Travers Stakes 2020 guide: Odds, picks and analysis

Travers Stakes 2020 guide: Odds, picks and analysis
Photo: Derbe Glass/Gulfstream Park

Exactly one year ago, Aug. 8, 2019, a New York-bred 2-year-old named Tiz the Law stepped into the Saratoga starting gates. He introduced himself to the racing world with an eye-popping maiden victory.

Now a year later, Tiz the Law comes full circle back to where it started at the Spa. The 2020 Belmont Stakes winner looks to add a fourth Grade 1 score to his resume Saturday in the $1 million Travers Stakes.

Tiz the Law is the even-money favorite for the 2020 Travers, moved up a few weeks on the calendar this year to accommodate the Kentucky Derby’s postponement to Sept. 5. The Travers will reward its top four finishers Derby qualifying points on a 100-40-20-10 basis. 

[Play $2,000 Saratoga Survivor - only $5.75 to play!  Starts 2:20ET!]

But make no mistake. For Tiz the Law’s New York-based owners (Sackatoga Stable) and trainer (Barclay Tagg), the Travers isn’t just a steppingstone to the Kentucky Derby. It’s a showcase of its own that would be as meaningful to the colt’s connections as any Triple Crown victory.

“If we could get this win, it would mean an awful lot, I think,” Jack Knowlton, Sackatoga managing partner, said this week.

Tiz the Law will face seven rivals Saturday in the 151st running of the 1¼-mile Mid-Summer Derby. Here’s a look at the Travers field:

1. First Line (30-1)

2. Country Grammer (6-1)

3. Uncle Chuck (5-2)

4. Max Player (6-1)

5. Shivaree (30-1)

6. Tiz the Law (1-1)

7. Caracaro (10-1)

8. South Bend (15-1)

TimeformUS’ pace projections show longshot Shivaree as one who’ll set the pace Saturday, followed by a group that includes Tiz the Law and Uncle Chuck.

If Shivaree goes out and sets fast fractions, as projected, that could set up well for closing moves from Country Grammer, Max Player or South Bend.

For more handicapping information on each of the eight runners, check out free PPs from our friends at Brisnet.

Travers on TV

Saratoga Live, a production of Fox Sports and the New York Racing Association, will carry the Travers live on Fox at 6:15 p.m. Fox’s 5-6:30 p.m. broadcast window will also include coverage of the Waya (G3) and Test (G1), with earlier races in Saturday’s card shown on Fox Sports 1 or Fox Sports 2.

For a full schedule of Saratoga Live, see https://www.nyra.com/saratoga/racing/tv-schedule.

Saturday's coverage will include 32 cameras at various locations, including the introduction of an aerial camera. 

For an in-depth look at the friendship of Saratoga Live analysts Tom Amoss and Andy Serling, read this feature story from Ron Flatter.

Travers reading

HRN team members reveal their Travers picks.

Tagg and fellow trainers Bob Baffert, Chad Brown, Orlando Noda and Linda Rice spoke earlier this week after the Travers draw. See what they had to say about their runners.

A dozen of Sackatoga’s partners will be permitted into Saratoga on Saturday. Another 49 Tiz the Law fans are expected to watch the Travers from a nearby hotel.

Uncle Chuck needed some extra months before making his racing debut. Barry Eisaman, who worked with the colt for a year before finally handing him to Baffert, recalls his time with the sizable son of Uncle Mo.

As COVID-19 halted New York racing this spring, trainer Linda Rice kept Max Player home rather than running him in Arkansas or Kentucky. The colt ran third in the Belmont Stakes off a long layoff and looks for another strong effort in the Travers.

HRN handicapper Reinier Macatangay thinks Caracaro and Tiz the Law could enjoy similar trips Saturday. Can Caracaro make the most of that trip at a higher price?

Chip Gehrke ranks Tiz the Law at No. 1 in his 3-year-old Male rankings. None of the other runners in Gehrke’s top five of the division will face the Belmont winner Saturday, although Uncle Chuck sits just outside that group.

