It’s Travers Day, and I’m going to take advantage of what’s likely the biggest audience I’ll have all year to make a very important statement. In a shocking turn of events, it’s not my usual mocking of the ludicrous, unenforced “no running” rule. This one’s actually serious, and it’ll almost certainly get me hate mail. Then again, I’ve gotten plenty of that this summer for some pretty stupid reasons, so why break precedent?
Longtime readers know I lost my grandmother to COVID-19 last summer. She spent most of her life as a nurse, and if she was still here, she’d be telling everyone she knew (and urging me to tell everyone I know) to get vaccinated.
I’ll add my own spin to it. You’re not going to grow a third arm. You’re not getting microchipped with a tracking device. You’re not going to be safer taking substances meant for horses and cows than you would be getting a vaccine manufactured by Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson and Johnson. This has become a politicized topic, and it shouldn’t be. Get the (insert your expletive of choice here) shot.
FRIDAY’S RESULTS: Miss Alacrity scratched, so my action was cancelled.
SATURDAY’S PLAY: I’ve got a 4:15 pm plane to catch, so I’ll focus early on in the card. I’ll play $5 doubles starting with #1 BACK TO NORMAL and #5 JACK CHRISTOPHER in the second and ending with #1 PRINCESS FAWZIA/#1A SPARKLING SKY and #3 GOLDEN PLUME in the third. Additionally, that’ll start a 50-cent Pick Four ticket that goes like this: 1,5 with 1,3 with 3,6 with 3,4,6.
TOTAL WAGERED: $32.
Best Bet: Essential Quality, Race 12
Longshot: Charmed, Race 6
#10 SWEEPING GIANT: Ran very well to finish second in his debut last month and is very logical at second asking in the Travers Day opener. The far outside post isn’t ideal, but Joel Rosario is among the best in the game at saving ground on the turf, and if he gets a good trip, he’s probably the one to beat; #7 DOCTOR DAVIS: Was highly-touted in his unveiling, which came in the same race my top pick exits. He faded after setting the pace, but Bill Mott’s horses often need a race or two to get going, and if you were willing to take 8/5 last time, you’ll be happy to know you’ll likely get at least double that price here; #1 ROYAL SPIRIT: Sold for $450,000 at auction last year and boasts a top-notch female family. Her dam is kin to Grade 1-placed runner Beautician, as well as graded stakes winners Mo Tom and Red Ruby, both of whom did their best work going long.
Back to Normal
#5 JACK CHRISTOPHER: Has been working up a storm for Chad Brown ahead of his debut and looms large here. He’s by strong sire Munnings, and his dam is a half-sister to another strong sire in Street Boss. Between the drills and the pedigree, there’s an awful lot to like; #1 BACK TO NORMAL: Ran a decent race in his debut to finish second behind a runaway winner that has since come back to win again. He’s one of only two runners in this field with prior experience, and his local workouts hint that he’s bounced out of that performance in good order; #3 BE BETTER: Has been working consistently for Todd Pletcher and is another bred to be any kind. If there’s any hesitation here, it’s because I think the six-furlong distance may actually be shorter than his preferred trip, given a bottom-side pedigree that boasts an abundance of stamina.
Trinni Luck (MTO)
Black Swan entry
#3 GOLDEN PLUME: Won for fun in her debut back in January at Tampa and will look to get back to business here. I’m not sure what she beat in that initial effort, but she looked great doing it, and world-class jockey Flavien Prat sees fit to ride for Brown; BLACK SWAN ENTRY: Both of these runners seem well-meant at a price, but I slightly prefer #1A SPARKLING SKY. She’s never run a bad race at Saratoga and had every right to need a race last time out off of a very long break. If she channels her 2019/2020 form, she’s got a chance to light up the tote board; #6 SECRET TIME: Hasn’t won in more than two years but boasts plenty of back class and didn’t run badly when third in her local debut. That was her first start since moving to Danny Gargan’s barn, and any step forward would make her a threat to grab a piece of this.
