Well, it’s sure been an exciting week here at The Aspiring Horseplayer. We began with a reflection on whether it was proper for Rachel Alexandra to have pointed to the Woodward instead of the Travers. With the 140th running of the Travers suddenly upon us, such questions have been rendered academic. Following hot on the heels of the excitement that was our first “cougar” related sighting earlier in the week, we’ll attempt to wade back into familiar territory with some selections for the major stakes races being run at Saratoga on Travers day.
Race 7 – The Victory Ride (Grade 3) – 6 Furlongs
- #1 Bold Union/ #1A All of Her Twist (7/2)
- #7 Selva (4/1)
- #2 Trix in the City (10/1)
We get the party started with the 7th running of the Victory Ride for 3-year-old fillies sprinting 6 furlongs over the main track. The coupled entry of #1 Bold Union and #1A All of Her Twist for trainer Kelly Breen looks quite formidable here. Bold Union should be forwardly placed, while All of Her Twist will look to pick up the pieces late should the race fall apart. That tortoise and hare approach makes them a force to be reckoned with.
Amazingly, with the morning line favoritism has been placed upon #8 Sara Louise at 2/1. The daughter of Malibu Moon looks like a talented enough runner, and was last seen running behind some filly named Rachel Alexandra that you might have heard of – but that was all the way back in November. She might well be the class of the field, and certainly we’ve seen runners who were defeated by Queen Rachel return to win next out on several occasions, but pardon me if I’m not interested in eating 2/1 chalk on a horse that hasn’t been seen in so long. Now, if she makes a smashing impression in the post parade, I’ll gladly insert my foot into my mouth and deny having said any of the above. For now though, I’ll make her beat me at those odds.
Selva is an interesting runner for trainer David Carroll. The filly ran well in both the Beaumont (G2) and the Prioress (G1) and rates as a horse who may be sitting on a big race. She’s shown in the past that she doesn’t necessarily need the lead to prevail, and she picks up the services of Alan Garcia, who has been my main man all meet long.
The rest of the field looks fairly evenly matched, but I thought Linda Rice’s runner, #2 Trix in the City might offer some value underneath in the exotics. It’s hard to believe you can get a Gomez/Rice combo at 10/1 in any race. I guess folks only think of turf when they think of Linda Rice, but it’s worth noting she’s a very respectable 21% on dirt, and due for a graded stakes win.
$1 Trifecta: 1/2,7,8/2,7,8 ($6)
Race 9: The Ballston Spa (Grade 2) – 1 1/16 Miles – Turf
- #1 Rutherienne (5/2)
- #7 Cocoa Beach (2/1*)
- #6 Captain’s Lover (6/1)
Looks like we’ve got a tough one to decipher here with the 21st running of the Grade 2 Ballston Spa. I could make a case for just about the entire field.
All joking aside, Cocoa Beach is a bit of a shaky favorite. While the Beyer figure and final time came up decent from her one mile victory in the DeLaRose, it wasn’t exactly a defining performance. Here’s the thing though – she found a way to prevail and has been a very consistent runner for most of her career. She also seems to run to the level of her competition, at least that’s my supposition, as I can’t otherwise fathom how one could go from within a length and a half of the undefeated Zenyatta to being 4th in the Floral Park? Obvious surface changes and conditions were a part of that procession, but still. At the end of the day, she’s a classy Grade 1 turf winner, who ought to have a shot in the stretch.
Rutherienne is a horse I usually use in my exotic wagers. Unfortunately for me, that typically means a close 2nd or 3rd place finish. That being said, it’s an obvious mistake to count her out of this fight here as she’s got what it takes to find the winner’s circle. Just looking over her running lines you can tell that she’s always right there and gives a strong account of herself. She was less than a length behind Forever Together and Caribbean Sunset in the Grade 1 Diana last out – another performance like that and she just might steal the show. Also note her record at the distance – 9 starts with 7 wins and 1 place. Looks like trainer Christophe Clement might have her in exactly the right spot.
