It’s Travers Day, which means I’ll have one of my biggest audiences of the year. After last week’s sojourn to Saratoga, there’s only one thing I could use this space for. If it resonates with just one casual track-goer, I’ll consider it a victory.
For 150 years, it has been tradition to observe seats with newspapers, coolers, or other things on them as taken. Yes, seating is at a premium, but folks who get to the track when the doors open, set up camp, and go to the bathroom between races shouldn’t come back to see their picnic tables, benches, or chairs vultured by other people.
My father and I had our clubhouse bench vultured five different times last Saturday, a few when we were standing just a few feet away talking to friends (once when I was sitting down and someone decided they were entitled to the rest of the bench, which was covered). I was raised to believe this is unacceptable behavior, and I’ll always feel that way.
Several people I call friends feel differently about this. They’re incorrect. This has been a tradition for 150 years, and the beauty of Saratoga is that traditions that don’t matter elsewhere matter here. Keep that in mind when you’re at the track, both today and each time you head to the Spa.
FRIDAY’S RESULTS: Unfortunately, the Yaddo was one of several intriguing grass races washed off the turf. My action was cancelled.
SATURDAY’S PLAY: If you watched Thursday’s live-streamed HHH Racing Podcast, you saw me give out a 50-cent Pick Five beginning in the seventh race. I’ll play that ticket here, and it goes as follows: 1,2,3,5,7,8 with 6 with 1,2,3,5 with 1,3,6,8 with 6.
TOTAL WAGERED: $48.
Best Bet: Jackie’s Warrior, Race 5
Longshot: Soldier Rising, Race 10
Standard of Proof
#3 VERIFYING: Hammered for $775,000 at auction last year, and for good reason. He’s by Justify and out of a mare named Diva Delite, which makes him a half-brother to Midnight Bisou. He’s worked well for Brad Cox and looms large in his unveiling bright and early on Travers Saturday; #1 GAME WARDEN: Has several strong works for Bill Mott and may be talented enough to overcome the inside draw. His female family includes the dam of champion Saint Liam, and my biggest hesitation is thinking he may well want more than this six-furlong distance; #7 STANDARD OF PROOF: Sold for $170,000 last fall and has been working consistently for the meet’s leading trainer. The outside draw is a plus, and while I think there’s more turf to his bottom-side pedigree than dirt, offspring of Gun Runner can generally perform on anything.
Take Me to Jimmy
#7 AMERICA’S GUEST: Rallied a bit to be fifth in his debut for a trainer whose horses tend to need a race to get going. This colt gets a big rider switch to Irad Ortiz, Jr., and sports a recent four-furlong drill that hints he’s sitting on a considerable move forward at second asking; #5 TRIPLE START: Has a pedigree that says he’ll love this two-turn trip. He’s a half-brother to Grade 1 winner Persistently and stakes-placed runner Award It, his second dam is Hall of Famer Heavenly Prize, and offspring of American Pharoah tend to like turf; #8 TAKE ME TO JIMMY: Is a half-brother to multiple Grade 3 winner Tammy the Torpedo and has plenty of class in the bottom side of her pedigree. This daughter of Kitten’s Joy sold for $335,000 across the street last summer, and this outfit must be respected in these races.
On the Hill
#1 ON THE HILL: Won an open starter allowance event last time out and comes back into the state-bred ranks for this seven-furlong event. Luis Saez sees fit to ride back, and I certainly don’t see this spot as a class hike. A repeat of the last-out effort may very well be enough; #9 GREAT WORKOUT: Cuts back to one turn after going too long when fifth in a two-turn race last month. His two-back effort was a winning one, albeit against claimers, but that 89 Beyer Speed Figure shows his best may be good enough to win this at a bit of a price; #3 COLORMEPAZZI: Didn’t have an ideal trip last time out, when he was forced to rate behind a fast pace and never kicked on. He wants to be on the lead, and I don’t think he’ll need to overextend himself in order to get there in this event.
#5 TECHNICAL ANALYSIS: Hasn’t run a poor race in more than a year, a stretch that includes two local graded stakes wins and a second in the Grade 1 Diana. She certainly looks like the lone speed in the Grade 2 Ballston Spa, and I think she’ll get very comfortable early on and prove tough to catch; #2 LEMISTA: Ended a two-year drought with a win in the Grade 3 Matchmaker at Monmouth Park last month. She seems to connect with Flavien Prat, who also rode her to a Grade 1 placing last summer, and she has enough tactical speed to sit a good stalking trip; #4 FLUFFY SOCKS: Has hit the board in 12 of 15 lifetime starts, most of which have been graded stakes races. Her usual race gets her a piece of this one, but it’s fair to wonder if she’s turned into a bit of a hanger given an inability to capitalize on some very nice setups this season.
#3 JACKIE’S WARRIOR: Will look to run his local record to 6-for-6 in the Grade 1 Forego, and it’s tough to see him getting much of a test here. He couldn’t have won the Grade 1 Vanderbilt any easier, we know he can get the extra furlong this race carries with it, and I think he’ll be a popular single; #5 CODY’S WISH: Has won five of his last six and has clearly turned into a very good one-turn miler. He’s posted back-to-back triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures, but I wonder if this seven-furlong trip is a bit shorter than his best distance; #1 BABY YODA: Is another that loves Saratoga, with a 3-for-3 local mark. One of those races saw him post a freakish 114 Beyer Speed Figure, and he exits a solid score at this route early in the meet.
