Steve Asmussen and Chad Brown go for their first Travers wins

August 25, 2022

Geo Sette goes for his 6th straight Grade 1 winning column as he deep dives The Travers Stakes at Saratoga

Geo Sette on a 5 race grade 1 win streak with friends

Nobody has been hotter than Geo Sette in his Past The Wire columns. He has had the winner of the last 5 Grade 1 Stakes he’s dissected in his column. Will he make it 6 in a row in The Travers? We’ll find out Saturday but Geo did not land on the early and likely heavy favorite Epicenter. He didn’t land on Cyberknife who he loved in The Haskell, part of his 5 race Grade 1 streak. He didn’t land on Early Voting who he loved in The Preakness and is also part of his Grade 1 streak. We hope you enjoy Geo’s Travers Stakes run-down, we know he sure did.

There has been much anticipation for this year’s 153rd Travers Stakes. A few months ago the field shaping up had the look of what could be one of the best ever when you think of the collection of vastly talented three-year-olds in training and all they have already accomplished on the racetrack. No doubt the race lost some of its ultra-luster with Mo Donegal, Charge It, and Taiba not running and the fabulous filly Nest went on to face the girls and take care of business in the Alabama Stakes, but it’s still a very talented field of 8 running in this Mid Summer Derby.   

This Travers field packs lots of punch considering that five of the starters have already surpassed earnings of over a million dollars. Additionally, 5 raced in one or more of the Triple Crown races, 4 are Grade 1 winners and 4 come into this field after winning their most recent races.

It’s very possible this year’s Travers dance could prove to be a nail-biting finish, perhaps similar to last season’s great stretch duel between Essential Quality and the late Midnight Bourbon, both of whom showed guts and tenacity.  As I recollect other great Travers Stakes, I’m thinking of the 128th running in 1997 when Deputy Commander and Behrens dueled it out throughout the stretch with Deputy Commander holding on by a nose. If you have a few minutes, go ahead and watch it. 

In 2015, the capacity crowd at the Spa watched Triple Crown winner and huge favorite American Pharoah lose to Keen Ice and his powerful stretch drive, a Travers which no doubt supported Saratoga’s reputation as being a “Graveyard of Champions”. It’s never easy to win at Saratoga, especially in this historic race where many betting favorites over the years have failed to emerge victorious. 

The name has been carried on for decades because of its upsets, and literally too as the fabulous champion filly, Go For Wand (who suffered a fatal injury during the 1990 Breeders Cup Distaff at Belmont Park) is buried in the Saratoga Race Course infield. 

As a handicapper, this event proved to be one that provided a greater challenge as many of these colts have run some huge races while beating others in the field and in some cases, avenging a prior defeat. 

If you have been a regular reader/follower of my columns and analysis then you know that I am riding a 5 Race Grade One winning streak and In the process crushing two triples cold ( The Belmont and the Haskell Stakes)  while providing key elements to fill your exactas and other wagering gimmicks.  As you know, as much as we love the sport, it’s an unfair game. There are many contributing factors, that’s why most people lose more often than they win. So when you win, you need to crush it and make it count.  

So now the bar is set high, and I promise you I have put in the same amount of time, if not more, on this very competitive Travers Stakes field. These are horses I know exceptionally well. I backed Early Voting in the Preakness and Cyberknife in the Haskell, but every new race is a brand new task and an inviting new story. It is important to be decisive as to who you will short and who you feel is sitting on a big effort.  

I’ve completed hours of additional race-reply film study, and methodically broken down the very specifics of each horse’s total body of work. Coupled with all of their workouts coming into the race, I have come to my very precise anticipated order of finish. There are many win-contenders in this field but as I typically do,  I had to picture the entire race materializing in my head, and then articulate that for you in my analysis.   At a very minimum, you will be more informed to make the very best window decision for yourself. 

So if you’re all set, here goes, take it all in and let’s all go make some more money. 

