Travers Stakes 2017: Odds and Analysis

August 24, 2017 05:51am
Travers Stakes 2017: Odds and Analysis
Photo: JJ Zamaiko/Thistledown

For my money, Saturday's Grade 1 Travers Stakes presented by NYRA Bets is the race of the year for the three-year-old males in 2017. It may not come with the glamour of the Kentucky Derby, but the slop and the troubled trips made that one a little less than a definitive test. Meanwhile, this year's Mid-Summer Derby has it all; winners of all three legs of the Triple Crown trying to prove that their biggest victory was no fluke; classy sophomores who may not have been quite there in the spring, but are now ready to prove that they are truly the best in the division; and up and comers ready to stake their claim atop the division.

Set to go at the classic distance of ten furlongs, over the grand stage that is Saratoga, an intriguing field of an even dozen will compete for the top prize in the $1.25 million affair. To say this race is wide open would be an understatement. Without further ado, let's take a look at the field listed in alphabetical order, including my analysis and projected odds ...

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7) Always Dreaming 6-1 (Bodemeister/Todd Pletcher) - After pairing up important victories in the Florida Derby and Kentucky Derby, this speedy colt was not able to live up to those lofty heights in either the Preakness or the Jim Dandy. He's also now 0-for-2 at Saratoga, although neither effort was poor enough to suggest that he dislikes the track. Despite the full field, there is not much speed in here at all, which should clearly give him the tactical edge. That factored with getting a lot out of his return effort in the Jim Dandy, and you'd have to say that the Derby winner is in with a real shot in here.  They'll have to catch the Derby Winner

1) Cloud Computing 8-1 (Maclean's Music/Chad Brown) - If you can get over the fact that he finished last in the Jim Dandy, it was not all that bad a prep. Still lightly raced, and returning from a layoff after a tough Preakness win, he was right in the picture for second. Having said that, if you look past the Preakness, in which he got the perfect trip, he has yet to come close in his other three stakes appearances. It's always dangerous to dismiss Chad Brown at Saratoga, but he'll need to show marked improvement to win his second huge stakes race of the year. Needs to Bounce Back

12) Fayeq 20-1 (Malibu Moon/Kiaran McLaughlin) - Out of everyone in the field, this is the horse we know least about, and this year, that might be a good thing. A half-brother to the great Rachel Alexandra, he needed a few races in South Florida to learn his lessons, but he has looked good in New York while winning his last two against maiden and allowance company. The step up in class will be big, but he brings good tactical speed and some talent for a veteran trainer that knows how to win at Saratoga. Still, this test likely proves a bit out of his comfort zone. Rachel's bro is stepping up

6) Girvin 6-1 (Tale of Ekati/Joe Sharp) - If only he had not suffered a quarter crack before the sloppy Kentucky Derby, we might be talking about him as the clear leader of the division. A three-time graded stakes winner this year, his rallying win in the Haskell, after an excellent return in the Ohio Derby, was a thing of beauty. While his sire probably was better shorter, this one gives every indication of being able to handle the stretch-out to 1 1/4-miles. He seems to be thriving at Saratoga for his young trainer, and anything less than another strong effort would be a surprise. Big Threat to Pair Huge Summer Wins

2) Giuseppe the Great 20-1 (Lookin At Lucky/Nick Zito) - Despite edging by the two favorites late to be second in the Jim Dandy, you have to wonder if this guy truly wants ten furlongs. In a wide open race, the consistent son of a two-time champion may offer some value, but I will pass on the horse who I think only clunked up for second after the race was already lost. Not convinced by his Jim Dandy

5) Good Samaritan 5-1 (Harlan's Holiday/Bill Mott) - You can tell how wide open I see this race, by tabbing a 5-1 favorite. You may also be surprised who I believe will be the choice on Saturday, but I suspect that Jim Dandy win over the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner will look awfully good to bettors. A solid turf horse before popping the cork in his dirt debut, it was a very strong effort that should set him up perfectly for ten furlongs over the same track. I have my doubts as to whether that race was truly as good as it looked, as perhaps both favorites just did not run near their best, but still, he must be respected to pull of the Spa double. Jim Dandy Repeat could win this