#8 LUNI SIMA: Lost all chance at the start last time out, when he settled for fourth behind some talented runners at this level downstate. His races prior to that this season were pretty solid, his lone start at seven furlongs was a win at Gulfstream Park, and I think he’ll be going the right way late; #2 LIFE CHANGER: Was second earlier this meet after setting a legitimate early pace, and he’s another that sports a win at this tricky seven-furlong distance. Joel Rosario rides back for John Terranova, and he seems like the main early speed; #5 BALTASAR: Is a consistent sort that generally runs the same race every time. He was fourth last month in the same race my second choice exits, and he has enough tactical speed to work out an ideal stalking trip in what hits me as a wide-open starter allowance.
#5 RANGER FOX: Sure looks far better if you toss his route races. His last-out victory going short on turf at Belmont was very good, he seems like the main speed here, and a step forward second off the bench would make him a tough one to reel in; #2 MAXWELL ESQUIRE: Cuts back to his preferred trip after not finding a two-turn mile to be to his liking last time out. This 5-year-old veteran has run well against tough groups downstate, and he does sport a win at this route (though not a recent one); #7 CAZADERO: Has been off seven months, but a quick glance at his PP’s shows he’s a very fast horse that can run a big race when he’s right. This is his turf debut, but he’s got a grass-friendly pedigree, being by Street Sense and out of a mare who’s a full sister to a stakes-placed turf sprinter.
#6 JACK CHRISTOPHER: Is 4-for-4 around one turn and has never been seriously tested in those races. His first career defeat came last time out in the Grade 1 Haskell, but that was going much longer. He’s back doing what he wants to do and looks like a handful in the Grade 1 H. Allen Jerkens; #8 GUNITE: Has a pair of graded stakes wins over this surface, including the Grade 2 Amsterdam from a few weeks ago. He’s also got two victories going this seven-furlong distance, and he could be sitting right off the favorite’s flank going into the turn; #1 CONAGHER: Has developed into a very fast horse with wins in three of his last four outings. One of those was a score in a seven-furlong stakes race at Colonial Downs, and he handed Gunite a resounding defeat three back when earning an impressive 105 Beyer Speed Figure.
#3 CLAIRIERE: Has won three of four starts this season after taking a big leap forward from age three to age four. She comes in on a two-race win streak over many of the rivals she faces in the Grade 1 Personal Ensign, and her usual effort gives her a big chance to extend it; #5 MALATHAAT: Has run second behind Clairiere twice in a row, but did win last year’s Grade 1 Alabama over this surface. Todd Pletcher blames the heat for a bit of a dud in the Grade 2 Shuvee, and it’s tough to hold much against a horse that’s never missed the board in 11 career tries; #2 SEARCH RESULTS: Shipped to Monmouth Park to win the Grade 3 Molly Pitcher, and that day’s runner-up came back to win the Summer Colony last week. This is a considerable step up in class, to be sure, but she pressed a scorching pace in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps and may be up to the task.
#3 BROOME: Ships back across the Atlantic for Aidan O’Brien and looms large in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer. His lone prior U.S. start was a hard-luck second in the Breeders’ Cup Turf where he did everything but win, and he’s since been running against some of the top thoroughbreds in Europe; #8 SOLDIER RISING: Got up in the last stride to win his local prep for this event and has a load of back class. He ran second behind Melbourne Cup winner State of Rest and Breeders’ Cup Turf hero Yibir a season ago, and there should be plenty of pace signed on to set up for him to come flying late at a price; #1 ADHAMO: Earned his first Grade 1 win in the United Nations at Monmouth Park last time out. He’s yet to fire a bad shot in North America since coming here over the winter, and Flavien Prat is riding as well as anyone in the colony at this stand.
#6 EPICENTER: Has danced a lot of dances this season and looms large in the Grade 1 Travers. The runner-up in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes won the Grade 2 Jim Dandy impressively despite rating behind a pretty moderate pace, and this ultra-consistent colt’s usual effort would make him tough to deny; #7 EARLY VOTING: Came up empty in the Jim Dandy, but I expect an improved effort here. For a race of this magnitude, there isn’t a lot of early pace signed on. Of the three runners from this barn, he’s the one I think could get very comfortable on or near the lead and be in prime position when the real running starts; #1 CYBERKNIFE: Benefited from a picture-perfect ride to win the Grade 1 Haskell at Monmouth Park over some talented horses. This field’s lone two-time Grade 1 winner has a sheet that looks far better if you toss his Kentucky Derby clunker, but that Haskell effort was a significant move forward on figures. Can he repeat that performance? He might have to.
#7 HEYMACKIT’SJACK: Has run second against similar foes in back-to-back tries and seems to be in a “now or never” situation against this bunch. Blinkers come on, Irad Ortiz, Jr., sees fit to ride back, and I think he sits a perfect stalking trip just off the pace; #4 EMPIRE SKY: Has run third in a pair of open events at Monmouth Park and ships here to go against state-bred competition. These may be shallower waters, and he’s lightly-raced enough to still have some room for improvement (which would put him right there); #8 SIR JOHN: Cuts back to a sprint in his second start off a long layoff and probably needed his last-out effort. He showed some early interest that day before fading to sixth, but this barn keeps him at this level and retains the first-call rider. At his likely price, he hits me as a must-use.
Jane Grey (MTO)
#6 SALIMAH: Gets a tepid nod in a wide-open finale. She was very impressive breaking her maiden at Tampa Bay Downs by nearly five lengths over the winter, and it helps her cause that that day’s runner-up came back to win at next asking; #9 MISS TAPIRADO: Took a step forward last time out when second at this level and distance at Belmont. She’s won going two turns before (albeit prior to a very long layoff), and the new dimension she showed sitting off the pace last time out will be helpful here; #2 INVINCIBLE GAL: Ran reasonably well when third in her first start off the bench last month. She’s logical on figures, but she also hasn’t won in more than two years. Much of that time has been spent running against stakes foes, so some of that is easily forgiven, but her likely price does hit me as a bit of an underlay.