Captain’s Lover is the x-factor here. It’s easy to dismiss her based on the most recent Beyer figure and the pedestrian workouts, but if you key off her effort 3 back in the Just A Game, she makes some sense here. I’d also pay some attention to #2 My Princess Jess underneath in the exotics, as this horse has proven to be lethal at the distance, including a whopping 100 Beyer performance that would make her a threat for top honors on a repeat.
$1 Trifecta: 1/2,6,7/ 2,3,5,6,7 ($12)
Race 10: The Ballerina (Grade 1) – 7 Furlongs
- #4 Indian Blessing (8/5*)
- #2 Informed Decision (2/1)
- #3 Tar Heel Mom (10/1)
A small but talented field awaits bettors for the 31st running of the Ballerina. Morning line favoritism is awarded to the fan favorite Indian Blessing, who has spent some time on the shelf following a disappointing defeat to Cocoa Belle in the Desert Storm Handicap back in June. You might recall trainer Bob Baffert indicating that he believed that effort could be blamed on the Cushion Track at Hollywood Park, after which he announced that she would head east and never been seen on synthetics again. So much for Jess Jackson being the only guy in the sport to detest synthetics. Sprinting on the dirt she’s a force to be reckoned with, and I suspect we’ll see a bit of the old Indian Blessing that we all knew and loved last year. That’s if, of course, the trip to Dubai and the let down in Los Angeles didn’t sap her strength.
Informed looks like the logical threat on paper, but all of her more gaudy Beyer figures (i.e., all of those in excess of 100) were achieved on synthetic surfaces at Keeneland and Arlington Park. Don’t let that fool you too much though, as she’s a proven Grade 1 winner on dirt as well – it’s just that dirt might not be her “best” surface. One thing you can’t argue with is a perfect 5 for 5 record at the tricky 7 furlong distance. That, my friends, makes Informed a “must use” on the exotics no matter how you feel about Indian Blessing.
Music Note is an interesting runner who in a deeper field might offer more value. Sadly, with just 6 contenders to choose from, she’s a virtual lock to be close to morning line odds of 5/2. Obviously you must forgive the last race to include her. Ultimately though, I sided with #3 Tar Heel Mom to round out the selections as I was looking for a little value underneath. I have questions about whether 7 furlongs is up Music Note’s alley, but I don’t have those concerns about Tar Heel Mom. Add to the equation that I’m getting Alan Grcia at 10/1 and I’m all ready to hop aboard this bandwagon – at least for a minor award. I’ll also give P.S.U. Grad a tiny bit of coverage on the bottom of the trifecta.
$1 Trifecta: 4/2,3/ 1,2,3,6 ($8)
Race 11: The King’s Bishop (Grade 1) – 7 Furlongs
- #2 Munnings (2/1*)
- #3 Capt. Candyman Can (4/1)
- #1 Vineyard Haven (7/2)
The 25th running of the NetJets King’s Bishop features 8 contenders and is filled with intrigue.
The horse most, including myself, will focus on is #2 Munnings. He proved he could be a warrior at a longer distance, despite being a Speightstown colt, by digging in and hanging on for third against Rachel Alexandra and Summer Bird in the historic running of the Haskell Invitational last month. Now he returns to a more favorable distance, and if Jess Jackson’s comments following the Haskell prove correct, he could make this academic. Jackson, you may recall, indicated that he thought Munnings had the potential to be a future “champion” sprinter. One thing is certain, runners who have finished respectably (with the definition of “respectably” being somewhat vague in these circumstances, including 20 length defeats) against Rachel Alexandra seem to fair well on their return. Gabby’s Golden Gal, Flashing, and Take the Points are recent examples of this phenomenon. I look for Munnings to stalk and pounce the way he did in the Tom Fool and to prove too much for the competition in the stretch.
Capt. Candyman Can would seem to be the obvious second choice here, having chased Quality Road in that runner’s record setting comeback in the Amsterdam. He thrives at the 7 furlong distance and tends to get decent trips when he runs his best races. It’s been a banner year for Candy Ride offspring, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him prevail. I tend to think Munnings is a shade better, but if the Haskell took anything out of that runner, than Capt. Candyman Can would be a logical shot for win honors.
