Tagg, Baffert share mutual respect following Travers draw

Tagg, Baffert share mutual respect following Travers draw
Photo: Benoit Photo

A field of eight 3-year-olds was entered for Saturday's $1 million Travers Stakes (G1) and Sackatoga Stable's Tiz the Law, the Belmont Stakes (G1) winner and Kentucky Derby favorite, was installed as the even-money favorite.

This year's Mid-Summer Derby will hold a unique position in that it will be contested before the Kentucky Derby, which was rescheduled for Sept. 5 due to COVID-19. As such, it will be the first dirt graded stakes for 3-year-olds at the classic distance of a mile and a quarter. Qualifying points towards the Kentucky Derby will be awarded to the Travers' top four finishers on a 100-40-20-10 scale.

While 10 furlongs remains a question for all eight sophomores, Tiz the Law trainer Barclay Tagg doesn't foresee any problems with the added distance for the son of Constitution.

"He's done everything we've asked him to do. We've been very fortunate. I don't think any distance makes a difference for this horse," Tagg told the NYRA Press Office. "From what I've seen, I just don't have any feeling that he can't handle it.

"I've never seen him take a deep breath. I've never had him out of breath after a workout," Tagg continued. "I've never had him way out of breath after a race and he [cools] off very quickly. His lungs settle right down and nothing seems to be a hazard. I could be all wrong in that. It might change in another eighth of a mile, I don't know, but I've got no reason to worry about it."

Tiz the Law drew post No. 6 and will have regular rider Manny Franco in the irons. 

Related: Travers Stakes Odds & Analysis

Trainer Bob Baffert has shipped from his Southern California base the highly-promising Uncle Chuck, who was made the 5-2 second-choice on the morning line following his win in the July 4 Los Alamitos Derby (G3) in just his second start. Baffert is hoping to strike twice with a late-developing 3-year-old in the Travers following Arrogate's such score in 2016.

"He's been training well, and I thought he deserves a chance to run in it," Baffert said. "He's only had two races, but they were pretty impressive. The talent is there, he's just still figuring it out and putting it together.

"He's still a little green, but I thought the mile and a quarter might be good for him. He's got a big, long stride," Baffert continued. "He's got speed, so as long as he gets in a nice, relaxed rhythm we'll see how he handles the mile and a quarter. You've got a horse like Tiz the Law in there, and he scared a lot of them away."

Tagg also acknowledged Uncle Chuck's talent and the challenge he could provide Tiz the Law. 

"Bob Baffert does very, very well," Tagg said. "He's got fresh stock all the time and good horses, so you've always got to be concerned. But if you let the concern bother you too much, you wouldn't be racing horses. You can't worry about that. All I worry about his having my horse get there the best we can get him there. He's done everything we've asked him to do.

The next two betting choices on the Travers morning line are Max Player and Country Grammer, each at 6-1. Country Grammer took a major step forward for Chad Brown when winning the July 16 Peter Pan (G3) on opening day of the Saratoga meet.

"Hopefully, this horse can get the distance," Brown said. "I'm confident that he can. He'll have to step forward in this race and hope that maybe some of the top contenders can't go this far."

Brown acknowledged the quick turnaround to the Travers isn't ideal for Country Grammer, but it's worth taking a shot. 

"I'm always concerned for more time in between races with my horses, but this is a rare opportunity to take a shot at a race like the Travers," Brown said. "It's a shorter field than it usually is. This is such a unique year to give this a shot and the horse just keeps improving. Even on short rest, I think the reward is greater than the risk."

Brown, who a New York native who has taken home the last four Eclipse Awards as North America's outstanding trainer, is still seeking his first win in the Travers. 

"It's been a race that I've wanted to win the most since I was a child here at the track," Brown said. "It's definitely a disappointing year to participate with no fans, but nevertheless, it's still the Travers, and it's still something that we would be extremely appreciative of if we were able to win."

Max Player is exiting a third-place finish behind Tiz the Law in the Belmont for trainer Linda Rice.

"He's training fine. I've been training at Belmont, not at Saratoga, which is a little unusual," Rice said. "Coming in from the Belmont, he was coming off a bit of a break so I trained pretty aggressively. Coming into this race, I backed off him a little bit and did more maintenance breezes. I wasn't quite as aggressive with him, but I think he's ready."

The new face in the field is First Line for up-and-coming trainer Orlando Noda. The son of First Samurai exits a sharp maiden win on July 29 at Saratoga in his fourth start. First Line drew the rail and will be ridden by David Cohen.

"I think we got a perfect post; he's going to come out running when the gates open and he might just fight the whole mile and a quarter," Noda said. "It is a quick turnaround, but I've hyped this horse up from before he even debuted. These are my points for the Derby. He's a longshot for a reason but he's going to outrun his odds and, God willing, we will win this race."

2020 Travers Stakes (G1)

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