The biggest race of the summer is on tap on Saturday as a field of nine three-year-olds will line up in the $1 million Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
It may be tough to top last year’s running of the race, where Alpha and Golden Ticket hit the wire together for the first dead heat in the history of the race.
However, this year’s field has plenty of star power, starting with Kentucky Derby winner Orb, who is making his first start since running third in the Belmont Stakes. The Shug McGaughey colt is the 4-1 third choice on the morning line.
Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice is also in the field and is coming off a good-looking win in the Jim Dandy over the Saratoga main track. The Todd Pletcher trainee is the 5-2 second choice on the morning line.
His stablemate Verrazano is the 2-1 morning-line favorite. The colt was outrun in a 14th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby but has come back with an impressive pair of stakes wins, taking the Haskell Invitational by 9 3/4 lengths in his last outing at Monmouth Park.
The Travers is one of four graded stakes on the 14-race card at Saratoga and will be televised on NBC’s “Summer at Saratoga," which gets underway at 4:30 p.m. eastern.
Here are my top four selections for the Travers Stakes:
Palace Malice is coming off a sharp win in the Jim Dandy over the main track at Saratoga, and that race is the key prep for the Travers. The colt is perfect in two trips over the Spa main track and comes into the race off a career top speed figure. It looks as if our second and third choices may get bet down from their morning-line odds and our top pick may end up the best value among the logical trio.
Trainer Todd Pletcher has a pair of Travers wins under his belt, with Stay Thirsty in 2011 and Flower Alley in 2005, and they both prepped by winning the Jim Dandy. The colt should get a good tracking trip breaking toward the outside under Mike Smith, who is sticking to the Spa this weekend, giving up a ride on Game On Dude to ride this guy and Royal Delta on Sunday.
Orb was very impressive winning the Kentucky Derby, and it appeared we had a great shot of seeing a Triple Crown winner. But the colt did not show the same punch in Baltimore, checking in fourth in the Preakness two weeks later and then running third in the Belmont.
The colt has been freshened with a two-month foray to Fair Hill. He should be coming back fresh and posted a sharp bullet workout on Aug. 19 over the Oklahoma training track. The Shug McGaughey barn has 22 percent winners (with a +ROI) with runners coming back off a 61-180 day layoff. The colt is the lone runner in the field with a victory at 1 1/4 miles.
Verrazano bounced back from his disappointing effort on Derby Day with a sharp win in the Pegasus by 9 1/4 lengths and then trounced the field in the Haskell Invitational by nearly 10 lengths. The colt earned a 116 Beyer Speed Figure, tops for a three-year-old this year.
The colt went from the early Kentucky Derby favorite back in March to horseplayers jumping off his bandwagon after his underwhelming Wood Memorial win. It is tough to knock his perfect record on fast tracks. He just looks as if he could regress off his last, and he is not proven at the distance. His price is likely going to be on the light side.
Will Take Charge
Will Take Charge has been driving me crazy all spring as I have backed him whenever he ran poorly and passed on him whenever he ran well, like his win in the Rebel at Oaklawn Park at 28-1 and his solid second in the Jim Dandy at Saratoga at generous odds of 17-1.
I am going to use him in the bottom of my exotics. I just love his pedigree. He is out of the $2.4 million earner Take Charge Lady and a half-brother to Grade 1 winner Take Charge Indy ($1.1 million).
Morning-line odds provided by nyra.com.
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