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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Travers Day

1) Miner's Reserve (12-1) will run after all. Zito had expressed reservations earlier in the week, but it's not like he and owner Robert LaPenta to sit these races out. Even if those reservations, regarding the pace scenario and distance, seem valid. A lot of times you'll see a horse like this, rushed into the Florida Derby in his third career start and off his maiden win, never quite recover after getting trounced in stakes company, as Miner's Reserve did twice. But this son of Mineshaft has only improved as his campaign moves into its 8th month without a layoff line. And while the presence of First Dude is surely a pace concern, Randy Moss' pace figures indicate that this colt can get a jump on that rival breaking from the rail. While there's no reason in any event to think he would hang on here if he couldn't at nine furlongs against A Little Warm, just maybe a spot at the bottom of the ticket.

2) Trappe Shot (4-1), 4-1? I have him pegged to oppose in the top spot at that price. I'm thinking they should have gone for the King's Bishop. The son of Tapit was absolutely dominant sprinting, and crushed a good horse in Tahitian Warrior in his last such effort. His subsequent two-turn debut, in the Long Branch, may look better on paper than it really was. He had just three non-world beating opponents, a fine trip on the inside after a slight stumble at the start; and I think this is one of those spots in which one can be skeptical of the Beyer, a 105. I would think that a good deal of projection was done here, and that makes the number subjective. There was only one other two-turn dirt race that day, and what makes me really wonder is the fact that the 101 consequently earned by runner-up Nacho Friend is rather an anomaly in his nine race career; his prior high was 93, and he ran an 84 finishing a distant third in the subsequent W. Va Derby. His Haskell was OK (with a 95 Beyer), but he was never in the race before sucking up for second over Super Saver and First Dude, both tiring from their earlier efforts. Don't see why the mile and a quarter would move him up much, if at all.

3) Admiral Alex (12-1) looks to pull the ol' universally-tipped debut maiden win-to-Travers Stakes move. Andy Beyer's story on the horse and his trainer in the Washington Post was headlined Colorful veteran Blusiewicz could be right on the money with Admiral Alex; which means that the headline writer couldn't think of anything clever. It also means that he or she probably didn't read the whole piece, in which Beyer concludes near the end :

Unfortunately, this saga likely won't unfold as a happy rags-to-riches story. Based on that time of 1:49.76, Admiral Alex isn't fast enough to be a contender in the Travers. Moreover, thrusting young horses into competition too tough for them is one of the surest ways to compromise their futures. The experience can hurt them physically or, at the very least, undermine their self-confidence. [Washington Post]
Oh, not a feel good story I guess. Under other circumstances, I might share that dubious attitude; but this horse was so much of a good thing - bet like one, ridden like one, and winning like one after being wide around both turns - that maybe he's just...well, a good thing. Some distance pedigree here too, his being by a Belmont winner out of a Kingmambo mare who produced the ten furlong Lexington winner Woodlander, and hails from the family of the Belmont winner Go And Go and Melbourne Cup winner Media Puzzle. Hard to see him winning, even here with no superstars to defeat, but wouldn't be shocked about a minor share.

4) First Dude (8-1) is, as you probably know, named after Sarah Palin's husband, and as such, I freely admit that I'm biased against him and his owner (mostly the owner I guess, I suppose it's not the horse's fault [though they are, as I recently said, fooled easily]) and want him to lose. So maybe it's because of that that I called him faint-hearted, which drew this brief but pointed response from a reader: Alan, First Dude is not faint-hearted. Not in the least...and prompted the horse himself to write:
There is nothing "faint hearted" about me, I am still learning. Look for me in the winner's circle.
And we'd like to hear more directly from the equine participants themselves here. Anyway, I went back for a second look and OK, maybe I'm letting my personal feelings get in the way. So maybe I should refudiate those sentiments. After all, losing by 3/4s to Lookin At Lucky ain't too shabby; the Belmont distance is always an automatic excuse as far as I'm concerned; and he again succumbed to Baffert's absent colt in the Haskell. I mentioned above about Miner's Reserves chances to outrun First Dude early; but remember that Dale Romans adds blinkers here in an attempt to further sharpen his speed. Still not convinced he has what it takes to beat these, especially with the added distance. But I'm upgrading his chances to hang for a share.

5) A Little Warm (7-2) has been out of the money just once in his nine career starts. Consistency and versatility are no questions to this son of Stormin Fever, but class is. He's strictly a Grade 2 animal it seems, and got an excellent trip which helped him win the Jim Dandy. Also can't be too excited about his trainer Anthony Dutrow's remark that "he may have run as fast as he could run" in the Jim Dandy. And that "Good means good, it doesn't mean a winner. I hope he's a winner." Not that enthusiastic, is he? Never hear his brother talk like that. I dunno, the horse is real solid as I said, but just not that enthusiastic about him in this spot as the favorite.

6) Ice Box (10-1) has been nowhere in his two post-Derby starts; far more disappointing than the Belmont was his never-in-it 7th in the Haskell. Of course, I wasn't even that wild about his Derby given the 53 4/5 seconds it took him to cover the last half mile. Firmly opposed.

