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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, August 27, 2015 at 12:00 AM

SARATOGA PRIMER
Volume 12 - Number 10
Thursday 8/27/15


$1.6 MILLION PURSE FILLS THE FIELD - PYRAMID OF 9 HOPE TO DETHRONE THE PHAROAH

Yes this is Saratoga. Yes, the name "Onion" has already been uttered countless times in reference to American Pharoah and this year’s Travers Stakes and will be uttered countless times more before the gates spring for the Mid-Summer Derby scheduled for 5:46 (E) on Saturday.

Rather than become one of those "negative wishers for misfortune" or "disbelievers in greatness on every level" let me say straight up that it would demand a far-reaching litany of reasons to come to the conclusion that American Pharoah swill turn in anything less than his usual brilliant exhibition of equine athleticism on Saturday. 

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There are some that would argue that the fact that nine opponents have entered to run against American Pharoah is at least a semblance of evidence that he can be beat. Of course he "can" get beat. This is horse racing. But listening to some of the reasons he "can" be beat only re-enforces my love for the vagaries of horse racing and how many bettors are willing to put money through the windows, money that has "no basis in logic whatsoever."

There are those who say American Pharoah is "due to lose a race." Was he due 4 weeks ago in the Haskell? Was he "due" when he trounced Frosted and his other challengers in the Belmont? Was he "due" when every one of his rivals was ducking in and out, running sideways, climbing erratically or just outright quitting while the Triple Crown winner was running straight as an arrow, with his dears pricked and jockey Espinoza virtually motionless over the horrendously rain soaked surface at Pimlico?

Or how about this absurdly subjective appraisal: the only Triple Crown winner to also win the Travers was Whirlaway and he did it way back in 1941. I have to admit that every time I hear one of these "no horse,’ such as in "no horse who was unraced as a two-year old has ever won the Kentucky Derby since Apollo in 1882" I automatically shut off the sound source or stop reading. Again these are the kind of arguments that perennial race track stumblers, cynical wishers for failure and obviously losing bettors (why else be so cynical) hold as their operating mantras. One can only hope that on Saturday these nay-sayers contribute handily to the same betting pools to which we contribute.

And as I mentioned earlier, many will justify betting against American Pharoah by bringing up Onion’s famous upset of Secretariat at Saratoga. Of course Onion and Secretariat aren’t running on Saturday, American Pharoah and nine opponents are. And Onion did not defeat Secretariat in the Travers Stakes but in the Whitney and on that day Secretariat was incubating a virus...so the analogy hardly applies. But stupid is as stupid does.

So. Am I guaranteeing that American Pharoah wins the Travers? Do I need to state there is no such thing as a guarantee? But if you are going to entertain challenges which American Pharoah must overcome in order to continue on a path not seen since the 1970’s, a path to what True Legends are made of then here are the more realistic challenges.

Only one favorite, Stay Thirsty $6.80 in 2011, has won the Travers outright since Street Sense in 2007 (Alpha dead-heated with Longshot Golden Ticket in 2012.) Summer Bird in 2009 was the last horse to come out of the Haskell to win the Travers and since 2004 only Summer Bird and Colonel John in 2008 have won the Travers without running their final prep race at the Spa.

From a tactical standpoint these are significant challenges, but seeing that American Pharoah’s eight race win streak has been accomplished at seven different tracks even those "significant" challenges look to be 6-inch hurdles.

All that being said, why then have 9 runners lined up to "most probably chase" the Triple Crown winner in Saturday’s Travers? I would suggest it starts with the purse. The connections of Grade II Jim Dandy winner Texas Red were most candid when they said they are most likely, and hopefully, running for second money...and seeing that with American Pharoah adding $600,000 to the original $1 Million pursed by simply showing up (a bonus the NYRA added to entice him) second place money of $320,000 or even third place money at $160,000 is quite the encouragement in itself.

And of course should American Pharoah show up with his usual performance, one that is certainly expected following his scintillating 7 furlong work in 123.20 on Sunday (galloped out the mile in 1:35.40) they will definitely all be running for second.

So where does that leave us and the public when it comes to getting the "bang for the buck" with wagering strategy? I would offer this.

Once American Pharoah conquered the Kentucky Derby his odds-on price was assured. Still, with that reality in place there were "relatively" decent returns in the Preakness, Belmont Stakes and the Haskell.

Preakness...American Pharoah...Tale Of Verve - 2nd Exacta $124.40
Belmont Stakes...American Pharoah ...Frosted - 2nd Exacta $13.60...Keen Ice - 3rd Trifecta $109.00
Haskell...American Pharoah...Keen Ice - 2nd Exacta $21.60

Seeing that Tale Of Verve, Frosted and Keen Ice are signed on for the Travers it isn’t inconceivable that one can find value in the exotics. And it is logical to argue that the additional entries of Jim Dandy and BC Juvenile Winner Texas Red as well as highly regarded Smart Transition who just blitzed opponents here in the Curlin Stakes, a race that has produced two of the last five Travers winners, including $41.00 V.E. Day last year, only adds return to the "underneath" (should you go that way) combos in the Travers.

What more could you ask for? You get to watch thoroughbred history as it continues to be made and have the opportunity to cash in as well.

I’ll return tomorrow with a brief un down of the nine challengers as well as take a look at a few of the six "other" key stakes races on the Travers Day program.

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