Geo Sette, hard at work as always

# 8 Zandon   

After diving deep into some very intense work, I believe this colt is sitting on a big race, perhaps his very best of the year. He comes into this race, his 2nd off a layoff, totally primed to be in a fabulous position to run down this field as they turn for home down the lane. He began his career sprinting and winning at first asking at Belmont Park even though he hit the gate. In his 2nd start as a juvenile, he was ambitiously entered in the Grade 2 Remsen where he was totally game, showing fabulous maturity and was nosed by Belmont Stakes’ winner Mo Donegal. Go ahead and watch the race, it was a real gut-wrenching finish. Keep in mind that if Mo Donegal was available for this Travers event, there’s a very good chance he would be the post time favorite.  This has been a very promising three-year-old campaign for Zandon. He began the year with a sharp race after hopping at the start and later forced wide in the Grade 2 Risen Star, he still managed to finish 3rd to Epicenter that day. Then six weeks later, after being jammed in traffic, he was absolutely dazzling in winning the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes, his prep race for his Run for the Roses. 

At The Kentucky Derby, he ran a very brave race after being stuck in tight most of the way. He finished strong but was beaten by Rich Strike and Epicenter. He took almost 3 months off and then ran a smart race in the Jim Dandy, but was clearly 2nd best to Epicenter, who closed on the short field of 4 rather effortlessly with the slightest urging. Even in defeat ( for the 3rd time vs Epicenter) he still showed continuous improvement on the Beyer scale.  I feel he needed that race and his best has yet to come. This Travers looks to be the best time for it as I am expecting a moderate to fast pace with this colt sitting in a nice spot and being somewhat tactical early behind the more advanced speed in the race. This guy is a Grade 1 winner and he’s never been worse than 3rd in five Graded Stakes events. He has shown the guts and grit to come out of a tough situation and I feel he possesses that very game “Dogfight” ability if he’s eye-balled during his stretch run.  Flavian Prat is back up for Chad Brown ( who has 3 entered in the race).  I trust his ability to make a smart move at the best time and see this colt as one to make a major presence in deep stretch. In his only start going this very challenging distance ( the Kentucky Derby) he seemed to have lots more run in him. I feel this son of Upstart is built to win a Grade 1 at this 10-furlong distance.  Lastly, I feel his start in the Jim Dandy over this same Saratoga soil coupled with his two breezes for this race over the track have him fresh fit and very dangerous. He’s definitely a win contender and my top choice. It’s his time to shine again. I backed him in this column for his Blue Grass win and this is the first time I feel he’s ready for that same type of effort. 

# 1 Cyberknife 

As most of you know, I absolutely loved him in the Haskell Stakes. He brought us home as the winner at a very generous price. He seems to be training exceptionally well and he is coming into the race fit and dangerous. He’s the only 2-time Grade 1 winner in the field and has compiled $1,596,000+ in earnings in winning 5 of his career 9 starts, and finishing a strong 2nd twice, so he’s completed the exacta in 7 of his 9 starts.  It was close for me, but I had to be decisive and list him as my 2nd choice. There’s no doubt if he further improves and gets a perfect trip, he’s a win contender as well and very deserving of that special consideration. His regular rider Florent Geroux is back up for Brad Cox (who won this race last year with Essential Quality). He’s making his Saratoga debut and he too comes into this race with a series of effective breezes over the Saratoga oval. This son of Gun Runner no doubt is built for the distance. I already gave him a big pass for his back-of-the-field finish in the Kentucky Derby. This colt is a very brave horse who, like my top choice Zandon, is one who can run inside or outside horses and make a nice run. In this particular field, I’m expecting him to show some tactical ability, but with his #1 hole draw, I have very little doubt that he will save some ground and come with a strong close down the lane when they are charging for home. I believe the pace will be right for him to do so, he’ll just need a smart ride and a very advantageous trip.  Look for him to be backed at the windows, he’s a hard hitter who has matured greatly with each passing race.  I would use him in most of your betting gimmicks but, today as I needed to be decisive, he’s my 2nd choice. 

