renewal of the
is shaping up as the race of the year. A strong field of
nine colts will head to the post in the mid-summer derby. Three are
already proven at 1 ¼ miles or beyond.
The Travers is more than just a
showdown between Kentucky Derby champ Orb, Belmont Stakes/Jim Dandy
Stakes victor Palace Malice and Haskell Stakes hero Verrazano. They
will face Virginia Derby (G-2) winner War Dancer, the exacta duo from
the Curlin Stakes plus the runner-ups from the Kentucky Derby and Jim
Before we take a closer look at this
year's Travers contenders, let's take a brief look at the history of
the past twelve ...excuse me, thirteen (due to the unprecedented dead
heat last year) winners and the races they exited before wearing the
red and white carnation blanket in the Travers winner's circle. The
fastest winning times in the last twelve years of :201.40 and 2:01.60
were recorded by Point Given and Bernardini, respectively. The rest
galloped home in various shades of 2:02 – 2:03.
2000 Unshaded - 3rd in Jim
2001 Point Given - 1st
Preakness/1st Belmont Stakes/1st Haskell
2002 Medaglia D'Oro - 2nd
Belmont Stakes/1st Jim Dandy
2003 Ten Most Wanted - 2nd
Belmont Stakes/ 2nd in Swaps Stakes
2004 Birdstone - 1st
2005 Flower Alley - 1st Jim
2006 Bernardini - 1st
Preakness/1st - Jim Dandy
2007 Street Sense - 1st
Kentucky Derby/1st Jim Dandy
2008 Colonel John - 1st
2009 Summer Bird - 1st
Belmont Stakes/ 2nd in Haskell
2010 Afleet Express - 3rd
2011 Stay Thirsty - 2nd
Belmont Stakes /1st Jim Dandy
2012 Alpha - 1st Jim Dandy
2012 Golden Ticket Allowance/optional
The Jim Dandy have proven to be the
most form-full race going into the Travers. Eight of the last twelve
winners won or placed in this prep race. Seven colts won or placed
in the Belmont and three won or placed in both the Belmont Stakes and
Jim Dandy. Only one horse, the Champion Street Sense, has captured
both the Kentucky Derby and Travers since 2000. Runners from the
Haskell Stakes haven't carried their form into the Travers. Six
colts who were victorious in the Haskell used the race as a
springboard to the mid-summer derby. Of those, Point Given pulled
off the double while three (Peace Rules, Roman Ruler and Bluegrass
Cat) finished in the money in the Travers.
Over the last few years, the emphasis
in route races at the Spa has been on the late pace/stalkers. But
contrary to popular belief, that run-from-the-clouds style hasn't
held up in the Travers. The majority of the winners pressed the early
pace from second or third before taking over either around the far
turn or in the stretch. Three colts either set the pace or vied for
the lead before dominating their fields, while three others sat
mid-pack (fourth – sixth) before making their move. Only two colts
followed the popular one run scenario from the back of the pack.
Does the X Factor In?
An intriguing concept that I've used
with success when handicapping the Kentucky Derby also seems to be at
play in the Travers Stakes. More than half of the Kentucky Derby
winners since 1973 are suspected of having the X-Factor (a/k/a large
heart gene). I say suspected, because the only reliable measurement
to determine if a horse has a large heart is to do an ECG of the
dam/foal to see if they carry this mutation. There is one physical
characteristic of the large heart gene – curly, leaf-like ears.
Think Zenyatta. Remember those large, curly ears? Secretariat also
The large heart gene is passed from
sire to daughter, and from daughter to son, although while it can
also pass from dam to daughter and sire to son, it is recessive in
these cases. Much like the baldness gene in humans. Daughters receive
it from their fathers and pass it to sons, but the gene is
thankfully recessive in their daughters.
So how does this apply to the Travers
Stakes? Five of the last 13 winners are descended from X-Factor
female families, while six others are inconclusive, although their
dam sires likely carried the gene. That's a pretty strong
correlation. Unfortunately, most of this is speculation without the
proof of sending them all through the EKG. Still, it's something to
keep in mind.
Given what we know about the previous
winners, it would seem that PALACE MALICE
ticks all of the
boxes. He has the right running style and may follow in the hoof
prints of previous of Belmont Stakes/Jim Dandy victors. The son of
Curlin is proving to be as good as his sire, who, incidentally, was
third in the Haskell and skipped the Travers to rest up for the
Breeders' Cup Classic. Oh, and Palace Malice may also carry the
X-Factor Gene, as his damsire Royal Anthem likely did.
is no slouch, either. He's won every start, except for the time when
he and Palace Malice decided to play at being quarter horses in the
Kentucky Derby and the more mature Orb came along and schooled them.
Verrazano almost certainly carries the X-Factor – through his
damsire Giant's Causeway and his second dam, Chic Shrine is noted as
a carrier. Also, take a look at the tips of those ears!
Speaking of ORB
the Derby Champ has been in hiding since taking home the roses.
