The historic $1.25 million dollar, Grade 1 Travers Stakes dates all the way back to 1864, which means it’s older than the any of the Triple Crown races.
The 1 ¼-mile contest annually attracts some of the best 3-year-old Thoroughbreds in the country and is often referred to as the Mid-Summer Derby.
The Travers can be a tricky race to handicap. Its rich purse and great prestige combine to attract a wide variety of horses from around the country, ranging from established stars to exciting up-and-comers.
Delving into the history of the Travers reveals trends and tendencies uniting past Winners, and you can use these data-driven gems to your advantage when handicapping the race. To wit:
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 pace setters, deep closers, or any style in between.
Speed certainly isn’t a disadvantage in the Travers. There have been two gate-to-wire Winners since 2010 and five Winners that have rallied from 2nd or 3rd after the opening half mile, but we’ve also seen horses like CODE OF HONOR, V. E. DAY, and WILL TAKE CHARGE rally from mid-pack or even farther behind to reach the Winner’s Circle, suggesting the right horse can prevail with any running style.
TRIPLE CROWN COMPETITORS RUN WELL, BUT AREN’T UNBEATABLE: The Travers typically draws a strong group of alumni from the Triple Crown races, but horses with Triple Crown experience aren’t unbeatable in the Mid-Summer Derby. Seven of the last 13 Winners started in a Triple Crown race, while the remaining six did not. This seems to suggest that promising upstarts are almost as likely as the established stars of spring to claim victory in the Travers.
AVOID THE WINNER OF THE HASKELL (AND EVEN HASKELL STARTERS): The prestigious Grade 1 Haskell Stakes held at Monmouth Park four weeks prior to the Travers, seems like a perfect steppingstone toward the Mid-Summer Derby, but among the last 13 Travers Winners, only KEEN ICE prepped in the Haskell, finishing 2nd.
The last horse to Win both races was POINT GIVEN in 2001, signaling that the Haskell is not typically a productive prep for the Travers.
FAVOR HORSES WHO LAST RACED IN NEW YORK: New York has long been the focal point of high-class summer racing, and since the Travers takes place in the Empire State, it’s not surprising to see local runners dominate the proceedings on a regular basis.
Eight of the last 13 Travers Winners (62%) prepped for the race in New York, as did 20 of the last 36 trifecta finishers (56%). On three occasions in the last decade, New York runners ran 1-2-3 in the Travers.
The Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga has been an especially successful steppingstone toward the Travers. Since 2010, five Jim Dandy starters have gone on to Win the Travers, including three horses (STAY THIRSTY, ALPHA, and ESSENTIAL QUALITY) who Won both races.
RESPECT HORSES COMING OFF VICTORIES: Nine of the past 13 Travers Winners, including the last six in a row, entered the Travers off a Victory in their last race. Horses in hot form tend to excel in the Travers.
Even the four exceptions the past 13 years could be described as entering the Travers in encouraging form. All of them had placed 2nd or 3rd in their last race, with three of them placing in a Graded Stakes.
DON’T DISGARD LONGSHOTS: Favorites have performed reasonably well in recent editions of the Travers, with four betting favorites visiting the Winner’s circle since 2010. That includes the last two Winners, TIZ THE LAW and ESSENTIAL QUALITY.
While favorites have done well, longshots should not be counted out of the mix. Since 2010, ARROGATE (12-1), KEEN ICE (16-1), V. E. DAY (19-1), and GOLDEN TICKET (33-1) have all Won the Travers at double-digit odds, while four other Winners started at 6-1 or higher.
If you’re leaning toward a non-favored runner in the Travers, don’t hesitate to give them a go.
The 153rd running of the Travers Stakes is Saturday at Saratoga Race Course.