#5 Artorius   

This lightly raced new shooter to this bunch is making only his 4th start, all in his three-year-old campaign. He did not race as a juvenile and he’s the only one in the field not to race in 2021.  His sire, the late Arrogate, was a monster who holds the track record for the Travers Stakes, breaking the 2-minute mark in 1:59:36.  Typically, I would shy away from a horse like this, but with Irad Ortiz ( who oddly has not won a Travers yet) up for Chad Brown, I feel he’s being ambitiously entered in this field. There’s no doubt he has exhibited talent in his 3 races. It’s taken him two races to graduate, but the horses he’s beaten have come back to win impressively and his win over the track in the $135,000 Curlin Stakes was very impressive too.  This level of respect making him my 3rd choice is more so towards his connections and he appears to be sitting on another solid race, likely moving him forward. He worked over the track on August 20th in .47 breezing which is a solid work.  I am definitely suggesting that you watch the board with this guy and take a good look at him warming up on the track. He’s a nice-looking colt, but he hasn’t been through the wars many of these have experienced. This was tough of me, at first I had him listed 5th, behind Rich Strike and Epicenter, but then I reconsidered. 

# 2 Rich Strike 

That’s right, I have this colt listed as my 4th choice. Many of my readers will be surprised to see this after his Kentucky Derby shocker at 80-1. In my column for the Belmont Stakes, I completely shorted him, and never considered using him on any of my tickets.  In fact, I was confident the 12 furlongs wasn’t right for him and he was to be completely outclassed by Mo Donegal and the filly Nest,  and sure enough, he was; however, as I had mentioned earlier, every race is a brand new script. Even though his Kentucky Derby run was a perfect storm with him having an absolutely perfect trip chasing suicidal fractions (the fastest quarter mile in Kentucky Derby History) he still got it done. He’s the only starter in this race to have a win at this distance and you simply cannot take that away from him ( Epicenter and Early Voting have victories at 9 and 1/2 furlongs). This son of Keen Ice ( who remember won this race in a major upset over American Pharoah) has been on the shelf since his failure in the Belmont Stakes but has been working brilliantly and he appears to be very fresh and fit. He too is making his Saratoga debut and it’s nice to see him have a pair of very sharp breezes over the surface.  Sony Leon is back in the saddle for Eric Reed, so he’ll once again hold on to the underdog role. Oddly enough, even with some fabulous riders in this field, no jockey in this race has won a Travers Stakes. Absent without a mount are both Johnny Velazquez and Javier Castellano who have won this race multiple times. So each of the riders is hoping to get their first Travers win. Interesting for sure. Another feeling I got in watching the film on this colt is that he seems to greatly prefer an inside trip, so I’m expecting him to save ground inside and to be a little bit more forwardly placed in the field. I don’t think they want him dead last.   If he again gets a desirable trip, he may be able to hit the board,  I originally had him placed 5th, but moved him up to 4th.  The price will be right and I feel in this spot, he may be able to make a big run if the pace is as fast as I feel it would be. Watch the board, and use him in your gimmicks, especially underneath.  He needs to run perhaps even better than the Kentucky Derby if he wants a piece of this. 

