The 2018 Travers Stakes Preview

August 24, 2018

The 2018 Travers Stakes Preview

For this year’s edition of The 2018 Travers Stakes expert handicapper and student of the Sport of Kings George Sette, a contributor and analyst for Past the Wire, provides his thoughts on all the horses, and how he projects them to finish.

The 2018 Travers Stakes Preview

By George Sette

Salut from Geo!

The 149th running of the Grade 1 Travers Stakes, Purse $1,250,000      

 Analysis by George Sette.

When you think of nostalgia in sports, it’s hard to find a more storied history, and more overall intrigue than the “Mid Summer Derby” aka 2018 Travers Stakes which has been run since 1864. It’s the diamond jewel of the great annual Saratoga meet, and the highlighted feature stakes race on what is & always has been a fabulous racing card filled with numerous graded stakes races. An absolute horse players delight. 

This years field of the 2018 Travers Stakes could be one of the more competitive you will see. It’s packed with talent & with many question marks which makes handicapping the race far more difficult. As always, I’m up for the challenge, combining hours of statistical reconciliation, video review of countless races, and a thorough pedigree breakdown. I have been blitzing the past performances & workouts with a steady eye, coupled with good old fashion handicapping sense. It’s a field of 11 and in my opinion, there are 7 horses that have the raw ability to get the distance & win on their best day. Of course you can’t “kiss all the girls” and play them all, so with digging as deep as possible, coupled with hours of detailed handicapping here’s how I see it with my very best order of finish. 

    “It is my goal to provide as much useful information as I can so you can make an informed decision for yourself, and hopefully cash some nice tickets,  So are you ready?  Here’s my best order of finish, Let’s go!”

     # 9 Good Magic……   Much has been said about this colt coupling his championship two-year-old campaign & fabulous success as a three-year-old. You can easily argue that if it weren’t for Justify’s magical triple crown run, this colt would have added to his Grade 1 victories.  As always, Jose Ortiz & Chad Brown provide excellent connections, and he comes into this race with two steady breezes following his Haskell romp on the Jersey Shore at the end of July.  Many racing prognosticators question whether or not this 10-furlong distance is his best,  I see no problem whatsoever for this son of Curlin. I am expecting a moderate to fast pace & for him to show tactical speed, stalking the pace probably sitting a comfortable 4th ( a solid break will help for sure) then with smart urging, taking the lead around the quarter pole & drive to get past the wire. There’s no doubt he will have to hold off some opponents who will be mounting a powerful close of their own. In a field packed with talent, he’s the horse to beat.

    # 5 Vino Rosso…….. This colt, also a son of Curlin will relish in the distance. Ever since his debut win last November, this chestnut colt has been embraced with high expectations. He’s had a few disappointing finishes, but in my opinion, he’s been more of a victim of circumstances, and with that, he’s got tremendous upside potential. His connections ( Johnny V & Todd Pletcher) know how to win at Saratoga. There’s no doubt they will urge him for better positioning early. He can be tactical & avoid having to make up an excessive amount of ground. Make no mistakes, he wants to fly late, so expect him to come charging down the lane in the final 1/4. A good trip is imperative, if he gets it, he’ll be a menace to all. 

     # 11 Catholic Boy……. This is one dynamic & very versatile performer. He comes off twin victories on the lawn, his latest in the Grade 1 Belmont Derby. He’s shown the raw ability to take a lead & and go 12 panels wire to wire or sit back and get rated into a powerful close.  Clearly, he’s got a nose for the wire winning 5 of his 8 starts. He’s also working smartly and comes off his best speed rating. His connections of Jonathan Thomas & Javier Castellano will add to the value for sure, and I’m a believer that he’s in this race for a purpose. Ambitiously entered & back on soil for all the Grade 1 marbles this special Travers Race has to offer.  I’ve placed him 3rd because he’s dangerous on the lead if he’s not pressed, just thinking that my top 2 choices could be more prepared for the magnitude of the day, I’m certain if he doesn’t have an alert getaway from the gate, Castellano will not force the issue & keep him perhaps stalking at the same pace as Good Magic 

  # 8 Mendelssohn……… There’s no doubt that he’s the “wild card” of this Travers.  Purchased at a $3,000.000 price tag, & from a world-class barn, they have had great expectations for this son of Scat Daddy. He’s traveled well & has had some smashing victories overseas. He’s emerged victorious on various surfaces & he’ll have his usual dependable ( and very talented) Ryan Moore in the saddle.  His performance in the Kentucky Derby was one to forget, he simply was banged around in the slop & eased finishing dead last. Clearly, they just protected him. Then 2 months later he was a disappointment in the Grade 3 Dwyer, I watched that race several times, he just wasn’t ready.

