(Tacitus before the 2019 KY Derby / Photo by Holly M. Smith)
Much has been written and said already about this year’s version of the G1 Travers Stakes, to be contested at the famed Saratoga Race Course in upstate New York this Saturday.
And, most of it has been about the horses and connections that won’t be running.
Like the 2YO Champion, Game Winner — who looked poised to stamp a new water mark on his 2019 calendar year after his run-off win in the G3 Los Alamitos Derby his last time out. Finally, the son of Candy Ride took his fans on a magic carpet ride — again. Finally, the talented colt ran like he did a year ago — when he was undefeated. Finally, the horse — owned by the dynamic duo of Gary and Mary West — looked ready to be “the man” once again.
Until, he wasn’t.
After spiking a fever and battling a virus, trainer Bob Baffert decided it best to keep Game Winner at home, and chose stablemate Mucho Gusto to take his place in Saturday’s Travers.
And, then there is the whole saga that continues to swirl around Gary and Mary West’s “other” top 3-year-old, Maximum Security. The much talented, yet much troubled colt — who was disqualified from this year’s Kentucky Derby before winning the G1 Haskell Invitational in another edition of Horse Roller Derby — seemed to be back on his roll, too.
After all, he easily dispensed of Mucho Gusto in the Haskell and pinching off adversary and foe King for a Day and his Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez in the final turn, which seems to be the prime location for most of Maximum Security’s troubles.
Still, Maximum Security looked primed and ready for a run at the prestigious Travers — alongside his owner’s other favorite 3YO.
Until, he wasn’t.
According to trainer Jason Servis, Maximum Security has not fully recovered from his, um, “taxing” run in the Haskell and now will be pointed to the G1 Pennsylvania Derby instead. Where he might meet his owner’s other favorite 3YO.
Game Winner won’t be running in the Travers.
Maximum Security won’t be running in the Travers.
But never fear. The Travers will be run. And, perhaps, better than ever. Even without the West’s East Coast horse (MS) or their West Coast horse (GW).
In fact, this year’s Travers will have 12 3YOs to fill the gates, and tickle the fancy of handicappers and fans alike.
Now, it’s time for the world to turn its’ collective attentions to the horses and connections that will be running. ‘Cause there’s a lot of them. ‘Cause there’s a lot of talent in them.
‘Cause there’s never been a winner of the Travers Stakes (or any other race, for that matter), that didn’t run in it. Right?
Here’s the field from the rail out, and our comments and analysis:
1. Owendale — 6-1 odds…(Trainer Brad Cox / Rider Florent Geroux): Ran third in the G1 Preakness Stakes to War of Will, but sandwiched around that impressive finish are two wins. Won the G3 Lexington Stakes at Keeneland and won the G3 Ohio Derby with one of the best speed figures of the year. Improving, without a doubt. Good enough to move up to face these and win? Still a doubt.
2. Code of Honor — 4-1 odds…(Trainer Shug McGaughey / Rider John Velazquez): After getting inched up to second in the Kentucky Derby, this some of Noble Mission was given a rest break by the connections of owner Will Farish. And, he has come back with a splash. Impressive in winning the G3 Dwyer last time out at Belmont Park. Impressive in his recent works at Saratoga. Looks to be coming into the Travers the best he has ever been, and he may have to be. The 11/4-mile distance may be a real test.
3. Highest Honors — 10-1 odds…(Trainer Chad Brown / Rider Luis Saez): A rapidly improving son of Tapit and owned by the same connections that have Code of Honor. Could be part of a dynamic duo on Saturday and the races to come. Moved up out of a MSW win to capture the tough Curlin Stakes at Saratoga last time out. Must improve to challenge the more accomplished horses in this field, but has the raw talent and the breeding. Can’t dismiss totally.
4. Laughing Fox — 30-1 odds…(Trainer Steve Asmussen / Rider Ricardo Santana, Jr.): A deep closer who was left wanting in the Preakness Stakes, when he was a distant 5th behind the likes of Everfast and Owendale. Not for me.