Vineyard Haven – remember this guy? Back in the winter of 2008/2009, he was squarely atop many an early Kentucky Derby rankings list. One has to wonder if this guy still has that promising talent, or if the window of opportunity has closed? He did win his first stakes here at Saratoga around this time last year, so maybe he’ll perk back up with a return to familiar settings (and an injection of Lasix)? I’m going to give him one more chance, especially since Alan Garcia is aboard. Of course, this also means you get the entry mate, Everyday Heroes, who was rather disappointing in the Amsterdam but capable of a rebound.
I think it goes without saying that you should probably include Big Drama in your trifectas as well. I’d also add Despite the Odds to the mix for trainer Michael Trombetta.
$1 Trifecta: 2/1,3,8/ 1,3,5,8 ($12)
Race 12: The Shadwell Travers (Grade 1) – 1 1/4 Miles
- #7 Kensei (7/2)
- #4 Quality Road (8/5*)
- #6 Summer Bird (3/1)
And here it is – the feature race of the weekend – the 140th running of the “4th jewel of the Triple Crown” – the Grade 1 Shadwell Travers. You already know how I feel about this one - I would’ve loved to see Queen Rachel become the first filly since 1915 to win this race and silence any suggestions that Quality Road has her number. Instead, I’ll have to “settle” for Rachel becoming one of the rarest of the rare; a 3-year-old filly capable of defeating older males at a route distance in a graded stakes. Not that bad a “consolation” prize if you ask me!
Of course, Rachel isn’t here in the Travers, so let’s focus on those who are.
Quality Road; what can I say? He was my guy going into the Kentucky Derby before injury forced him to pull out. After extended time on the shelf he came right back out and ran a record setting 6 1/2 furlongs in the Amsterdam (Grade 2). That race showed he still had his talent. Now we’ll see if the son of Elusive Quality can handle stretchng out to 1 and 1/4 miles. That might be asking quite a bit of this guy, but he is fresh, and if he’s half the horse that folks seem to be whispering he is, this race could be over before it starts.
That being said, I’m going to go with Kensei here. I don’t know what it is about this runner? Perhaps it’s his Japanese inspired name which makes me think of my childhood and the cheesy “black belt theater” movies they used to show on Saturday’s on Philly 57. Whenever I think of him, I think of the introduction to The Shogun’s Assasin.
“You do not understand my words – but you must choose.” Ah yes, just as the assasin commands his son to choose between life and death, so must we select a winner from this field.
This is the horse that Jess Jackson and Steve Asmussen wanted to give a shot in the Travers, and he seems to be one of those “Rodney Dangerfield” type runners who doesn’t get the respect he deserves. i questioned heading into the Dwyer whether he could handle the added distance, and all he’s done since is one up me by going an extra half furlong in the Jim Dandy as well. Respect Kensei. Something tells me he might be up for the fight of his life with Quality Road in the stretch.
Summer Bird is a horse that I have a bit of a connection with. My wife picked him in the Belmont and he went out and won, and then we had the honor of hanging out with trainer Tim Ice and his owners, the Kalarikkal and Jayarman families on Haskell day, where he fought his guts out to run second to the monster I shall not mention again in this post. You know he can get the distance, and now you know he can run gamely being closer up to the pace. I expect a big performance from this stunningly beautiful chestnut.
All of this suggests we just might have a great running of the Travers ahead of us.
One other horse you’ve got to pay some attention to is the hype machine that is Charitable Man. Remember when this guy was going to be the runner that denied Big Brown the Triple Crown? Obviously that didn’t happen, but ever since his victory in the Peter Pan, it feels like we here a “watchout for Charitable Man” warning every few months or so. For my money, he had his chances in the Belmont and Jim Dandy to prove he was the horse many thought he was, and he just wasn’t all he was hyped up to be. He can hit the board, and it would be great for his connections if he finally did take that step forward, but I won’t be wagering on it.
I will be adding in Warrior’s Reward here though at slightly better odds of 8/1. Hey, we may not have got the Medaglia D’Oro offspring we wanted, but consiering this guy held on for 2nd in the Jim Dandy, he looks usable underneath.
$1 Trifecta: 4,7/ 4,6,7/ 3,4,6,7 ($8)
Best of luck to all! May all your wagers be “cashers.”