So what is he doing entered in the Travers?  Well, that’s what is so perplexing. He’s got the raw ability & I’m expecting him to show quality gate speed and become a major pace presence. If so he must be considered in your gimmicks and because of his pedigree/expectations, he’s hard to ignore in this spot. I am placing him 4th , and of course on his best day, he could better my rating. 

NOTE: It has been reported many of trainer Aidan O’Brien’s horses have been ill, and are recovering or have recovered. Does this explain Mendelssohn’s poor performance in The Dwyer? We will should out Saturday. 

  # 2 Wonder Gadot….. The question remains, can the filly be a champ?  Well, the last filly to emerge victorious in the Travers was Lady Rotha way back in 1915. That’s correct 103 years ago. This is the 149th running and I don’t see that happening in the 2018 Travers Stakes. The last filly to be entered was 40 years ago, so let’s just face it, facing the boys in a grade 1 three-year-old race is no easy task. To be fair, this is one special filly. She has shown great versatility in racing well over numerous tracks and surfaces. She losses Hall of Fame Jockey Johnny V ( who is riding Vino Rosso)  but she picks up the great Irad Ortiz, who could be the best rider in the country right now. She’s working well & appears to be as fit as possible. She’s got history against her, but a world of talent. I am expecting her to get action at the windows because of her great consistency, and she’s got the raw ability to better my rating. She is dangerous at her best to hit the board for a share. 

 # 3 Gronkowski……..  This is what makes handicapping this race so difficult. This rugged colt has been working brilliantly since his smashing US Debut where 2nd in the Belmont Stakes. It was also his first effort on a fast track and although breaking cleanly, he spotted the field a dozen lengths. He picks up Joel Rosario in the saddle ( J Ortiz stays with Good Magic) and he should get a nice ground-saving trip against what I expect to be a fairly rapid pace. I’m expecting him to mount a powerful close, just thinking he won’t pass everyone. He must be respected because of Chad Brown. ( like my top choice) 

  # 10 Tenfold ……… This colt scares me the most, and I originally had him as high as 3rd in my analysis, but I decided to drop him some due to his behavior on the track.  Yes, he won the Jim Dandy over the same Saratoga soil, but he drifted and bore out terribly, so I’m thinking he was distracted somewhat by Saratoga & with a potential 50,000+ in attendance for this event, I don’t want to take the chance of him getting cooky again. He’s lightly raced compared to many of his rivals, and I love his Santana/Asmussen connections. He’s consistent and he’s also bred to make the distance, for obvious reasons, he can better my rating with his best effort, but for today, my gut says he’s likely to fall short.

# 7 King Zachary…..Chestnut colt cost over half a million & he owns some very impressive works for this race over the same Saratoga soil. In his latest, he disappointed in the Grade 3 Indiana Derby. I believe he “Bounced” and hung like a chandelier, but now his works indicate that he’s fresh and fit. His trainer, big race Dale Romans has surprised many times before with horses stepping up to a higher class. I’m thinking this colt could be a lower range Grade 2 horse, and not ready to win a race like the Travers. 

# 4 Bravazo…….. He’s got a wealth of Grade 1 experience, and often shows quality tactical speed, so no doubt that will work towards his advantage. He’s coming off a strong 2nd to Good Magic in the Haskell, but I’m starting to feel that he’s due for a clunker because of his paddock and post time behavior, He does have a nice breeze for this, but I’m seeing him potentially victimized by others who will be stalking as well. I’m going to short him here, middle of the pack today. 

 # 1 Trigger Warning…… He really is a nice horse with high speed. I have no doubt that from the rail he’ll be a major pace factor, but I see him as a grade 3 talent and also a horse who’s better off going 6 panels to a mile. This 10- furlong  distance may be too much to ask of him. I am expecting him to be on or near the lead for the first 3/4’s of a mile, then tire badly.  It would be a shocker if he took this field wire to wire, and he may even get pressed early to boot, but it’s likely he will set the pace. 

# 6 Meistermind……….. He’s got Franco/Asmussen connections, but after that, it would be hard pressing to be confident about much of anything else. He owns just his maiden win, then he faltered in the mud here at Saratoga in an ordinary allowance event. This would be a shocker of all shockers if he won this race. If you want 60-1 or better you’ll probably get it, and good luck to you, you will need it

Tossing him out for sure. 

 Well, there you have it, good luck & enjoy the “magic” of the day. 

  ~George Sette 


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