Travers undercard

First post time Saturday is noon, with full Saratoga entries available via HRN. Here’s a look at the Travers card’s four other stakes, courtesy of the NTRA:

3:42 p.m.—$300,000 Ballerina Stakes (G1), FS2

Blue Devil Racing Stable's homebred Come Dancing emerged as one of the country's leading older female sprinters last summer at Saratoga, and trainer Carlos Martin is hopeful the 6-year-old mare will flash that same form when she goes after a second straight victory in the Ballerina Stakes. Come Dancing is attempting to become only the second horse to win multiple editions of the Ballerina following Shine Again in 2001 and 2002 for late Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens. A multiple graded-stakes winner of more than $1 million in career purses, Come Dancing has raced just twice this year. She was 12th in her season debut, the Apple Blossom (G1) on April 18 at Oaklawn Park and second as the favorite behind fellow Ballerina aspirant Victim of Love in the 6½-furlong Vagrancy (G3) on June 27 at Belmont Park

4:22 p.m.—$200,000 Troy Stakes (G3), FS2

Christophe Clement will look to add to his impressive numbers when he sends out Pure Sensation and Shekky Shebaz in Saturday's Troy Stakes over the Spa's Mellon turf course. Patricia Generazio's homebred Pure Sensation, a 9-year-old Zensational gelding, boasts a record of 37-14-5-7 with purse earnings of $2,001,050. The popular grey won 4-of-6 starts last season, including a pair of graded-stakes at Parx where he captured his third Parx Dash (G3) and his fourth Turf Monster (G3). Pure Sensation wintered at Payson Park in Florida and made his seasonal debut with a seventh in the Jaipur (G1) on June 20 at Belmont Park.

5:02 p.m.—$150,000 Waya Stakes (G3), FOX

Wise Racing's Fools Gold looks to defend her title in Saturday's Waya Stakes over the Mellon turf. Fools Gold, trained by Chad Brown, will attempt to be the first back-to-back winner of the Waya since Saratoga Source won the first two editions in 1993-94. The 5-year-old daughter of Medaglia d'Oro has not won since taking last year's Waya, where she sat off the pace in the early stages, inched her way into contention and won by three-quarters of a length. Her lone start this season was a well-beaten fifth in her seasonal bow in the New York (G2) on June 27 at Belmont Park over the inner turf.

5:39 p.m.—$300,000 Test Stakes (G1), FOX

Michael Lund Petersen's Gamine headlines a field of six in Saturday's Test Stakes, a seven-furlong sprint for sophomore fillies. Gamine, an Into Mischief bay trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert, has crossed the wire first in all three career starts, winning her March debut at Santa Anita by 6¼ lengths when sprinting 6½ furlongs. In May, she edged Speech, who two starts later captured the Ashland (G1) at Keeneland, in an optional claiming sprint at Oaklawn where she was subsequently disqualified from purse money. Last out, the $1.8 million Fasig-Tipton Midlantic Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale purchase annexed a field of seven in the Acorn Stakes (G1) by 18¾ lengths June 20 at Belmont Park.

Travers preview

From the NYRA Press Office…

Sackatoga Stable's Tiz the Law, undefeated in his sophomore campaign with three consecutive graded stakes victories, will return to the site where his racing career began last summer as part of an eight-horse field of top 3-year-olds in Saturday's Grade 1, $1 million Travers at historic Saratoga Race Course.

The 151st running of the Travers, listed as Race 11 on a loaded 12-race card with a post time of 6:15 p.m. will be one of five graded stakes on the day. An enticing undercard includes the $300,000 Test (G1) for sophomore fillies; the $300,000 Ballerina (G1), a "Win and You're In" qualifier for the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint; the $200,000 Troy (G3) for 4-year-olds and up on Mellon turf and the $150,000 Waya (G3) for older fillies and mares on the inner turf. FOX will have live coverage from 5-6:30 p.m.

Tiz the Law made history in becoming the first New York bred in 138 years to win the Belmont Stakes, capturing the nine-furlong American Classic on June 20 in the first leg of the revised Triple Crown schedule. With five wins in six career starts, the Barclay Tagg trainee is the even-money morning-line favorite from post 6 and enters the 1 1/4-mile "Mid-Summer Derby" leading all horses with 272 qualifying points to the Kentucky Derby. He has a chance to add to that record-breaking total, as the Travers will offer 100-40-20-10 points to the top four finishers to the "Run for the Roses" on Sept. 5.

