On paper, it might seem tempting to single Ny Traffic in the Grade 3 Salvator Mile on Saturday at Monmouth Park. After all, Ny Traffic is the big name as a former competitor on the extended Kentucky Derby trail last season. He also shows a good return race at Belmont last month, which finally broke his long losing streak.
However, there is one other good horse bettors should consider: defending champion Pirate’s Punch, who won the September edition of the Salvator Mile. He owns a reasonable chance to win this race again.
During the virus year, Pirate’s Punch built a consistent record. Forget about his nine-furlong flop in the Stephen Foster Stakes (G2), as this is a one-mile race. His most disappointing effort came in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, where he folded after chasing the good version of Knicks Go on the front and ended up last by 25 lengths.
Before the Breeders’ Cup, Pirate’s Punch crossed the wire first at Monmouth twice.
In the Philip H. Iselin Stakes (G3) on Aug. 22, Pirate’s Punch pressed the pace set by Warrior’s Charge before taking over in the stretch for a 1 1/2-length “win.” But Pirate’s Punch interfered with Warrior’s Charge in their stretch duel.
Pirate’s Punch probably had the race won if he kept a straight line.
Regardless of the disqualification, Pirate’s Punch still turned in a great effort.
Then in the Salvator Mile (G3) on Sept. 20, Pirate’s Punch played the stalker role in third, just a few lengths behind the run-off leader Wind of Change. Pirate’s Punch moved outside of horses on the far turn and secured the front by the top of the stretch.
As seen in the replay, Pirate’s Punch won under mild urging.
Pirate’s Punch kept a three-length advantage for most of the stretch.
He maintained his lead under mild urging at best. Toward the wire, jockey Jorge Vargas Jr. started to go easy on Pirate’s Punch, allowing the official margin to decrease to two lengths.
For both the Iselin and Salvator Mile efforts, Pirate’s Punch earned a 122 on TimeformUS, which is a respectable number at the Grade 3 level against older dirt horses.
Now to discuss Ny Traffic's probability of winning. Based on figures, he is the fastest horse on paper, with a 125 TimeformUS Speed Figure in his May 2 comeback win at Belmont in a restricted optional claiming race. He won by 6 3/4 lengths against four other New York-bred horses.
The most obvious holes in that optional claiming win lie in the above description. Ny Traffic beat a field limited to New York-breds and won against a small field as well. Most legitimate graded-stakes horses will look great in a restricted and small field against state-bred horses.
Even though Ny Traffic dominated those state-breds, jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. kept him busy in the stretch with some reminders. He chose to use the crop right-handed at least three times in mid-stretch, despite the outcome not being in doubt.
Does Ny Traffic need the crop for his best effort? At Monmouth, Paco Lopez is not allowed to use a crop, and that gives handicappers at least one factor to consider.
Ny Traffic’s credentials from last year are well known. Before his disappointing runs in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, he lost the Haskell Stakes (G1) by only a nose to Authentic and lost the Matt Winn Stakes (G3) by only a length to Maxfield. Authentic went on to capture the Derby and finish a game second in the Preakness.
On paper, Ny Traffic is the best horse in the Salvator Mile, but Pirate’s Punch owns a shot. If Ny Traffic gets bet down to 3-5 and Pirate’s Punch offers 9-2, bettors might want to take a chance on Pirate’s Punch to win and place, just in case the favorite misfires.
If Ny Traffic does misfire, it will feel awful to start off the pick 4 with a short-priced loss. In multi-race wagers, both Ny Traffic and Pirate’s Punch deserve a spot. The long shots need to come in the other legs.