7) Afleet Express (6-1) is another, like A Little Warm, who has never run a bad race - he had a poor start in the only race out of his six career starts in which he finished out of the money. He moved forward markedly after a few months off earlier this year, and you always like to see development like that. Still, his Pegasus win at Monmouth came against the B C squad; and while he finished up well for third in the Jim Dandy, his gains came late after he saved ground most of the way. Another one who seems pretty solid but who just doesn't generate much enthusiasm in this corner. In fact, I think he'd be an underlay at his morning line.

8) Fly Down (8-1) was 9-5 in the Jim Dandy and was just never in it at all; forget about that trouble line; I don't believe he was finishing better than 5th anyway. In fact, he had cut the corner on Afleet Express and Friend or Foe and passed them for third in upper stretch before those two passed him back. You look back at his two two-turn wins, and they were slow races with lethargic come-home times in which he defeated the 1-for-9 First Dude. And I personally don't even consider his second place finish in the Belmont to be a plus, the way they were all staggering home at a distance far beyond their capabilities. Standing firmly against.

9) Friend or Foe (15-1) was taking quite a step up in the Jim Dandy; in only his 4th career start, he was stepping up from state-bred competition and trying two turns for the first time. Considering that, it was a remarkable effort. You could have written him off just for being as wide as he was on the first turn, and ripped up any tickets with his number on it when he was wide on the second after attending the honest pace on the backstretch. Still, he finished well, battling Afleet Express for the show spot until the end. Stuck on the outside again, but has tactical speed and a longer run to the first turn. Son of Friends Lake out of an Unbridled mare would surely have to step up again in order to get home first, and there's nothing in particular about his pedigree that makes one believe the extra distance will help. But surely seems worth a look at those long odds.

10) Afleet Again (30-1) seems a bit better than those hopeless odds. Son of Afleet Alex has shown the kind of improvement you like to see here in his three-year old season. I think he would benefit from a more patient ride as he switches to Cornelio Velasquez after a wide move on the turn for home in the Haskell. Wouldn't be shocked to see him hit the superfecta tickets late.

11) Super Saver (6-1) was the subject of an interesting article by Joe Drape in the Ties earlier this week.
Even Super Saver’s trainer, Todd Pletcher, and owner, Kentucky-based WinStar Farm, understand that their colt desperately needs to run a big race in the Travers. WinStar Farm executives consider themselves horse traders who adhere to a creed, articulated by the group’s president, Steve Cauthen: “Everybody is going to be sold, it is just a matter of when.”

Super Saver, however, remains in WinStar’s stable and seems destined for its commercial breeding shed, which is not a terrible thing because the colt’s impeccable bloodlines make him a solid stallion prospect. Still, the WinStar racing manager Elliott Walden conceded that the colt remains on the market, and the farm is looking for an offer it can’t refuse.

“Nobody really knows how to value him,” Walden said. “He needs to run a really big race here. He needs to back up the Kentucky Derby with a win here in the Travers.” [NY Times]
Just makes you realize just what this game is all about these days. The Derby winner hasn't done anything in his two starts since to make one believe that anyone will come knocking after this race; and while he returns to the winning distance of that race, he does not return to the Churchill Downs strip which he seems to favor. And besides, if he runs the final half in the same 52.77 seconds he did in the Derby, he won't be going anywhere fast, either in the stretch or to a new investor.

Still, he competed hard in the Haskell, pressing the pace throughout while three wide, and had the lead on the final turn for as long as a horse can without it showing up on its pp line; and who knows, perhaps he would have gone on better if not demolished by Lookin At Lucky the way he was. If you look at that race as a prep for this one, coming off a 2 1/2 month layoff as it did, you could make a case for improvement here. Almost makes me want to be contrarian here - if one can be described as such when it comes to a Derby winner - and change my mind about his chances, which I dismissed in the prior post.

Indeed, after taking the time to perform this analysis, it occurs to me that I don't really like anyone in this race....about as flawed and middling an edition of this great midsummer classic as one will (hopefully) ever see. I mean, oh well, gee golly, I'm almost ready to pick First Dude to beat this cackle!

Well, nah, maybe not. Let's take a flyer on Friend or Foe to win, and fool around in exotics with he and Super Saver on top over A Little Warm, First Dude, and Admiral Alex. Sorry I couldn't come up with something more enthusiastic or definitive, especially after you were nice enough to take the time to read through all this; but it's a great card and no reason to force anything. It's a gorgeous day, so good luck and have a fantastic day!


Anonymous said...

eaAfleet Express spit the bit in the Jim Dandy for most of the race, then closed remarkably and was the fastest thing moving at the end. Something happened to him earlier in the race, but Jerkens doesn't know what, to cause him to run like that. Horses that spit the bit like that almost never recover during a race to show anything. It was a very weird performance but, today you get a lot better than 2 - 1.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Alan, First Dude checking in: "I can see the winner's circle from here." You must bet him now or be forever humbled and embarrassed.

Your comments on the Travers field being "middling" undeerscores what you and many others have been saying: The Breeders Cup/Eclipse Award strategy no longer includes the Travers and other prestigious Grade I's.

Your Travers analysis also got me to thinking: Aren't Derby winners way over-rated these days based on their performances post-Derby and at stud? When do horse people stop drinking the Derby Kool-Aid?

Anonymous said...

This field is sad enough that I can go with Ice Box. For old times sake.