Which Travers Stakes contenders sport trustworthy speed figures?

August 19, 2019 03:52pm
With the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers Stakes coming up on Saturday and contenders converging from all sorts of preps, it helps to bring speed figures into the discussion.

Here, I'll cover the fastest four horses based on their TimeformUS numbers last out. Curiously, the No. 1 spot belongs to Bob Baffert-trained Mucho Gusto, who was defeated in the Haskell Invitational (G1).

It's not just about picking the best number, but rather handicapping which horses can duplicate their figures. Different circumstances sometimes lead to different ratings.

So, which of these are trustworthy in that regard?

Mucho Gusto 
Recent TimeformUS Speed Figure: 127

Mucho Gusto earned his 127 by finishing second to Maximum Security last month at Monmouth Park. This son of Mucho Macho Man endured a wide first turn and backside before finally making his move approaching the far turn, meeting Maximum Security in the eye. 

While Mucho Gusto eventually came up short after a stretch battle, he gave a tremendous effort and finished eight lengths ahead of the third-place Spun to Run. Long gaps in between runners indicate a fast race.

Also, Mucho Gusto owns the right tactical speed and talent to win big races. 

But the main concern is distance.

After Mucho Gusto's flat third-place finish in the nine-furlong Sunland Derby (G3), Bob Baffert decided to cut him back in the seven-furlong Lazaro Barrera Stakes (G3), which he won by 3 ¼ lengths with a 108. 

Next, Mucho Gusto stretched back out and won the Affirmed Stakes (G3) with a 115, before his big Haskell runner-up finish mentioned above. This horse possibly only needed some seasoning before going longer. But the extra furlong in the Travers remains a concern for now. 

Mucho Gusto is capable of a mild Travers upset, but think about the 1 ¼ miles before trusting him to duplicate the 127 figure. At least demand some value first.

Recent TimeformUS Speed Figure: 125

Without a doubt, Tacitus is capable of backing up the 125 on TimeformUS he earned while finishing second in the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2). 

Not only did Tacitus stumble at the break in the Jim Dandy, but Jose Ortiz guided him to a dead rail on the backside approaching the far turn. Even though Tacitus moved strongly along the inside, it only felt like a matter of time before it caught up with him, and it did when Tax won. 

The talent part is covered, but what about the stamina? 

Given Tacitus ran a strong second in the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes, the 1 ¼-mile Travers distance should him better than the nine furlongs in the Jim Dandy. Tacitus also finished third via disqualification in the 1 ¼-mile Kentucky Derby. Overall, Tacitus runs like a long-winded grinder.

As for the lower 118 and 116 figures Tacitus earned in the Belmont and Kentucky Derby, those numbers are not a real concern because he faced top competition and still ran well. Speed figures are not a perfect science. 

The only real concern about Tacitus running another 120-plus figure and winning the Travers is pace. Without any pace, Tax might once again get the better position up front, leaving Tacitus at the mercy of his trip. 

Bettors will not receive any value with Tacitus either.

But pace, odds and value aside, there is no reason to worry that Tacitus cannot duplicate his last number with an ideal trip, or even improve upon it. 

Recent TimeformUS Speed Figure: 125

Similar to Tacitus, Tax earned a 125 on TimeformUS in the Jim Dandy. But he did not endure a difficult trip, as he broke well and initially took the lead before letting War of Will set the pace after the opening quarter.

From there, Tax came back and passed War of Will on the far turn before out-battling an unfortunate Tacitus in the stretch run. 

As with with Tacitus, the 125 is Tax's career best number on TimeformUS. But there is no reason to believe he cannot duplicate the figure, as he owns the right class from finishing fourth in the Belmont and second in the Wood Memorial Stakes (G2) to Tacitus.

When a horse competes in good company for most of his races, a higher speed figure is more trustworthy because the class is not in question. 

Besides, Tax earned a 121 TimeformUS Speed Figure in his Wood Memorial runner-up, not too far off his 125 in the Jim Dandy Stakes. 

From a value standpoint, Tax is a great option. Bettors will prefer regally bred Tacitus, yet Tax, who was claimed by his connections last year, is arguably capable of putting up the same TimeformUS numbers.

Recent TimeformUS Speed Figure: 124

Owendale earned a career-best 124 in winning the Ohio Derby (G3) by a half length over Math Wizard, but this time there are strong red flags. 

For one, he only narrowly defeated Math Wizard, who went on to finish third in the Indiana Derby (G3) with a 116. Granted, Math Wizard experienced some trouble on the far turn with a loose horse blocking his path, but he also finished a lifeless sixth by 11 ¾ lengths in the West Virginia Derby (G3).

Long Range Toddy finished third, 9 ¾ lengths behind Owendale in the Ohio Derby. He then ran fifth by 8 ½ lengths in the Indiana Derby with a 113.

Just who did Owendale beat at Thistledown? The rest of the field consisted of Bethlehem Road, Dare Day and Going for Gold. 

Owendale's previous TimeformUS numbers include a 119 for finishing third in the Preakness and 120 for winning the Lexington Stakes (G3).

But the Preakness looks like the weakest Triple Crown race in retrospect, with winner War of Will failing to hit the board in the Belmont and Jim Dandy. Owendale also ran into a hot pace set up by Warrior's Charge and Anothertwistafate. Yet, Everfast out-kicked him in the stretch for second. 

Those who wish to use the rail bias excuse do hold a case. 

However, the figure Ownedale earned in the Ohio Derby looks too good. If he duplicates the 124 this week, then he will beat this handicapper.


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Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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