely no excuse. He just wasn’t good enough.  I don’t expect that he’s improved since then. Pass.
Ulanbator—Finished behind my top Travers selections in both the Dwyer and the Jim Dandy. He was my long shot selection in the Jim Dandy, but I'm off that bandwagon for this race. Pass.
Mr Speaker—(Pulpit - Salute, by Unbridled) – Ok, let’s try an experiment. Let’s take a horse that’s bred for the dirt, but prefers winning Grade 1 races on the lawn and toss him into the Travers.  This colt descends from racing royalty.  The names of My Flag, Storm Flag Flying, Minor’s Mark, Our Emblem etc. are all found in Mr. Speaker’s second generation.  His second dam is the champion and blue hen Personal Ensign.  Mr Speaker breezes well over the dirt. He was derailed from Triple Crown contention in his only dirt start, the Holy Bull.  Mr Speaker pressed the pace before tiring badly.  The pedigree geek in me loves him, the handicapper isn’t so sure. Exotics contender.
Mr Speaker—Tries conventional dirt for just the second time in his career. As pedigree nerd Laurie emphasized, his breeding suggests that he would like dirt, but he finished a well beaten 7th in his only prior start on dirt. Like with Mott and Charge Now, I trust that Shug knows what he's doing, but I'm just not convinced at this point. Use underneath for exotics.


In the last ten years, seven of the eleven (one year was a dead heat) Travers winners settled in second through fourth place early in the race.  Two sat mid-pack before making their move.  Two winners went wire-to-wire.  Pace setters have won or finished second in half of the ten races.
 
 
How the race shapes up: Bayern is the confirmed front-runner. He’ll take them as far as he can. He isn’t speed crazy and Garcia will likely slow things down as much as possible.  Tonalist and maybe Wicked Strong will find their spot behind him.  Charge Now and Mr. Speaker are flexible and can sit anywhere. The rest will sit at the back and attempt to run down the leaders.  Kid Cruz seems the best of these to hit the board.
 
 
Selections
 
Laurie: Tonalist, Wicked Strong, Mr Speaker, Charge Now (long shot pick)
 
Ashley: Wicked Strong, Tonalist, Charge Now (long shot pick), Bayern 

 

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Meet Ashley Tamulonis
  
 

Despite growing up in a non-horse racing state, Ashley has been a fan of the sport since a young age. Her love for horse racing was fostered through the kids’ book series Thoroughbred by Joanna Campbell, and it was her love of reading and horses that led her to educate herself on the ins and outs of the sport. Since becoming actively involved in the industry just a few short years ago, Ashley has had the opportunity to meet many important players in the industry, attend the Eclipse Awards, see personal favorite Mucho Macho Man race twice in person, and get to personally meet and befriend many of the fantastic fans and horsemen involved in the sport.

 

Before joining Horse Racing Nation, Ashley created her own blog Wired with Ashley Paige. The idea to venture into the world of blogging came to her when she realized that she had much to say about horse racing and no one to say it to at the time. Ashley began her time with Horse Racing Nation blogging as The Florida Filly. Using that moniker, she mainly covered racing in South Florida but also blogged about nationwide racing, industry issues, and from time to time offered her opinion on how various changes could be beneficial to the industry as a whole. A move north to New Hampshire began both a new chapter in both Ashley's personal life and professional life. She currently pens the new From Coast to Coast blog for HRN, which is simply a revamped version of The Florida Filly. Don't let the new look and name change fool you, though. Ashley still brings to the table the same great coverage as From Coast to Coast as she did for The Florida Filly. Ashley also participates as a voter in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Polls.

 

An alumni of Macon State College, Ashley is from Central Georgia but is currently living in New Hampshire with her husband Chris and their two sons Charlie and Michael. A stay-at-home mom, Ashley juggles parenting with blogging and her other passions. Aside from horse racing, Ashley is a fervent football fan, enjoys reading and studying history, and hopes to someday author a historical work covering the Tudor period as well as biographies of horse racing’s stars, equine and human alike.