Saturday’s Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers Stakes drew a field of eight 3-year-olds that will face the 1 1/4-mile distance at Saratoga.
Here’s a look at the field:
1. CYBERKNIFE [ML 7-2] Trainer: Brad Cox. Jockey: Florent Geroux. Has Won four out of his last five races with the only loss coming in the Kentucky Derby (G1) when he beat only two horses to the wire. Among his Victories are the Haskell (G1) in July and the Arkansas Derby (G1). It’s no secret he needed to mature mentally as a 3-year-old and he did just that as he Won the Matt Winn (G3) and then the big race in the Haskell at Monmouth Park. CYBERKNIFE will probably be ignored a bit at the betting windows as was the case in both of his Grade 1 Victories.
2. RICH STRIKE [ML 10-1] Trainer: Eric Reed. Jockey: Sonny Leon. The long shot Kentucky Derby Winner makes his first start since running a very blasé 6th in the Belmont Stakes. He has been in Saratoga for two weeks to prepare for the Travers and has looked the part of a talented 3-year-old. RICH STRIKE is the only horse in the field with a Victory going ten-furlongs. If you like him, you are going to get a good price once again.
3. AIN’T LIFE GRAND [ML 20-1] Trainer: Kelly Von Hemel. Jockey: Tyler Gaffalione. Here is a rare Iowa-bred with bloodlines that belong in Kentucky. His papa is NOT THIS TIME, who also sired EPICENTER, and is out of a MEDALGIA D’ORO mare. He has five career Victories at Prairie Meadows with four in restricted races to go with the Iowa Derby on July 9th. His only start outside of Iowa was at Oaklawn Park in April when he was 4th in the Bachelor Stakes. He’ll run without Lasix for the first time as he moves into Graded Stakes company for the first time.
4. GILDED AGE [ML 30-1] Trainer: Bill Mott. Jockey: Junior Alvarado. Was 2nd in the July 29th Curlin Stakes at Saratoga behind Travers contender ARTORIUS following an Allowance Victory at Churchill Downs going 1 1/8 miles. The stretch out to ten furlongs shouldn’t pose a problem for this son of MEDALGIA D’ ORO as he seeks his first Victory in a Stake of any kind.
5. ARTORIUS [ML 9-2] Trainer: Chad Brown. Jockey: Irad Ortiz Jr. No surprise that the least experienced horse in the field with only three starts comes from the barn of Chad Brown. The son of ARROGATE was 2nd in his debut at Keeneland in April and then moved quickly from his Maiden Victory at Belmont Park to Win the Curlin at Saratoga against a field of eight at odds of 5-2. ARROGATE Won the Travers in 2016 on his way to a Victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Like his father, ARTORIUS will try and Win the Travers in his first start in a Graded Stake.
6. EPICENTER [ML 7-5] Trainer: Steve Asmussen. Jockey: Joel Rosario. He is the favorite here based on his 2nd-place finishes in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness and the recent Jim Dandy (G2) Victory. He also Won a pair of Grade 2 races on the Derby trail. He is, however, still seeking his first Grade 1 Win. The ten-furlong distance on a Saratoga track that has been deep and tiring does seem better suited to his late running style.
7. EARLY VOTING [ML 8-1] Trainer: Chad Brown. Jockey: Jose Ortiz. The Preakness (G1) Winner was a bit of a disappointment when he finished 4th in the Jim Dandy (G2) at odds of 9-5. With his usual running style, he was up on the early pace but could not sustain the effort in his first start at Saratoga. Brown opted to skip the Kentucky Derby with the Preakness as the goal and the plan worked out perfectly. Against the toughest field he has faced can EARLY VOTING get to the wire first in the Travers? Morning line odds of 8-1 make him an interesting prospect.
8. ZANDON [ML 5-1] Trainer: Chad Brown. Jockey: Flavien Prat. Has never run worse than 3rd in his six-race career which includes five Graded Stakes and thus he has earnings over the $1 million dollar mark. He has a Grade 1 Victory in the Blue Grass (G1) on the Kentucky Derby trail and since then he was 3rd in the Derby and 2nd in the Jim Dandy.
SUMMARY: It is hard to look beyond Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen in big races at Saratoga this summer. The most surprising factor heading into the Travers may be that the Asmussen-trained favorite EPICENTER is not a Grade 1 Winner.
CYBERKNIFE, who is 7-2 in the morning line, is the only horse in the field with two Grade 1 victories.
Then there is ARTORIUS, the least experienced horse in the field who will try and do what his sire ARROGATE did back in 2016 – Win the Travers in his first try in a Graded Stake. ARTORIUS Won his Travers prep in the Curlin last month at Saratoga.
The Daily Racing Blog, seeking an alternative to the five Graded Stakes Winners entered in this years edition of the Travers will go with this fast-rising contender, at what we hope will be a fair price.
The 153rd running of the Travers Stakes is slated as race 11 on a card of 13 (!) with a scheduled Post Time of 5:45.