Travers Day is a homecoming of sorts. So many standout runners from the early weeks of the Saratoga meet tend to run on the penultimate Saturday. Some, like Jackie’s Warrior (1-1), are running with the opportunity to put the cherry on top of their summer, while others, like Mischevious Alex (6-1) are seeking redemption for their previous race. Past champions like Gamine (8-5) return to the Spa after remaining dominant away. I look forward to seeing them all, and cherish each race on the card from maidens to stakes. But the Travers stands on its own as the capstone of the meet.
This year’s Travers field is proven and talented, with a few challengers that in other runnings could be seen as viable contenders. This time, they blend together behind Essential Quality (4-5), a world-beater whose only loss was a well-fought fourth in the Kentucky Derby. In a smaller field, his races are consistent in style and speed. He saves it for the stretch and then leads where he feels comfortable until the finish. The Travers will be his to lose, and with seven wins in eight career races, it is far more likely that he will prevail.
Should the unlikely happen and Essential Quality runs well below his standard, the race becomes that much more exciting, as there are a few entries who could take advantage. Midnight Bourbon (9-2) was a popular Kentucky Derby value pick and placed in the Preakness. In his first start after the Triple Crown, he was running well in the Grade I Haskell Stakes, but was clipped late by Hot Rod Charlie, costing us a glimpse at his finish. His bullet workout on Aug. 15 at the Saratoga training track suggest he is no worse for wear, and he should be expected to be among the race’s early leaders in a race mostly made up of pressers and closers.
Keepmeinmind (6-1) had the best chance of any horse to get the best of Essential Quality when the two dueled in the stretch of the Grade II Jim Dandy on July 31, but ultimately succumbed. Nevertheless, jockey Joel Rosario got an excellent run out of him that day in their first go together, and Rosario sticks with him Saturday over what would have been his other potential mount, Miles D (12-1). Another look at the track together has the potential for an even better sequel.
Masqueparade (8-1) is the most likely to vie for the early lead, which was a tactic that worked for Medina Spirit to beat Essential Quality in the Kentucky Derby. It can give him the best chance to run the shortest distance in the field. It did not add up to a win in the Jim Dandy, but it seems worth another shot. His Brisnet speed ratings in his last three races put him second only to the favorite, and if he and longtime jockey Miguel Mena do not wear themselves out battling Midnight Bourbon early, they may find themselves dueling Essential Quality late.
There are a few thoroughbreds who could qualify as a “best bet” Saturday, but one that stands out is Gamine in the seventh race. Gamine has been bet to below 1-1 odds by post time in every race she has entered, with the exception of the one following her disqualification in the Kentucky Oaks, and she has not often disappointed those bettors, posting a career record of 9-8-0-0. Her eight wins have been by an average length of 6 3/4 furlongs, showing what a dominant presence she has on the track.
Mischevious Alex (6-1) was outrun as the favorite in the Grade I Vanderbilt. His ran in a good position for most of the race, but when he entered the stretch, there just seemed to be nothing there. That race was uncharacteristic of the runner he has been in 2021, and he has the potential to reclaim his place among Grade I sprinters in the Forgo Stakes. If he does, and his price holds, he will be the best value bet on the card.
10-Sweeping Giant, 7-Doctor Davis, 3-Electability, 8-Speaking Out.
3-Be Better, 5-Jack Christopher, 2-Dr. Perry, 4-Hoist The Gold.
3-Golden Plume, 8-Love and Thunder, 7-Kitten By The Sea, 6-Secret Time (5-Trinni Luck becomes the top pick if the race is moved to the main track).
2-Tamahere, 3-Viadera, 6-Kalifornia Queen, 1-High Opinion.
4-Whittington Park, 9-Bointheback, 6-Brady’s Legacy, 8-Wicked Bobby.
9-Shiraz, 11-Big Package, 1-After Five, 10-Christopher (4-Baby Yoda becomes the top pick if the race is moved to the main track).
1-Gamine, 7-Ce Ce, 6-Estilo Talentoso, 5-Sconsin.
1-Mischevious Alex, 7-Yaupon, 2-Whitmore, 4-Mind Control.
2-Jackie’s Warrior, 6-Life is Good, 4-Following Sea, 1-Drain the Clock.
6-Letruska, 4-Swiss Skydiver, 8-Harvey’s Lil Goil, 5-Royal Flag.
6-Japan, 2-Gufo, 1-Tribhuvan 7-Cross Border.
2-Essential Quality, 1-Midnight Bourbon, 3-Keepmeinmind, 6-Masqueparade.
1-Dancing Firefly, 12-Sister Luck, 10-Home For Christmas, 5-Tales Of Makenna (14-Bella Principessa becomes the top pick if the race is moved to the main track).
Surprise Boss (first), Barrage (third), Americanrevolution (ninth), Fast Gordon (eleventh).
Record for meet: 94 for 325.
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