It needs little introduction, and for the first time since the 1970s, the Midsummer Derby features a full field. Do all of them really belong, no, but who’s to argue when there’s money to be made on Saratoga’s biggest day of the year featuring a medley of guaranteed exotics and the return of both the Preakness and Belmont winners to the Spa?
As it stands, Exaggerator has the most to lose as he gains momentum on champion three-year-old male honors and encounters a dry track. Breaking from the 7-hole, the Curlin colt has already won his lone start at Saratoga as a juvenile and figures to be a big factor in the Travers finish. However, with so many upsets in recent years and so many Haskell winners falling short, is Exaggerator a usable favorite?
$1.25 million Travers Stakes (I) – 3-Year-Olds. 1 ¼ miles on dirt at Saratoga Race Course. Post Time: Saturday, August 27 at 5:44pm EST.
[Post Position, Horse – Jockey, Trainer – Summary, Opinion]
1) Arrogate – Mike Smith, Bob Baffert – Baffert’s less established colt is by Unbridled’s Song and out of a stakes winner, although he has yet to test the graded stakes water yet himself. An early speed type, he’ll be at home breaking early from the rail as he stretches from 1 1/16 miles to 1 1/4. A steep step? I think so, having beaten little at home and fly cross-country to a track that is typically unfriendly to Baffert horses.
2) American Freedom – Rafael Bejarano, Bob Baffert – The tall, dark, and handsome son of Pulpit caught my attention heading into the Haskell Invitational (I) last out in his graded stakes bow, graduating a respectable second to Exaggerator. Shedding the blinkers, it can be assumed that Baffert will seek to rate American Freedom here as he stretches him out on a dry track. A very good solid threat should he be able to rate well and fly late.
3) My Man Sam – Manuel Franco, Chad Brown – The Trappe Shot colt is the first of the three Brown entries, being G1-placed earlier in the spring in the Blue Grass (I) before finishing 11th in the Kentucky Derby. A career closer, he couldn’t quite close the deal in his return, finishing a neck short of Tale of Verve on opening weekend going 9 furlongs. Is he a bad horse? No. Is he usable? Yes. He was up against the pace in a first effort off a layoff in his most recent start, and while I don’t see him beating some others here he could grab a piece.
4) Governor Malibu – Joel Rosario, Christophe Clement – Loved this horse coming into the Belmont (I) and he ran beyond even my own expectations when reaching for second in the Jim Dandy (II) despite a slumbering pace. He reminds me a lot of V.E. Day, who could fight a sleepy front pace to make up ground impressively– and at big odds. He looks fantastic, and should be right at home at ten furlongs.
5) Forever d’Oro – Luis Saez, Dallas Stewart – Third in the Curlin Stakes behind Connect and Gift Box, the Medaglia d’Oro colt was a listless 13th in the Belmont Stakes (I) despite a G1-winning pedigree on both sides as a son of Kentucky Oaks winner Lemons Forever. A long distance-chugger, it’s a reach.
6) Anaximandros – Leonel Reyes, Mikhail Yanakov – Pegged at a 50-1 morning line, the Hard Spun colt breezes into town off a 7-length loss to Cupid in the West Virginia Derby (II) in early August, with his two career wins both coming on Gulfstream’s main track before his graded stakes debut at Mountaineer. He’ll try to sit off the pace and stick it out, but this is a big dream.
7) Exaggerator – Kent Desormeaux, Keith Desormeaux – The winner of three G1 races including a splashtastic edition of the Haskell (I), the son of Curlin roared back to the races after a disappointing Belmont effort and by all accounts appears primed to run another good one at ten furlongs. To the naysayers about his needing an off track– not necessarily so! I’m more concerned about traffic he may face as well as the Haskell often serving as a poorer prep race for past Travers favorites. He’s consistent and can’t be tossed, but at 3-1 I’ll shop around.