Tagg said he was pleased drawing near the outside.

"I think he's matured enough now that outside or inside is not going to bother him too much," Tagg said. "I'd prefer that he's on the outside just because you have less chance of getting in trouble. Not that you can't, but you have less chance. I think post 6 is fine. Five would have been fine. Four would have been fine. Any of those three would have been fine with me."

Tiz the Law burst onto the scene with a 4 1/4-length debut win at the Spa in a 6 ½-furlong New York-bred maiden sprint in August 2019. The Constitution colt parlayed that effort into a four-length triumph in the Champagne (G1) in October at Belmont Park and capped his juvenile year with a third-place finish in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) in November at Churchill Downs. That marked the only time Tiz the Law has not earned a winner's circle trip.

Bred by Twin Creeks Farm, he has gone 3-for-3 in 2020, racking up wins in the Holy Bull (G3) in February and the Florida Derby (G1) on March 28, both at Gulfstream Park, before winning the Belmont Stakes that was run at 1 1/8 miles to accommodate the revised schedule for 3-year-olds in training due to COVID-19.

The Belmont win gave Tagg a career Triple Crown. After Funny Cide, a fellow New York-bred owned by Sackatoga Stable, won the 2003 Kentucky and Preakness before running third in that year's Belmont, Tagg earned glory in this year's Belmont edition with Tiz the Law and is now seeking his first Travers win to add to a career that started with his first victory in 1972.

Tagg said competing at 10 furlongs shouldn't be an issue.

"He's done everything we've asked him to do. We've been very fortunate," Tagg said. "I don't think any distance makes a difference for this horse. From what I've seen, I just don't have any feeling that he can't handle it. It would be nice to win it if we could."

Manny Franco, who won his first Classic in the Belmont, has been aboard for all four of Tiz the Law's graded stakes wins and will have the return engagement.

"I've never seen him take a deep breath," Tagg said of Tiz the Law. "I've never had him out of breath after a workout. 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."

While Tiz the Law will have to wait to the fall to complete the Triple Crown trail (the Preakness is slated for Oct. 3, just four weeks after the Kentucky Derby), he will be tested in the Travers by Uncle Chuck. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert will ship the lightly raced but incredibly talented son of Uncle Mo, who enters 2-for-2.

Unraced as a juvenile, the quarter-million-dollar purchase at the 2018 Keeneland September Yearling Sale won his debut by seven lengths June 12 at Santa Anita and handled a step up in class with aplomb with a four-length victory at 1 1/8 miles in the Los Alamitos Derby (G3) on July 4.

"He's quick," Baffert said. "He's a big, tall horse but he's really quick on his feet. He's got a tremendous stride. That's why I thought the mile and a quarter would suit him well. If you can win the Travers, it's a big thing. But Tiz the Law looks unbelievable. I watched his last work and he looked tremendous, so Uncle Chuck will have to step it up. It should be a great race."

Baffert is a three-time Travers winner, including with Arrogate, who set both the stakes and track record when he dominated the field in 2016, hitting the wire in 1:59.36. Baffert won for a second year in a row with West Coast in 2017.

Luis Saez, aboard for his stakes win, will be in the irons against from post 3. Uncle Chuck is listed at 5-2.

"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."

Another upstart in the race is Max Player, the Belmont Stakes third-place finisher, for trainer Linda Rice.

A winner of the Withers (G3) in February at Aqueduct Racetrack, Max Player has never finished off the board in four starts, posting a 2-1-1 ledger. Owned by George E. Hall and SportBLX Thoroughbreds, Max Player is 15th on the Derby leaderboard with 40 points.

Max Player will stretch out to a mile and a quarter for the first time after competing at 1 1/8 miles in his previous two starts.

"He was closing ground at the end of the mile and an eighth in the Belmont, so I'm hoping the extra distance only works in his favor," Rice said. "It would be great if we had an honest pace in this race, so it would set up better for a horse coming from off the pace."

The Honor Code colt is listed as 6-1 on the morning line and will break from post 4 under Joel Rosario, who will have a Travers mount for the fifth consecutive year.

Rice was the first female to win a Saratoga training title when she paced all conditioners with 20 wins in 2009. She will be saddling her second Travers starter and first since Kid Cruz (fourth) in 2014.