11) Gunnevera 12-1 (Dialed In/Antonio Sano) - The impressive winner of the Fountain of Youth seemed to fizzle in his next three starts, so it would be easy to dismiss him here. Perhaps the demanding schedule, on a horse who never seems to carry much weight, caught up with him. Freshened, and with a confidence building prep under his belt, we may see a better Gunnevera than we saw at Churchill Downs and Pimlico. If so, he's in with a chance. We know he likes the track from his late-running win in last year's Saratoga Special.  Interesting Longshot

10) Irap 8-1 (Tiznow/Doug O'Neill) - The Doug O'Neill late developer has been getting better since he left Sunland Park back in March. A powerful, strapping son of a two-time Breeders' Cup Classic winner, Irap surprised very good horses in the Blue Grass, but winning on Saturday would be no surprise at all. After a disaster of a Kentucky Derby, he has come back with two sensational efforts. I suspect there will be those who dismiss him coming from the Ohio and Indiana Derbies, but those two wins were as good as anything I've seen yet from this crop. He still needs to prove it on the big stage, but I think he has a real chance to do just that. Top Choice in a tough, tough Travers

8) Lookin At Lee 15-1 (Lookin At Lee/Steve Asmussen) - Similar to Gunnevera, he could not live up to his top effort, in two subsequent tries in the Triple Crown. Given a break after a poor Belmont, he came back to rally for a decent, but non-threatening third against lesser in the West Virginia Derby. The Kentucky Derby, in which he rallied up the rail in the slop to grab second looks likely to be his seasonal highlight. I like other late-runners better. Only passes tiring horses in this one

9) McCraken 8-1 (Ghostzapper/Ian Wilkes) - It's well documented that this has been choice horse among the three-year-old males in 2017. Unfortunately, his two graded stakes wins came in lesser races. He had an excuse in the Derby, and his Haskell was very good, despite getting caught, but this might be his last chance to move to the top of the division. Perhaps he moved too soon in the Haskell, and a better timed ride could have won it, but it's hard to take anything away from the winner, Girvin. I believe he is one of the best in the division, and I am not sold that ten furlongs is out of the question, but it is still enough of a question for me to like a few others better this time. Has to prove he can handle Ten

4) Tapwrit 6-1 (Tapit/Todd Pletcher) - The Belmont winner is always a threat in the Travers, because we know that the demanding trip is in their wheelhouse. Add in a fair amount of tactical speed, and this son of Tapit should be one of my top choices on Saturday. Yet, he is not. I'm not crazy about having no prep between the Belmont and the Travers. It makes me wonder if he fights an underlying physical issue. I'm sure his connections would not run him if he was not sound, but anything that took away from having him at 100%, against this field, is something that makes me feel that he will fall short this time. No Preps since Classic Win

3) West Coast 8-1 (Flatter/Bob Baffert) - More than any other, this is the wild card of the 2017 Travers. It's hard to forget what a late-blooming Baffert-trainee did in last year's Mid-Summer Derby. I'm certainly not suggesting that this one is in the same league as Arrogate, but clearly his trainer knows how to develop a talented colt for classic distances. While his two stakes wins were impressive, I believe he benefited from a brutal pace in the Easy Goer and a weak field in the Los Alamitos Derby. He could be this good, but I'm willing to wager that the step up in class keeps him out of the winner's circle. The Travers Wild Card


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Meet Brian Zipse

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, American Pharoah and Justify. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. His new racing partnership venture, Derby Day Racing, invites more fans to experience the thrill of racehorse ownership.

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, created the popular racing show, HorseCenter and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as hosting HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.

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