Reports have him training well, but he'd have to be a serious monster
to win the Travers off of a 77 day layoff. He probably could have
done so in the last three years, however, this is a tough field. A
descendant of the family of the great Ruffian, Orb most likely has
the large heart gene, received from his distaff line and damsire,
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the
other runners. After all, an allowance/optional claimer managed to
dead-heat with the Belmont Stakes runner-up last year. We're all
still scratching our heads over that one. Three colts appear to have
some upside and are maturing nicely.
2006 Travers hero Bernardini has sired
back-to-back winners of the Travers, 2011's Stay Thirsty and last
year's Alpha. He's one of only three stallions in the race's history
to pull this off. There have been other stallions who've sired
multiple winners, but only three have done so in consecutive years.
This year, he has two shots in the race. ROMANSH
out of the multiple stakes winning sprinter Cologny (by Go for Gin),
has shown improvement in each start, culminating in a win (by DQ) in
the Curlin Stakes. In that race, Romansh stumbled at the start and
was given time to collect himself while racing wide. Set down around
the far turn, he picked off horses and appeared to be a winner until
Transparent breezed on by. Romansh was awarded the win after
Transparent was taken down for coming out on Proud Strike, causing
that one to clip heels. TRANSPARENT
also a son of Bernardini, is out of the multiple graded stakes
placed miler Habiboo (by Unbridled's Song). Both colts are owned by
Godolphin and are lightly raced with plenty of room for improvement.
Both also have the pedigrees to handle 1 ¼ miles.
The Jim Dandy Stakes may yet again
prove to be a key prep. Evidently, the winner Palace Malice didn't
scare anyone off, because runner-ups Will Take Charge, Moreno and off
the board finisher Golden Soul have all joined the Travers fray.
has danced every dance. After winning the Rebel
Stakes by a head over his stablemate and eventual Preakness winner
Oxbow, Will Take Charge wasn't in the same zip code as the top
runners in the Triple Crown. The long-shot got up to finish second in
the Jim Dandy, 2 ½ lengths in front of Moreno. Could Will Take
Charge win the Travers? Sure it's a horse race, so anything's
possible. It is likely? Only if things go very wrong on the front
end and the big guys all fail to run their best race.
A son of Ghostzapper out of the A.P.
Indy mare Dancinthesunlight, MORENO
was bred to be a very good horse, albeit late maturing. His dam is a
daughter of Canadian Champion filly Dacethruthedawn, a member of the
same classy distaff line as Smart Strike. Moreno's sire and distaff
line carry the large heart gene. Moreno took his sweet time winning
his maiden, or maybe he just doesn't like California. After finally
checking out the Belmont Park winner's circle in June, Moreno
galloped to a seven length score in the Dwyer. After making all of
the pace in the Jim Dandy, the colt was taken over by Palace Malice
and Will Take Charge. Moreno's front running style will put him in
direct opposition to Verrazano. If they hook up on the front end, it
will set things up for Palace Malice, the late running Orb or one of
There are two long shots in the field.
The first is GOLDEN
, my long-shot selection in the Kentucky Derby, who
finished a late closing second to Orb. He threw amazingly bad
clunkers in the Belmont Stakes and Haskell Invitational. While I
loved him in the Derby, I can't make a case for him here. His speed
figures (Brisnet) have declined in each start and he could perhaps
benefit from some time off, since he's been racing almost non-stop
since last November.
It seems that there's always one turf
horse whose connections aren't content with what they have. In this
case, it is WAR
, a promising graded stakes turf router. The son of War
Front was last seen in Virginia out gaming two courageous colts on
either side of him in the Virginia Derby (G-2). War Dancer has
finished in the money in all except one start. His sole foray onto
the dirt resulted in a fourth place finish in a maiden race. True,
War Dancer's full brother Into the Fray has a 9-1-3-2 record in dirt
sprints – as a claiming horse. That one also has a 0-4 record over
the turf. Trainer Kenny McPeek remarked that War Dancer works well
over the dirt so he deserves another shot on the surface. Perhaps he
does. It's easy to be an arm-chair trainer, but I'm not convinced.
So, now that we've examined the
contenders, a very strong case can be made for Palace Malice. He has
the right running style and in keeping with recent Travers history,
has won the Belmont Stakes and Jim Dandy. His (Brisnet) speed
figures are headed straight up and there don't appear to be any
chinks in his armor. The same can't be said for Verrazano. He's a
brilliant, free running horse whose dominated every start, except the
Kentucky Derby. Verrazano doesn't necessarily need the lead, but if
Moreno decides to quarter horse it on the front end, Verrazano will
keep him company. If Verrazano gets lose on the lead, the party is
very likely over for the rest of them. Orb has been training
wonderfully at Fair Hill. He's had a long break since the Preakness
and the Travers is a tough race to win off of a layoff. Orb has won
off of a layoff, but he appears to be the type that will improve in
So, after all of this, who do I like?
My personal favorites are Orb and Verrazano, but I'll put Palace
Malice on top in a trifecta of the three. Fourth place could be one
of three colts, the two Bernardini upstarts or Moreno. I may place a
sucker bet on Will Take Charge....after all, Saratoga is the
graveyard of favorites and Wayne Lukas loves to play the spoiler. Are
you betting with or against me?