Mike's Derby Picks

2016 Travers Stakes Preview – Will Exaggerator prevail at the Graveyard of Champions?

August 24th 2016 – Updated 8/26/16 (see below)

Coming this Saturday on NBC is the 147th running of the Travers Stakes for 3 year-olds. Consider the history of this race at the hallowed grounds of Saratoga. It was first run in 1864 when Abraham Lincoln was President. That was seven score and twelve years ago. It was once viewed as the fourth leg of the Triple Crown. It seems to produce upsets or controversy. Most notably in 1930 when the Triple Crown champion Gallant Fox was upset by the 100-1 longshot Jim Dandy. More fresh on everyour minds was last year when Keen Ice shocked the Saratoga crowd by beating American Pharoah.

Then there was the Affirmed vs Alydar showdown in 1978 that resulted in Affirmed being disqualified by a foul. To date, the only Triple Crown winner to ever win the Travers Stakes was Whirlaway in 1941.

There is no Triple Crown winner this year to test the Saratoga racing gods but we do have a number of horses in this field that competed in this year’s Triple Crown races:

Exaggerator – Preakness Stakes winner, 2nd in the Kentucky Derby, 11th in the Belmont Stakes
Creator – Belmont Stakes winner, 13th in the Kentucky Derby
Destin – 2nd in the Belmont Stakes, 6th in the Kentucky Derby
Gun Runner – 3rd in the Kentucky Derby 
Governo Malibu – 4th in the Belmont Stakes
My Man Sam – 11th in the Kentucky Derby
Majesto – 18th in the Kentucky Derby
Laoban – the surprise Jim Dandy Stakes winner who finished 6th in the Preakness
Forever d’Oro – 13th in the Belmont Stakes

Plus some late bloomers like the Curlin Stakes winner Connect, Bob Baffert’s Iowa Derby winner American Freedom who finished 2nd to Exaggerator in the Haskell Invitational and Bob Baffert’s other promising colt–Arrogate–who produced a 103 Beyer Speed Figure at Santa Anita Park in June.

Then there’s the once promising Chad Brown colt Gift Box who was sidelined during the Derby trail season due to illness. He gave Connect a real battle in the Curlin Stakes. And the 50-1 odds horse Anaximandros. I think his name means longshot in Latin.

Here are the post-positions, riders and morning line odds:

The Travers Stakes – 1 1/4th Mile – Saturday August 27th – Race #11 at Saratoga – Post-Time: 4:44 PM CST. Televised by NBC

Post Horse/(Jockey/Trainer/ Odds
1. Arrogate – Smith/Baffert – 10-1
2. American Freedom – Bejarano/Baffert – 6-1
3. My Man Sam – Franco/Brown – 20-1
4. Governor Malibu – Rosario/Clement – 12-1
5. Forever d’Oro – Saez/Stewart – 30-1
6. Anaximandros – Reyes/Yakakov – 50-1
7. Exaggerator – Desormeax/Desormeax – 3-1
8. Destin – Castellano/Pletcher – 10-1
9. Gift Box – Alvarado/Brown- 12-1
10. Connect – Velazquez/Brown – 4-1
11. Majesto – Santana/Delgato – 30-1   SCRATCHED
12. Creator – Ortiz Jr./Asmussen – 15-1
13. Laoban – Ortiz/Guillot – 15-1
14. Gun Runner – Geroux/Asmussen – 10-1

My Prediction: This will be an interesting race. Exaggerator is the class of the field. He has won before at Saratoga as a 2 year old. He has a good starting position in the middle of pack. It would be hard to bet against him here but why would this year be any different for a race that typically springs upsets? Especially when there is no rain in the forecast. This race is very hard to handicap since a few of these horses, and some very promising ones like Connect, have yet to race 10 furlongs. And those who raced in the Kentucky Derby may have significantly improved by now. This race’s exotic bets should payout nice if you are lucky enough to hit one. 

Here are the Top Beyer Speed Figures for horses in this field at races longer than one mile

Arrogate              SA           24 Jun   1 1/16M         103
Exaggerator       SA           09 Apr   1 1/8M           103
Connect               SAR        29 Jul     1 1/8M           101
Exaggerator       CD          07 May 1 1/4M            101
Exaggerator       MTH      31 Jul     1 1/8M            101
Exaggerator       PIM        21 May 1 3/16M           101
Laoban                 SAR       30 Jul  1 1/8M               101
Destin                  TAM      12 Mar  1 1/16M           100

This is why I would lean towards picking Exaggerator (The Slopmeister) to win this race even on a dry track surface. Connect and American Freedom are probably good bets to finish in the superfecta. After that, it depends on which Gun Runner, Creator and Destin shows up. Arrogate is hurt by drawing the rail. I have no magic crystal ball for this one folks. Good luck and happy viewing!

Update! 8/26/16

One thing I noticed in my research tonight is how the top 3 finishers in Jim Dandy Stakes fared in the Travers Stakes the past 4 years. The Jim Dandy Stakes is a 9 furlong (1 1/8th mile) race that is a prep race for the Travers.

2015 – Frosted finished 2nd in the Jim Dandy and 3rd in the Travers
2014 – Wicked Strong and Tonalist finished 1-2 in the Jim Dandy and then 2nd and 3rd respectively in the Travers.
2013 – Will Take Charge finished 2nd in the Jim Dandy and won the Travers
2012 – Alpha and Neck ‘n Neck finished 1-2 in the Jim Dandy and tied in a dead heat in the Travers.

The Top 3 finishers in this year’s Jim Dandy Stakes were: 1) Laoban, 2) Governor Malibu and 3) Destin. So if you are looking for horses to put into your superfecta bets, it would be a good idea to include one or two of these horses. Of the three, Governor Malibu seems to be the safest bet of the three to hit the board based on his career history.

Two horses that I wouldn’t put in my superfectas are: Anaximandros and My Man Sam. Majesto has been scratched. Forever d’Oro is the only longshot that might have a chance to hit the board. He is a half-brother to Songbird but he has yet to run like it. He crapped out in the Belmont Stakes but moved up well in the Curlin Stakes to finish 3rd.

As I stated earlier, this will be an interesting race. Sort of a mini Kentucky Derby. Since the Haskell Invitational was a wet race, which some horses don’t run well in, we could see a return to form for a horse like Gun Runner. But I am not convinced he likes a mile and a quarter.