"For someone who has raced in New York year-round for quite some time now, the Travers is one of those races on your bucket list that you'd really like to win," Rice said. "It's exciting to be in the race. It's disappointing that we won't have the crowds or the fanfare that goes with it, but I'd still be thrilled to win a race like the Travers."

The top-two finishers of the Peter Pan (G3) on July 16 at Saratoga will make short turnarounds to rematch in the Travers, including the winner Country Grammer, who will bid to give four-time Eclipse Award-winning trainer Chad Brown his first "Mid-Summer Derby" victory.

Country Grammer, owned by Paul Pompa, Jr., worked a sharp half-mile Saturday in 47.66 seconds in company with last year's Secretariat (G1) winner Valid Point.

A maiden winner at second asking when travelling nine furlongs in November at the Big A, Country Grammer was fifth in the Fountain of Youth (G2) in his seasonal debut in February at Gulfstream. Following a closing third in a one-turn, 1 1/16-mile allowance event June 4 at Belmont, Country Grammer made his return to two turns a winning one in the 1 1/8-mile Peter Pan on Opening Day July 16 at Saratoga.

Brown said the breeze, which was the colt's first since his Peter Pan win, went according to plan.

"The work went super. He's not a great work horse but for him it was one of the better works I've seen. He's gotten a lot stronger," said Brown. "He's a May foal and he was always destined to fill out and get stronger as he goes along."

Bred in Kentucky by Scott Pierce and Debbie Pierce, Brown said the bay son of 2014 Belmont Stakes winner Tonalist should appreciate the additional furlong Saturday.

"He's looking for more ground," said Brown. "He's going to have to step it up obviously on short rest and the fact that it's a much tougher race. But the horse, physically, is doing everything you want him to do. We're excited to participate and give him a shot."

Listed at 6-1, Irad Ortiz, Jr. will have the call from post 2.

Global Thoroughbred and Top Racing's Caracaro was the Peter Pan runner-up, a neck behind Country Grammer. Conditioned by Gustavo Delgado, the son of Uncle Mo ran second in his debut in December at Gulfstream at seven furlongs and broke his maiden with a six-length win at one mile Jan. 11 at the Florida track before taking the step up in class last month.

Delgado has won his native Venezuela's equivalent of the Triple Crown with Taconeo in 2007 and Water Jet in 2010. He will bid for Saratoga glory with Caracaro, who is listed at 10-1.

Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano holds a record six Travers wins, two more than the next-closest competitors all-time, and will aim for No. 7, piloting Caracaro from post 7.

Jacks or Better Farm's Shivaree ran second to Tiz the Law in the Florida Derby and will make his first start at Saratoga after compiling two stakes wins, capping his 2-year-old year with a victory in the Buffalo Man at Gulfstream Park and starting 2020 with a Limehouse win Jan. 4 at Gulfstream.

Trained by Ralph Nicks, Shivaree, a son of Awesome of Course, is listed at 30-1 with Junior Alvarado set to ride from post 5.

South Bend, the runner-up to Dean Martini in the Ohio Derby (G3) last out June 27 at Thistledown, will make his first start for his new connections. Owners Gary Barber, Wachtel Stable, Peter Deutsch and Pantofel Stable acquired South Bend and transferred him to the care of Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott.

South Bend, an Algorithms colt, will go for his first graded stakes win, drawing post 8 with Jose Ortiz. He is listed at 15-1.

First Line will make his first stakes appearance in his fifth career start for trainer Orlando Noda, who also co-owns the First Samurai gelding with his brother Jonathan as part of Noda Brothers, LLC.

First Line broke his maiden at fourth asking July 29 at the Spa and will return off a quick turnaround looking to give the 31-year-old Noda his first career stakes winner. David Cohen will ride from post 1 at 30-1.

"I think we got a perfect post," Noda said. "He's going to come out running when the gates open and he might just fight the whole mile and a quarter. 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."

Top Stories

Having Kentucky Derby winner Authentic as the favo...
Juvenile Breeders' Cup prospects grab the spotligh...
Blue Heaven Farm's 7-year-old mare and reigning Ca...
Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Authentic had his first...
In his first workout since winning the Kentucky De...