Epicenter wins The Jim Dandy, Coglianese Photo, NYRA

# 6 Epicenter 

There’s so much to like and respect about this colt. Rosario is up for Asmussen again and for the most part, he’s had a very productive and rather special three-year-old campaign. The only thing he hasn’t achieved is his first Grade 1 victory. He’s proven at the distance and is the only starter in the race with multiple triple-digit Beyers ( he has 4 ) running a 102 on 3 separate occasions. He comes into this race with a rather dynamic, effortless march down the lane in beating my top choice Zandon and a folding Early Voting.  I give him credit for how he won, and with it being over the Saratoga soil, it was only a 4 horse field.  There’s very little doubt that he’ll be a favorite at the windows, deservingly so, and he must be considered by everyone a major win contender in this race, but I am making a stand here by placing him as my 5th choice. It’s likely to be very close. I am expecting him to be up closer to the pace, perhaps right on the heels of Early Voting, thus preventing him from getting too loose on the lead. As in all races, especially championship races, the pace will really make the race, and I’m feeling strongly that Zandon and Cyberknife will benefit from it the most. This guy is as honest as you will find a three-year-old, he’s been in 6 of his race exactas this year ( all of his starts)  winning 3 of them, and he has raced well over 4 different surfaces. He owns 3 Grade 2 victories, and he’s achieved two Grade 1 2nd’s. This is precisely what makes handicapping interesting. I could have easily given him my top nod, but his work for this race was a little slower and I’m almost certain he won’t have things as easy as they were in the Jim Dandy. For obvious reasons he must be respected, but he’ll only get my money in triples and superfectas with his inevitable short price. 

# 7 Early Voting  

Trust me, it was very difficult for me to have him listed as my 6th choice in this field of 8. Although I have done so, his high level of speed puts him in the category of a win contender.  If you go back to my Preakness Stakes column, I absolutely adored him that day. I was very confident he would defeat Epicenter and he did just that in rather smashing style. Then he took 2+ months off and made his first start at Saratoga in the Jim Dandy facing both Epicenter and Zandon in that small field of four. He got a very easy lead and extremely accommodating fractions, was a bit wide, but then weakened badly which made very little sense because his pedigree suggests he wants the distance, look no further than he too, being the son of Gun Runner. He’s also working steady and I thought long and hard in making a strong case for him to get out to a similar lead and then going wire to wire if the fractions were as soft, but I’m expecting them to be fast here. His Preakness was such a thing of beauty, he blasted a 105 Beyer, the very best in the field, so I wasn’t entirely sure if that race took too much out of him. This guy is a very talented colt. I fear him the most,  that I listed him 6th and off the wagering board. As I mentioned earlier in the column, we handicappers are faced with making a decision like this from time to time. Prior to his Jim Dandy faltering, he was part of every exacta in his four prior career races.  By default, I may have to use him in my multi-race wagers, and I will take a good look at him over the track as well, but I’m making a stand that perhaps he just didn’t appreciate the Saratoga soil. 

#3 Ain’t Life Grand   

He’s a very nice-looking colt that comes into this race winning his last 2, and 5 of his 8 overall,  and has an extremely sharp work over the track at Saratoga in 45.4 breezing. As there are many things to like about him as a racehorse, I see him as a pace factor, one who will contribute to my anticipated moderate to fast pace and then because of his lack of class, he’s likely to tire in the stretch. The very capable Tyler Gaffalione gets the mount for a productive barn, but this spot simply seems like too much of a reach for them. I’m tossing him. 

#4 Guilded Age 

This guy was purchased for a very robust $600,000, but in 8 career starts he has only earned $204,000+. Junior Alvarado is up for Hall Of Famer Bill Mott for whom I have great respect, but this guy is a habitual slow starter. His overall Beyers simply do not put him as competitive at this level. Against many hard-hitting, game, sharp shooting warriors in this field, he’s likely to run last and I will not be including him on any of my tickets. He’s improving and he has a decent race over the track, 2nd to my 3rd choice Artorius. I’m expecting him to eventually win some races, this just doesn’t seem to be the level he fits in. 

Well there you have it, it’s going to be a fabulous day at Saratoga. There are numerous Grade 1 races on the undercard. Do not forget, the card starts earlier on Saturday. As always, I want to thank you in advance for your continued readership, and as always please do not hesitate to share a question or a comment. 

Let’s Go!!!

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Photo: Zandon working at Saratoga, Susie Raisher, NYRA Photo

Photo: Epicenter wins The Jim Dandy, Coglianese Photo, NYRA Photo

Contributing Authors

Geo Sette

Geo serves multiple roles at Past the Wire. He is a columnist, handicapper, and analyst. Geo has been fascinated with the Sport of Kings since...

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@jonathanstettin Nice piece and well articulated! Thanks for sharing your knowledge through your work!

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