It is time again for "The Mid-summer Derby" at Saratoga. Saturday's running will be the 144th renewal of the Grade 1 Travers Stakes. A field of nine will go to the post featuring this year's Kentucky Derby winner and runner-up, the Belmont winner, the Haskell winner, even the Virginia Derby winner will make an appearance at The Spa. It sets up to be a race with some speed present as Verrazano, Palace Malice, and Moreno all like to go to the front. Will this set things up for a closer? I certainly think so, according to the picks:
#2 Orb (4-1) has not won since the First Saturday In May. However, I do not feel that Orb will go on to be like Mine That Bird or Super Saver and never win another race after the Derby score. In fact, I think the Shug McGaughey trainee gets back to the Winner's Circle on Saturday. There will be plenty of pace for him to run into in the Travers, so his closing style should be a benefit here. He has been working like a beast in the mornings at Fair Hill and Saratoga with THREE consecutive bullet workouts on the tab. He even has a previous start at Saratoga. He ran third in his debut (behind Violence and Titletown Five) here last August. The price of 4-1 is even decent enough to speculate on Orb in this race.
#3 Verrazano (2-1) is the 2-1 morning line favorite in the Travers off a fantastic performance in the Grade 1 Haskell at Monmouth in July. He posted a Beyer figure of 116 in that victory, but if you look at his past performances, his previous best Beyer was a 105 on Groundhog Day at Gulfstream. He didn't repeat that number until the Haskell. It is entirely possible he bounces a bit off that big Haskell win. I think this is more of a factor given that there is going to be other speed for him to contend with here. John Velazquez is a genius in the saddle, but it appears to me that he will have a bit to overcome to be a winner in the Travers on Saturday.
#7 War Dancer (15-1) might be the longshot to look at in the Travers. This might be a bit of a silly statement, given that the colt has only run once on dirt (finishing a career-worst 4th). However, his recent speed figures have been improving steadily, culminating with a victory in the Grade 2 Virginia Derby over the grass at Colonial Downs. I feel he will be another beneficiary of what could be a wicked pace in this race. He tends to sit back in mid-pack or towards the back of the field and make one sustained run. Alan Garcia has been his jockey in all but one of his seven starts, so he should be very familiar with this Ken McPeek runner.
There is a 50-cent minimum Pick Four at Saratoga on Races 9-12, covering the Grade 1 Test, the Grade 2 Ballston Spa, the Grade 1 King's Bishop, and the Grade 1 Travers. That lineup might be the most stacked one since NBC had Must-See TV on Thursday nights.
Be sure to check out my Twitter page: @They_Are_Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!