5. Everfast — 30-1 odds…(Trainer Dale Romans / Rider Martin Chuan): This guy has a tendency to pop up and run a big one in the most unusual spots and places. And, at long, long, long odds. Ran second to War of Will in the Preakness. Earlier this year, was second in the Holy Bull. Both times, he lit up the odds board. If he runs in the money on Saturday, he is likely to spice up the odds rack in there, too. Interesting choice of riders for Dale Romans. But may be worth a play underneath?
6. Tacitus — 5-2 odds…(Trainer Bill Mott / Rider Jose Ortiz): Undoubtedly, this one will be one of the favorites for the Travers. And, rightfully so. As the old song would suggest, if not for bad luck this horse would have no luck at all. Nearly fell at the beginning of the Jim Dandy. Still, he ran a dandy. Went wider of wide in the Belmont, and still finished a strong second. Had no shot in the Derby, yet still was in the money. If he can get a clean trip? He can clean up. Period. My choice.
7. Mucho Gusto — 6-1 odds…(Trainer Bob Baffert / Rider Joe Talamo): Ships in from the West Coast to sub for the ailing Game Winner and give Team Baffert a rooting interest. Very nice son of Mucho Macho Man. No doubt. Capable of beating the best of these? Lots of doubts. May run good enough to hit the back end of the trifecta. But that’s about it for me.
8. Chess Chief — 30-1 odds…(Trainer Dallas Stewart / Rider Mike Smith): Improving son of Into Mischief, but he has a long way to improve to test the likes of these. Trainer is modern day H. Allen Jerkens and has rapidly become the newest version of the “Giant Killer.” But the “King of Upsets” would have to pull off a miracle with this one, who ran a distant second to Mr. Money in the most recent West Virginia Derby. Mr. Money may be the best 3YO in the land right now, but Chess looks to be mated on Saturday.
9. Looking at Bikinis — 10-1 odds…(Trainer Chad Brown / Rider Javier Castellano): Trainer is enough reason to take a serious second look at this one. Son of Lookin at Lucky should be able to get the distance on pedigree alone, but has the “look” of a horse that is best suited for shorter distances. Caught a rail that was not the best part of the racetrack in the Curlin. I expect a much better performance on Saturday, but the question remains: is he good enough. May use underneath, but I can’t see this one beating the likes of Tacitus. Unless Tacitus beats Tacitus. That, I can see.
10. Scars Are Cool — 30-1 odds…(Trainer Stanley Hough / Rider Tyler Gaffalione): Didn’t start racing until after the Kentucky Derby this year. Wow. But this son of Malibu Moon did break the maiden by 4 over this track, going 11/8 miles. Distance stretch out may not be an issue. Tested against these may be an issue, though. Worth a look on the track.
11. Endorsed — 15-1 odds (Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin / Rider Joel Rosario): Now, we may have found a “live long shot.” With a legit chance. If you like Highest Honors, and I do, then I think you have to like this son of Medaglia d’Oro. Great pedigree here and may be on the improve at just the right time. I’m game here.
12. Tax — 6-1 odds (Trainer Danny Gargan / Rider Irad Ortiz, Jr.): In a race that seemingly has little pace options, this gelding may be left on the front end. That doesn’t seem to bother him, nor me. Has tactical speed, for sure, and has the most true grit of any of them in Saturday’s race. Tough as the nails in those metal shoes he will be wearing. I use. In the mix.
I bet Tacitus(6) to win/place and then key Tacitus (6) over/under the “all button” in two exactas. I will key Tacitus (6) over/under the 1-2-3-5-10-11-12 in two more. And, I will box the 6-2-3-11 in one exacta, trifecta. In the superfecta, I go 6 over 2-3-5 over 2-3-5-11-12 over 2-3-5-7-10-11-12.
Good Luck & All the Best/Gene