The Mid-Summer Derby

This Saturday at Saratoga Race Course, the $1.25 million dollar, Grade 1 Travers Stakes will be contested for the 152nd time. Some of North America’s fastest 3-year-old Thoroughbreds will have-at-it in the Mid-Summer Derby.

The Travers is typically a tough race to handicap. But delving into the recent history of the race reveals trends and tendencies that past Winners have in common. These data-driven pearls of wisdom can be used to gain an advantage when looking for the Winner.

Any Running Style Can Win The Travers: No single running style has a clear-cut advantage in the Travers. The race often attracts a large field, which can — depending on the year — favor pacesetters, deep closers, or any runner in between.

Like most North American dirt races, speed certainly isn’t a disadvantage in the Travers. There have been only two gate-to-wire Winners since 2010, with another four Winners rallying from 2nd or 3rd after the opening half-mile. There have also been mid-pack runners that have rallied to Win- the most recent being CODE OF HONOR. This suggests that the right horse can prevail with any running style.

Triple Crown Runners Race Well, But Aren’t Unbeatable: The Travers typically draws a strong group of alumni from Triple Crown races. But horses with Triple Crown experience aren’t unbeatable in the Mid-Summer Derby. Six of the last 12 Winners started in a Triple Crown race, while the remaining six did not. The a 50-50 split suggests up-and-comers are just as likely as the established stars to claim Victory in the Travers.

Avoid The Haskell Winner- And Even Haskell Starters: The prestigious Grade 1 Haskell Stakes, held one month prior to the Travers, seems like a perfect steppingstone toward the Travers. But among the last twelve Travers Winners, only KEEN ICE prepped in the Haskell, (finishing 2nd). The last horse to Win both races was POINT GIVEN in 2001, which seems to indicate the Haskell typically isn’t a productive prep for the Travers.

Favor Horses Who Last Raced In New York: New York has long been an epicenter of high-class summer racing, and since the Travers takes place in New York, it’s not surprising to see local runners dominate the proceedings on a regular basis. Eight of the last 12 Travers Winners (67%) prepped for the race in New York, as did 18 of the last 33 Trifecta finishers (55%). On three occasions in the last decade, New York runners ran 1-2-3 in the Travers.

Respect Horses Entering Off Victories: Eight of the past 12 Travers Winners (including the last five in a row) entered the race off a Victory. Horses in hot form tend to excel in the Travers. Even the four exceptions could be described as entering the Travers in encouraging form; all had finished 2nd or 3rd in their prep run, with three of them placing in a Graded Stakes.

Upgrade Sons Of Grade 1-Winning Routers: With few exceptions, Travers Winners tend to be sons of stallions who achieved Grade 1 success running 1 1/8 miles or farther. No fewer than 10 of the last 12 Travers Winners were sired by stallions who matched this criterion, and the two rule-breaking stallions both ran 2nd in Graded Stakes running 1 1/8 miles or longer.

Don’t Rely Too Heavily On Favorites: Since 2010, only three betting favorites have prevailed in the Travers, and one of those (TIZ THE LAW in 2020) did so during an unusual year when the Travers was held prior to the Kentucky Derby and Preakness due to COVID-19.

Instead, longshots have largely dominated the TraversARROGATE (12-1), KEEN ICE (16-1), V. E. DAY (20-1), and GOLDEN TICKET (34-1) all prevailed at double-digit odds. Four other Winners since 2010 started at 6-1 or higher. If you like a non-favored runner in the Travers, don’t be afraid to give them a try.

For more Travers Stakes coverage stop back to the Daily Racing Blog on Wednesday.

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