Saratoga Springs, NY -- The Triple Crown left no clear-cut favorite and Saturday’s $1.25 million Travers (G1) has huge implications for 3-year-old championship honors. A contentious field of 12 is set for the 1 ¼-mile Midsummer Derby at Saratoga.
Seven competed in the Kentucky Derby, including the top two finishers Always Dreaming and Lookin at Lee. Always Dreaming won his first four starts this year by open lengths, including a 2 ¾-length triumph under the Twin Spires, but will try to reverse course after a pair of setbacks. A disappointing eighth in the Preakness, Always Dreaming came back to finish third in the July 29 Jim Dandy (G2) at Saratoga. Pegged as the 6-1 fourth choice on Travis Stone’s morning line, the dark bay colt is one of two for Todd Pletcher in the field and looks like the likely pacesetter with regular rider John Velazquez.
Pletcher will also send out Tapwrit, who rallied to be a commendable sixth in the Kentucky Derby after being wiped out at the start. The gray son of leading sire Tapit exits a two-length decision in the Belmont Stakes and is listed as the early 7-2 favorite.
Girvin and Irap appear to have made big strides in the months since being a non-factor in the first leg of the Triple Crown. Irap edged Girvin by a nose in the Ohio Derby (G3) in late June and rolled to a five-length decision most recently in the July 15 Indiana Derby (G3). And the Doug O’Neill-trained colt was flattered when the runner-up came back to capture the West Virginia Derby (G2). Girvin has never been better for trainer Joe Sharp, recording a career-best performance winning the $1 million Haskell Invitational (G1) at Monmouth on July 30.
McCraken and Gunnevera were fancied Kentucky Derby contenders following wins in the Sam F. Davis (G3) and Fountain of Youth (G2) earlier in the season, but neither met expectations recording unplaced finishes on the first Saturday in May. Both will enter the Travers off encouraging efforts, with McCraken coming up a nose short when second in the Haskell and Gunnevera rolling to a five-length stakes tally at Gulfstream Park, and the late-running colts could be overlooked in the deep field.
Lookin at Lee has not gone on since posting a surprising second at 33-1 in the Kentucky Derby, failing to be a serious factor in his last three outings, and is rated as a 30-1 outsider on the Travers morning line.
West Coast has been installed as the 4-1 second choice in his Grade 1 debut. He’s never finished worse than second in six career starts (4-2-0), registering his first stakes tally in the Easy Goer on the Belmont Stakes undercard, and stretched his win streak to three with a convincing tally most recently in the July 15 Los Alamitos Derby (G3). Trainer Bob Baffert won last year’s Travers with another colt who missed the Triple Crown (Arrogate).
Good Samaritan turned heads making his first dirt start in the Jim Dandy, rallying to a 4 ¾-length decision, and 5-1 third choice figures to be rolling late for Bill Mott. Cloud Computing joined the Triple Crown with an upset victory in the Preakness and will try to rebound after a disappointing last-of-five effort in the Jim Dandy. Fayeq, a half-brother to Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, is taking an ambitious class hike following an entry-level allowance win over the track and Jim Dandy runner-up Giuseppe the Great completes the field.
I am siding with Irap, who appears to have really turned the corner since being the first maiden to win the Blue Grass Stakes in a 31-1 upset. A winner in three of his last four outings, the Tiznow colt brings top BRIS numbers into the race, registering 109 Speed and 110 Late Pace ratings in recent efforts. He rates a slight edge over in-form rivals Good Samaritan and Girvin.
(John Englehardt photo)