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Submitted by National Race Masters on Thursday, August 22, 2019 at 4:22 PM

Thursday, August 22
NRM Staff

Early on it appeared as though we might get the likes of disqualified Kentucky Derby first place finisher and Haskell winner Maximum Security, Preakness winner War of Will and Bob Baffert’s heavy hitter, Game Winner up against what stacked up as a formidable field of opponents in what is still a wide open 3-year old year.

Then fate decoded to play its hand and those three were stricken from the roster. Even Sir Winston is absent so that means that not a one of the Triple Crown winners (Country House has been absent from the scene since being put up in the Kentucky Derby) will compete in the Grade 1, $1.25 Travers Stakes on Saturday.

While some racing fans might be disappointed by the disappearance of the intrigue presented by the inclusion of the aforementioned trio, the contention of National Race Masters Handicappers is that Saturday’s race might be an even more engaging one for bettors as there are many ways to go about playing this well-stocked 12 horse field.

Morning Line favoritism at 5-2 has been bestowed on Tacitus, the tough-luck colt who finished second in the Belmont Stakes and Jim Dandy Stakes as he prepares for the Mid-Summer Derby. Even if Tacitus does take the expected action, it will be surprising if he lowers his ML odds, what with the likes of Jim Dandy winner Tax Haskell runner up Mucho Gusto, Kentucky Derby, Code of Honor, who was moved from third to second in the Kentucky Derby and recently won the Dwyer Stakes here easily as well as the 1-2-3 finishers in the Curlins Stakes (another prep run here the day before the Jim Dandy) Highest Honors, Endorsed and Looking At Bikinis among a number of other Stakes wines and newcomers looking to improve on their resumes.

Everything shapes up as having the potential to once again meet what have been outstanding average payoffs in recent years. Just look at these numbers since 2012. $23.10 (WIN), $211.80 (Exacta), $2,236.00 (Trifecta), and $17,462.50 (Superfecta)

Let’s take a brief look form the rail out.

#1 OWENDALE (6-1) – Trainer Brad Cox-Jockey Florent Geroux…
After finishing third in the Preakness, trainer Cox decided to skip the Belmont. Next, Owendale captured the Grade 3 Ohio Derby (G3) with a decent enough 99 BRIS Speed Number. He has been off since the June 22 Ohio Derby but has worked strongly at CD since.

#2 CODE OF HONOR (4-1) - Trainer Shug McGaughey-Jockey John Velazquez
The son of Noble Mission made a strong move inside to take a lead in the Kentucky Derby and flattened out to finish third (moved up to second) and the recent Dwyer win was his first since the Derby. He has the tactical speed, if he can get the distance he is a consideration.

#3 HIGHEST HONORS (10-1) – Trainer Chad Brown-Jockey Luis Saez
Nice win in the Curlin Stakes over Endorsed. As he develops he looks like on of hose stamina oriented distance runners his pedigree (Tapit) indicates. With only three races in his career he needs to move forward but he can’t be ruled out.  

#4 LAUGHING FOX (30-1) - Trainer Steve Asmussen-Jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr.
He rallied for fifth in the Preakness Stakes behind Everfast and Owendale. But a read of his running style and form is worth noticing. He took a break after the Preakness and was much closer to the pace when an even fourth in the Jim dandy. Not the worst of longshots.

#5 EVERFAST (30-1) – Trainer Dale Romans-Jockey Martin Chuan
He was the surprise second in the Preakness then plodded on for seventh in the Belmont and fourth in the Jim Dandy. In fact he is still eligible for NW1X allowance and Chaun will be the sixth jockey in as many races. Connections still hoping.

#6 TACITUS (5-2) - Trainer Bill William Mott- Jockey Jose Ortiz
Bettors will not miss spotting the trouble Tacitus experienced in the Jim Dandy, after stumbling at the start and running on a dead rail. Add his wide trip in the Belmont Stakes into a solid second. Some good fortune is due this capable runner. Perhaps Mott’s addition of blinkers gets it done.

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#7 MUCHO GUSTO (6-1) – Trainer Bob Baffert-Jockey Joe Talamo
After failing to get enough points when only third in the Sunland Derby Baffert took him back to SA and grabbed a pair of minor stakes wins. The trainer sent him east for a solid second behind Maximum Security in the Haskell and then returned to California. But when Game Winner was declared out and this one continued to train well Baffert came back across the country. Bred solid and might be ready to establish himself.   

#8 CHESS CHIEF (30-1) – Trainer Dallas Stewart-Jockey Mike Smith
The son of Into Mischief might not seem fast enough to beat this field but this conditioner has on numerous occasions put longshots on the board in big races (most notably 30-1 plus shots Golden Soul and Commanding Curve ho ran second in back-to-back 2013 and 2014 Kentucky Derby.) Good second in West Virginia Derby at 35-1 to Mr. Money, who would be among the top choices here adds intrigue. 

#9 LOOKING AT BIKINIS (10-1) – Trainer Chad Brown-Jockey Javier Castellano
Suspicion on the part of bettors might be that this seeming miler type might be in to get extra experience and set a solid enough pace in a race without a lot of speed for stablemate Highest Honors. But it is Brown and Castellano is not a set up rider so his tactical speed could prove significant...

#10 SCARS ARE COOL (30-1) –Trainer Stanley Hough-Jockey Tyler Gaffalione
The son of Malibu Moon looked good breaking his maiden by four lengths at Saratoga at a mile and an eight. And though his strongest pedigree from a distance standpoint might be grass he should handle the distance. He is after all a last out maiden winner and he didn’t even begin racing until May of this year, so this appears a tough task.

#11 ENDORSED (15-1) – Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin-Jockey Joel Rosario
If third off the layoff is of value then he is in play. Off the long layoff, he returned to win an allowance sprint at Belmont. He next stretched out to go nine-furlongs in the Curlin Stakes and lost by 1 ½ lengths to Highest Honors. Although the Curlin numbers were a bit soft it was a sprint to distance effort so he could step up again and by Medaglia d’Oro should have little issue with the distance.

#12 TAX (6-1) – Trainer Danny Gargan- Jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr.
Although there are quicker horses inside him this could still set up for the son Arch. Yes he got a bit of a break in winning the Jim Dandy hen Tacitus ran into a bit of trouble, but he has not been out of any of his major tussles this year if you excused his wet track Kentucky Derby performance. In fact, it is worth arguing that if he runs the same tactical speed, hard-knocking fourth he ran in the Belmont Stakes he should be right there at 10 furlongs given his grand sire Kris S and dam sire Giant’s Causeway.

Given no speed balls in the field this edition of the Travers could set up as a rider’s race as well and with the best in the game in the irons that adds even more intrigue.

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