This year has been a never-ending battle for the nation’s top three-year olds. In each jewel of the Triple Crown and on into the summer, a new face inside the winners circle has continued to emerge. So in a “what have you done for me lately” year of racing, the opportunity to become the front-runner for the 3 yr old championship is ripe for the picking this weekend. It’s time for a horse to step forward and what better place to do it than Saratoga’s “Midsummer Derby”.
The deep field of 10 for the 142nd running of the $1 Million Travers Stakes has been drawn and headlining the group are the colts that have already enjoyed success. In 2011, the 5 major races for three-olds have produced 5 different winners. With the subtraction of Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, who is taking time off to recover from injury, it leaves with us the Big Four being just 1 win away from becoming the 1st repeat winner.
It should come as no surprise how the odd’s maker for the New York Racing Association has placed each of these contenders on the morning line – the most recent winners are the 1st and 2nd choices. Coming in as the favorite is Stay Thirsty who has been installed at 5-2. After a 2nd place finish in the Belmont Stakes, the Todd Pletcher trained colt returned in NY and roared home to a 4 length win in the Jim Dandy. Another reason he’s earned first choice is because of his record here at the Spa. In 3 lifetime races at Saratoga, he finished with two wins and a 2nd. Sired by Bernadini, ’06 Jim Dandy and Travers winner, Stay Thirsty enters after scoring his career best beyer speed rating last time out – 106.
Winner of the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth and installed closely behind the favorite is Coil at 3-1. Like Stay Thirsty, Coil also carries a sire that is hard to ignore. Not only was Point Given a champion thoroughbred but in 2001 he also won both the Haskell and the Travers. Trained by Bob Baffert, this colt is known as the “Late Bloomer” of the bunch. After breaking his maiden in the fall of ’10, Coil didn’t return until May when he won an AlwOC in his 3-yr-old debut. Since then the colt has been a force to be reckoned with, notching 2 wins and a 2nd place finish in 3 starts. Every race Coil continues to add more distance and on Saturday he will be racing over 1 ¼ mile for the very first time. Even though that is the case, his hard closing win last time out at 1 1/8 mile shows it shouldn’t be much of a concern.
Rounding out the Big Four are the two with more to prove. Finishing 2nd to Coil in the Haskell, Shackleford and Trainer Dale Romans are at 9-2. Breaking from the 10 post, it’s safe to expect more of the same from this colt – to the front and pressing the pace. The strategy for this colt is to get out early and showcase his high cruising speed. By opening up by a couple of lengths, he’ll be trying to pull the contenders out of their race and chase early. This strategy paid off in the Preakness because coupled with Shack’s form that day, the competition followed to close and didn’t have enough to get by him in the stretch. However, last time out Coil and jockey Martin Garcia weren’t biting. By sitting well off the pace, there was plenty left to get by him before the wire. Look for Shackleford to stick to his game plan and hope the competition can’t resist and chases too hard, too soon.
Finally there’s Ruler on Ice who stole the show over the slop in the Belmont Stakes. Further back at 6-1, the challenge this colt is faced with will be validating that win. After taking the final jewel of the Triple Crown, Ruler on Ice came back for the first time in the Haskell where he finished 3rd. The reason he still has something to prove is because he enters the Travers with only 2 lifetime wins. In a few other of his graded stakes races he’s shown he can bid but more times than not those bids fall short of a win and he has finished either a close 2nd or 3rd. So the question remains if he can once again rise to the occasion against Grade 1 competition. Trained by Kelly Breen, Ruler on Ice isn’t expected to arrive from Monmouth until either Friday or Saturday.
So Who Do You Like?
Great question, let’s break it down. I don’t foresee Ruler on Ice responding like he did at the Belmont. Even though the distance plays more to his advantage, I won’t be wagering on him to have a 2nd breakthrough performance on Saturday. Speaking of distance I see winning at 1 ¼ Mile as a major hurdle for Shackleford. Similar to some of his previous races, I expect him to be in the hunt at the top of the lane but unable to hang on before being passed in the final furlong. And then there’s the field. There are some Cinderella stories in here with an improbable upset in mind but there isn’t enough for me to take a shot. If I do make a play on a live long shot the chances are it will be with Bowman’s Causeway breaking from Post Position 1.
There’s no doubt it, Stay Thirsty is a New York Thoroughbred who has a nose for the course at Saratoga. The past couple of races have been huge for his development and I think he will be right there again to finish in the top 3 on Saturday. However, the late bloomer is on a tear and I believe he will strike again at the Travers Stakes. Coil’s recent works look like a horse that is ready to win. On each day of his last 3 workouts, all at Saratoga, no other horse posted a better time than Coil. His most recent was 4F bullet in 46.12 on Tuesday. Bob Baffert is having a solid year and I expect him to win his 2nd Travers Stakes all time. Coil could be the favorite come post time so if you’re sold like I am you might want to consider an aggressive wager or finding the right exotic combos.
Grade 1 $1 Million Travers Stakes | 3 yr olds | 1 1/4 Mile | Dirt PP Horse Jockey Trainer Odds
- Bowman’s Causeway R. Dominguez C. Brown 12-1
- Rattlesnake Bridge J. Velazquez K. McLaughlin 8-1
- Moonshine Mullin E. Wilson R. Baker 20-1
- Ruler On Ice J. Valdivia, Jr. K. Breen 6-1
- Malibu Glow R. Maragh G. Weaver 20-1
- Raison d’Etat E. Castro W. Mott 10-1
- Coil M. Garcia B. Baffert 3-1
- J W Blue C. Velasquez A. Dutrow 20-1
- Stay Thirsty J. Castellano T. Pletcher 5-2
- Shackleford J. Castanon D. Romans 9-2
The Travers is race 12 on a 13-race card begining at 11:35 a.m. The 1 hour live television broadcast kicks off on NBC at 5 PM EST and will feature the return of Unlce Mo in the Kings’ Bishop Stakes. Good luck to all horses and their connections this weekend at Saratoga.
Written by: Little Brink