For 150 years Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, NY has been the pinnacle of summer racing and, for most of those years, the Travers Stakes, or the Mid-Summer Derby as it's commonly referred to, has been the centerpiece of the boutique meet. The Grade 1 $1,000,000 Travers Stakes will feature some of this year's best three-year-olds going 1 1/4 miles over the Saratoga dirt.
Among a field of nine, Kentucky Derby winner, Orb, and runner-up, Golden Soul, will take on fellow Kentucky Derby contenders Will Take Charge, Verrazano, and Palace Malice. The latter coming out of a disastrous Derby, in which he donned blinkers for the first and last time, to dominant victories in the Belmont Stakes (G1) and Jim Dandy Stakes (G2).
Todd Pletcher's Verrazano, who finished a lackluster 14th in the Kentucky Derby, has returned to his winning ways and has been installed as the 2-1 favorite going into Saturday's Travers. Since the rainy Kentucky Derby, Verrazano has nabbed victories in the Pegasus (G3) and Haskell Invitational (G1), besting his rivals by over nine lengths in both races. Verrazano continues to show improvement and may be poised to give jockey John Velazquez his second Travers win. Assuming no rain is in the forecast for Saturday, Verrazano looks like the horse to beat. The only concern with this son of More Than Ready is whether or not he wants to run 1 1/4 miles.
Todd Pletcher will also send out the second choice on the morning line at odds of 5-2, Palace Malice. This son of Curlin is looking more and more like his sire, sharper and more confident as the year progresses. Since his 12th place finish in the Kentucky Derby, Palace Malice has garnered victories in the Belmont Stakes (G1) and Jim Dandy Stakes (G2). Palace Malice will likely be near the lead and ready to battle Verrazano in the stretch as the early speed of Moreno starts to fade. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith will be in the irons.
The real questionable horse in the field is the Kentucky Derby winner. After disappointing finishes in the Preakness Stakes (G1) and Belmont Stakes (G1) in which he finished fourth and third, respectively, Orb was sent to the Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland. Although there was nothing physically wrong with the son of Malibu Moon, trainer Claude "Shug" McGaughey III wanted to give his colt a break from a grueling Triple Crown season, a vacation of sorts.
"I think he's mentally very sharp right now," said McGaughey on a national conference call earlier this week. "Physically, I think he went on the van a horse and he came off the van back up here 10 days ago or so as a man. And he got a lot stronger. He couldn't be any better than he is, and, you know, I think that all systems are go. I think our little experiment at Fair Hill really worked to his advantage."
As the other standouts in this year's crop of three-year-olds were picking up graded stakes victories at Monmouth Park, Del Mar, Aqueduct, and Saratoga, Orb was slowly getting back to training. His work tab, which includes three consecutive bullet works, shows a progressive pattern in his work routine. On paper, he looks ready to take back the title of leading three-year-old.
"The reason I didn't run him in a prep race is I thought we were going forward fast and I didn't want to take a chance on taking—running him and maybe knocking him out a little bit and taking a step backward," McGaughey said. "I think I'm where I want to be and I'm just hopeful that on Saturday that we've got the best horse."
The trio of Verrazano, Palace Malice, and Orb are so tightly matched that Brisnet’s handicapping products show the set only three points apart with the edge going to Verrazano. For Brisnet’s free past performances for the Travers, click here .
For a long shot worthy of mention and one that may add value to a chalky winner, consider Kiaran McLaughlin’s Transparent. His resume isn’t stacked with stakes races, but he has met some of the field in his early maiden race attempts. When he finally made it to the Gotham Stakes (G3), a bump at the break and a wide turn tired him and he finished sixth.
In his next start, Transparent won a one mile allowance race by 10 lengths. In his last start, the ungraded Curlin Stakes , Transparent crossed the wire, but was disqualified for interfering with another horse in the stretch, causing the horse to slow quickly and nearly unseat the jockey. Transparent didn’t break well from the gate and looked well-beaten by the point he tangled with his competitor. Half of the field was in front of him and he went extremely wide on the outside, but still cruised to a two-length win. Overcoming all of that shows some real guts and perseverance.
The field from the rail out, with odds, is: Romansh 12-1, Orb 4-1, Verrazano 2-1, Golden Soul 20-1, Will Take Charge 10-1, Moreno 12-1, War Dancer 15-1, Palace Malice 5-2, and Transparent 10-1.
The race is the 12th on Saturday’s Saratoga card with a scheduled post time of 5:46 p.m. EDT. It can be seen live on NBC’s Summer at Saratoga series beginning at 4:30 p.m. The program also includes the King’s Bishop (G1) for three-year-olds.
Photo: Courtesy Churchill Downs