Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, August 25, 2016 at 4:11 PM
LARGEST TRAVERS FIELD IN OVER 40 YEARS IS HANDICAPPER'S AND BETTOR'S DREAM THIS SATURDAY
If I were to hold a handicapper's seminar and needed a race from which to exhibit every running style, every trainer angles, every possible setup, I could not ask for a better work sheet than Saturday's Grade I Summer Derby. A.K.A. the Travers Stakes.
There is only one true purpose to handicapping any race and that is to find the best horses in the best combinations in order to make money!
In order to find the right horses in the right combination and make that money I have to be able to break down the past performances of the contenders, have to know if certain trainers were all out to win their last race or just prepping for this one, must have watched the different horses run in previous races to know if they were hampered or helped by the trips they received and much more.
As a handicapper I also have to look at the running styles of each horse. Which ones are speed horses and how many of them are there. If there were one or two in a field like Saturday's 14 horse Travers field speed could be dangerous, if there are more I can project the kind of pace there will be.
Once I project the pace I can look to those runners who have shown the ability to run the kind of evenly spaced quarter mile fractions that will keep them in striking distance of the pace while they sit in striking position behind the pace and battle for that position with each other.
Next I look to the trackers and closers. Will this race give them that pace they need? Will the mile and a quarter distance suit them or are they better closing into a hot pace at a mile and an eighth? You and I have both seen horses close plenty of ground in those nine furlong prep races leading up to the Kentucky Derby and then run in place from the back of the pack on the first Saturday in May when they are asked to go the 10 furlong distance of Saturday's Travers.
These few paragraphs give you a brief idea of what it takes to put together a projected winning scenario for a race. On Saturday, with the Travers Stakes field having every type of runner and every pattern angle one can imagine, being able to segment and run the race in advance is crucial.
I stated above that this race is the type of race that is a handicapper's and bettor's dream because it all but guarantees great payoffs on every end.
The term "wide open" is over used, even at times by yours truly, but in reference to Saturday's Travers field it could not be more spot on.
After he bounced back from a horrible Belmont performance, EXAGGERATOR was the winner of the Grade I Haskell 4 weeks ago and has been installed as the 3-1 morning line favorite. I can look at his past performances, know he is a solid three-year old based on his Kentucky Derby runner up and Preakness winning performances.
One of the projected 14 will be the favorite and the public will likely make him so at post time for two reasons, there has to be and his resume shows more graded success collectively than his competitors. However, since winning two of his first three career races vs MSW and allowance foes he has not won a race on a fast track since the summer and early fall of his juvenile career. He has run ten races starting with his second in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and has a 5-4-1-0 mark on a sloppy or muddy surface and has not won in the 5 he has run over a fast track. There is no rain in the forecast for Saturday...and I repeat, there is every likelihood he will be the post time favorite.
What also makes this edition of the Travers such a dynamic prototype for a handicapping seminar is that the race indeed contains a number of runners in each of the aforementioned pace styles of running.
The early pace looks to be constructed behind a group that includes recent Haskell Invitational pace setter and runner up AMERICAN FREEDOM, who will be making his sixth career start that includes a win in the Grade III Iowa Derby prior to the Haskell. The Bob Baffert trainee has improved with each start.
DESTIN is back for another try after he pressed the pace in the Jim Dandy Stakes here 4 weeks back. He was making his first start since being nosed in a courageous front running effort in the Belmont Stakes.
Leading trainer Chad Brown has a trio of 3-year olds entered including CONNECT, who went wire-to-wire in the recent Curlin Stakes here and will make his graded stakes debut. The conditioner also has another class jumper in GIFT BOX, who pressed the pace of CONNECT and finished second in the Curlin.
Also projected to join the contingent of pace setters is Jim Dandy longshot winner LAOBAN, who for the first time in his eight race career actually held the lead when he broke his maiden while pulling that Stakes upset.
Also figuring to contribute from the rail is newcomer to Graded Stakes action ARROGATE, a last out second level allowance winner from the Baffert barn. What gives me pause is that this one is lined up right next to Baffert's other speed runner AMERICAN FREEDOM.
Identifying the pace setters is one thing, but figuring, based on the fact that none of them have shown blinding front running speed in quick fractions also creates the dilemma of needing to figure how close the stalkers will actually be.
The main players in the secondary group that hits the backstretch looks to be headed by Grade II Peter Pan and Grade II Jim Dandy Stakes runner up and hard luck, close up Grade I Belmont Stakes fourth place finisher GOVERNOR MALIBU.
Also joining GOVERNOR MALIBU in stalking position should be Risen Star and Grade I winner as well as Kentucky Derby third place finisher GUN RUNNER, who looked uncomfortable over the sloppy oval in the Haskell but is 5 for 6 lifetime over a fast track. The biggest difficulty for this one will be maneuvering from the outside post under regular rider Florent Geroux.
Then there are the trackers and deep closers. Chief among the key trackers are FOREVER D'ORO, who stayed on for third in the Curlin Stakes in what was clearly a prep for the Travers after he raced so poorly in the Belmont, ANAXIMANDROS, who finished fourth in the recent West Virginia Derby and looks well overmatched and that one's uncoupled stablemate MAJESTO, who showed promise with a second in the Grade I Florida Derby but came undone in both the Kentucky Derby and recent Curlin Stakes.
The two colts that might or might not be the deeper closers are MY MAN SAM and Belmont Stakes upset winner CREATOR.
What I mean by might or might not be the deep closers is that while MY MAN SAM got the attention of the public prior to his Kentucky Derby when he came from out of the closed to finish second in the Grade I Blue Grass Stakes before faltering with no late run in the Derby. In his return, however, he was actually in tracking position when second in a 9 furlong allowance race here 5 weeks ago.
As for CREATOR, he was branded as a deep closer based on his late running performances in the Grade II Rebel and Grade I Arkansas Derby (third and first respectively) before failing to fire in the Kentucky Derby. Given the 5 weeks off he was much closer to the pace when he rallied late to win the Belmont but trailed throughout from 5 to 9 lengths behind in the Jim Dandy.
As you can see, the possibilities of construct are endless: and that is only the beginning framework of how the horses identify themselves by running style. I have also checked workouts, know which runners are set to peak and which are what they are.
In addition, there are important productive trainers and barns involved in this crucial race and knowing their intent has come from years and years of experience. Of course, even that only scratches the surface of my approach.
Let me repeat, one thing is all but guaranteed...and that is a huge payoff with the right combinations. That my friends is what I plan on delivering.