#3 VIADERA: Didn’t have a great trip when fourth in the De La Rose a few weeks ago. She rated behind a slow pace and didn’t have clear running room until it was too late. Between the likelihood of a cleaner journey and the fact this is her second start off the bench, I think she’s a formidable favorite in the Grade 2 Ballston Spa; #6 KALIFORNIA QUEEN: Makes up the other half of a powerful 1-2 punch for this barn and exits a runner-up finish in the Grade 3 Matchmaker at Monmouth. Prior to that, she chased classy turf distaffers War Like Goddess and Antoinette, and this spot seems a bit softer than those; #5 PLATINUM PAYNTER: Appears a bit outclassed on paper, but she’s also the likeliest early pace-setter in a race light on gate speed. Jose Lezcano is a very sharp turf rider, and if the race shape works in this one’s favor, she could lead them a long way at a price.
#4 WHITTINGTON PARK: Was a bit one-paced in his unveiling last month, but the blinkers go on at second asking and this barn’s second-time starters are usually very live. His 63 Beyer Speed Figure is the highest such number in the field by daylight, and if he moves forward, this seems like his race to lose; #3 MIRACLE NICKY: Has been working unusually fast downstate for Rudy Rodriguez, who doesn’t often ask his horses for all that much in the mornings. His dam is a half to a nice horse named Curious Conundrum, who won multiple stakes races, and the $110,000 purchase price hints at some potential; #6 BRADY’S LEGACY: Sold for $250,000 despite not much of a bottom-side pedigree, so he obviously impressed some folks at the OBS sale this past April. He’s got a few solid works, and Jose Ortiz has been enticed to ride this Jeremiah Englehart trainee.
#6 CHARMED: Was anything but in his last-out effort, when he fell to his knees at the break and somehow found a way to run third. Prior to that, he was a sharp third behind the talented Fauci at Monmouth, and with a clean trip, I think he can get the job done at a bit of a price; #11 BIG PACKAGE: Was second in the race my top pick exits and is a consistent sort that always seems to fire. The outside post isn’t ideal, but Irad Ortiz, Jr., should be able to drop back and make one run, and that’s a strategy that’s worked very well for this one in the past; #9 SHIRAZ: Topped a classy group of state-breds last time out over yielding going and steps back into open company here. Luis Saez sees fit to ride back, and he’s run some of his best races over this route of ground.
#1 GAMINE: Is one of racing’s most star-crossed horses, but when she’s right, few are better (especially going one turn). Controversy still swirls around trainer Bob Baffert, but assuming his star female sprinter has shipped to Saratoga in good order, she’s strictly the one to beat; #7 CE CE: Is 2-for-2 this season going seven furlongs and is no stranger to Grade 1 glory, having won a pair of events at this level last year. Her win in the Grade 2 Princess Rooney was very impressive, and if Gamine doesn’t fire, this one’s probably the likeliest beneficiary; #6 ESTILO TALENTOSO: Is very easy to root for because, quite simply, she always shows up. She’s never been worse than third in 15 lifetime outings, and the faster they go early on in the Grade 1 Ballerina, the better her chances figure to be.
#3 LEXITONIAN: Ensured a spot in this handicapper’s gambling Hall of Fame with a 34-1 victory in the Grade 1 Vanderbilt earlier this summer. He stretches out to seven furlongs here, but he’s shown he can handle this distance and could sit an ideal trip just off the pace in the Grade 1 Forego; #2 WHITMORE: May have needed the race, to an extent, when third in the Vanderbilt following a freshening. He generally races his way into form, and this 8-year-old gelding figures to be heard from late; #7 YAUPON: Was going really well last season and was the 6/5 favorite in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint, which Whitmore won. His comeback race at Pimlico was fine, and the main hesitation here is the stretch-out to seven furlongs. That’s not an easy task against a good group, but if he can handle the distance, he may be tough to run down.