8) Destin – Javier Castellano, Todd Pletcher – The Giant’s Causeway colt majorly disappointed me with his Jim Dandy (II) third, because really when he’s at his best, he’s more than just a G1-placed kind of horse. Optimistically, he did not lose ground on Laoban, and perhaps it was too tough to make up any ground on a coasting front runner– a scenario not likely to repeat itself, although it’s not entirely impossible to imagine Destin fighting out for the early lead too. I feel good vouching for Castellano on Destin here, although Destin will have to be back to his old self.
9) Gift Box – Junior Alvarado, Chad Brown – One of Brown’s most interesting colts since last summer, the son of Twirling Candy made his three-year-old debut in late May, out-finishing some decent horses going 1 1/16 miles at Belmont before running second in the Curlin Stakes behind stablemate Connect. Interestingly, and perhaps not surprisingly, Javier Castellano picks Destin to ride over Gift Box. I agree it’s questionable as to how much more Gift Box can improve versus tougher while stretching out, but he should be more fit here second off the layoff and at 12-1 is more interesting than Connect.
10) Connect – John Velazquez, Chad Brown – The third Chad Brown entry and son of Curlin (whose progeny typically ace this course), Connect fittingly won the Curlin Stakes to extend his win streak to three in a row out of four starts, all while holding off his initially more promising stablemate Gift Box in the stretch. His speed figures are fairly even, so there’s question as to how much– if at all– this colt will improve stepping up to G1 company. At 4-1, I want to pass…
11) Majesto – Ricardo Santana Jr., Gustavo Delgado – The G1-placed half brother to G1 winner Overanalyze hopped off the layoff wagon with an uninspired 6th in the Curlin Stakes last out after running 18th in the Kentucky Derby. Delgado outfits him with blinkers for the first time, and while it’s not an entirely successful option, Delgado is having a pretty decent meet sending out his Florida shippers. While Majesto isn’t one of his speedballs, he’s a fun option to include in exotics.
12) Creator – Irad Ortiz Jr., Steve Asmussen – The two-time G1 winning Tapit colt returns after trailing in a paceless Jim Dandy (II), but even the bettors saw that kind of an effort coming. This is the kind of horse that needs some pace and some ideal conditions, which this edition of the Travers may be willing to lend him. While nobody loves a deep closing type like Creator, he is easy to like at 15-1 and may be ready to bounce back into Belmont-winning form here with Saratoga’s top jockey.
13) Laoban – Jose Ortiz, Eric Guillot – After going winless in seven prior starts, the Uncle Mo colt made his maiden victory count when he went wire-to-wire in the 9-furlong Jim Dandy Stakes (II) a few weeks ago, beating out some talented colts who just didn’t show up that day. Clearly, Laoban is most talented out on a lead—and dangerous on an uncontested one—but with trainer Guillot not committed to the early lead, where does that rate his chances? I’m betting Laoban will shoot for an early lead alongside Arrogate, but I’m fuzzy on whether or not he will last to ten furlongs and hold off the surging stalkers this time. He’s been reportedly in fine fettle lately working up to the race, and I’d gladly make room for him to use underneath.
14) Gun Runner – Florent Geroux, Steve Asmussen – There was much to like about the Louisiana Derby winner heading into the Kentucky Derby, and that much was still evident as he exited a wire-to-wire display of dominance in the 1 1/16 mile Matt Winn (III). He appeared to have peaked in that start, as he looked awfully empty in the Haskell (I), finishing a meek fifth after being checked early. He is a tough horse in many arenas, but looks a bit overmatched and off-peak here.
Top 4 Picks in Order (with preferred odds):
#4 Governor Malibu (12-1)
#12 Creator (10-1)
#7 Exaggerator (7-2)
#2 American Freedom (5-1)
Value Pick: Governor Malibu doesn’t have the frills of being a graded stakes winner, but has run with the best and could be sitting on a big race here. The Jim Dandy wasn’t a completely fair test of anyone in that field, which credits his runner-up placing even more. Stretching out with a more tangible pace, this consistent horse is a deal in the odds.