Life Is Good
Judge N Jury
#2 JACKIE’S WARRIOR: Romped in the Grade 2 Amsterdam after dueling through torrid fractions in the slop. As long as he’s kept around one turn, he’s going to be very tough to beat, and his seasoning edge over his primary rival is enough to give him my nod in the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens; #6 LIFE IS GOOD: Was brilliant (my goodness, I hate that word) in three wins on the west coast, including two over eventual Kentucky Derby winner (sort of) Medina Spirit. He’s since been transferred to Todd Pletcher and has been working lights-out over the Oklahoma track, but this is a very tough ask for a horse that hasn’t run since March; #5 JUDGE N JURY: Earned a 99 Beyer Speed Figure with an eye-catching romp in a state-bred allowance race at this route last month. This is a gigantic step up, but he may be the only horse in this field that can comfortably rate, and that could be enough to allow him to hit the board at a big price.
#6 LETRUSKA: Has turned into a freakish distaffer and looms large in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign. She’s won five of her last six starts, with the lone defeat coming to Shedaresthedevil (who doesn’t show up here). She may not be alone up front, but I don’t think it matters; #4 SWISS SKYDIVER: Chased Knicks Go in the Grade 1 Whitney a few weeks ago, and that came after trainer Ken McPeek’s barn was quarantined. She had every right to need that race off a bit of a layoff, too, so I can’t hold it against her in any capacity. She won last year’s Alabama, could sit just off the pace, and is very dangerous; #5 ROYAL FLAG: Came flying late to take the Grade 3 Shuvee over Horologist, who came back to jog in the Summer Colony last weekend. She could once again get a terrific setup, and I expect her to be going the right way late at a fair price for a red-hot barn.
#1 TRIBHUVAN: Has gotten very good, very quickly, and is a threat to wire the field in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer. That was the trip he sat in the Grade 1 United Nations last time out, and if he’s allowed to get comfortable going under the wire the first time, he’ll have a big chance to be in front the second time around, too; #6 JAPAN: Is an intriguing shipper coming across the pond for Aidan O’Brien. Back in 2019, he won two of Europe’s most prestigious races, the Grand Prix de Paris and the Juddmonte International. I’m not sure he’s quite the same horse, but if he brings that type of effort, he’ll be a force to be reckoned with; #7 CROSS BORDER: Is nearly perfect at Saratoga and was pretty impressive in winning the Grade 2 Bowling Green for the second consecutive season. This seems like a stronger group, to be sure, but he was a fair second in this race last August and his best effort would give him a chance.
#2 ESSENTIAL QUALITY: Is impossible to go against in the Grade 1 Travers. He’ll love the distance, he’s in terrific form, and he exits what hit me as a perfect prep in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy. If he comes with his usual effort, I think he takes a big step to clinching his division’s Eclipse Award; #1 MIDNIGHT BOURBON: Miraculously came out of what looked like a terrible fall in the Grade 1 Haskell with no injuries, and he’s worked well since coming to the Spa after that series of events. He was a good second in the Grade 1 Preakness behind Rombauer, and he’s got enough early speed to make his own trip, which might label him as the one they’ll have to catch turning for home; #7 KING FURY: Is a horse that’s seemed to be crying out for as much distance as possible since his 2-year-old season. He didn’t like the turf last time out, and he’s been snakebitten with rotten luck on several occasions, but now that he’s finally doing what it looks like he wants to do, he’ll be on all of my exotics tickets.
#14 BELLA PRINCIPESSA: Needs some luck in order to draw into the Saturday finale, but she must be respected if she runs. She rated behind a very slow pace last time out and should get a bit more speed in front of her here if two horses scratch and she’s allowed to compete; #12 SISTER LUCK: Has a few red flags, but also has several qualities I can’t ignore. She’s worked well on turf a few times since going to Todd Pletcher’s barn, she drops in class, and she’s shown a lot of early speed going shorter. If she’s got the stamina to go two turns, she could be a handful; #6 CONSTITUTIONALRAGE: Comes back to the turf after being eased in an off-the-turf event last month. Turf is absolutely her preferred surface, and her one start on the lawn at this level resulted in a good second in a race downstate, one where that day’s third-place finisher came back to win.