It is an unusual occurrence.
It’s Travers Day, but the featured race does not include the most intriguing Thoroughbred on the card.
Before the racing event of the summer can go off in Saturday’s eleventh race at Saratoga Race Course, history can be made in the fifth. That’s when Jackie’s Warrior, the 1-2 morning-line favorite in the Grade I Forego Stakes, is aiming for his sixth win in as many attempts at Saratoga. More impressively, the 4-year-old colt out of Unicorn Girl has exclusively competed in graded stakes at the Spa, most recently winning the Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt Stakes on July 30.
A sixth win at Saratoga would place Jackie’s Warrior in elite company, as only Fourstardave (nine) has more wins at this course since Equibase stats began being kept in 1976. While Fourstardave can count more victories, they came over 21 races between 1987 and 1995. With a good showing this weekend, one can imagine a future summer where Jackie’s Warrior and Fourstardave are both members of another exclusive group – Thoroughbreds with graded stakes named in their honor.
Jackie’s Warrior is, of course, my pick to win the Forego — and is also my best bet of the day.
HEAVY FAVORITE IN THE TRAVERS
Looking to the feature, Epicenter (7-5) is a deserving morning-line favorite in this year’s Travers. The trajectory of the colt’s Brisnet speed ratings has steadily climbed since his debut, culminating in a 107 on July 30 in the Grade II Jim Dandy Stakes, the highest rating yet for the Kentucky Derby runner-up.
It is uncertain if we have seen the peak yet for Epicenter, and he could continue to improve still, seeing as this is his second look at the Saratoga track. He retains his regular jockey in Joel Rosario who has extraordinary expectations Saturday mounting both Jackie’s Warrior and the Travers favorite.
Two racers in the field have beaten Epicenter previously: Rich Strike (10-1) whose 81-1 Grade I Kentucky Derby upset continues to look like the anomaly it did that day, and Early Voting (8-1). The son of Gun Runner out of Amour D’Ete was pressured by Epicenter in the stretch, but Early Voting could not be caught in the Grade I Preakness Stakes. A similar strategy was tested in the Grade II Jim Dandy, but Early Voting weakened late and was a non-factor at the end of the race, finishing fourth in Epicenter’s win. However, in their second clash this summer, and with the experience of the Jim Dandy, one can foresee a race where Early Voting does not tire late, as he never had in any of his previous races. Should that be the case, an 8-1 price will start looking like a bargain.
Zandon (5-1) is a consistent finisher both in that he is an excellent closer and that he has consistently finished behind Epicenter. In three graded stakes races, he has finished in the money, but behind his rival, most recently running second in the Jim Dandy. However, in that race, Zandon changed tactics and ran among the leaders throughout, but the results were the same. One should expect Zandon to challenge the field, but not to overcome it.
Cyberknife (7-2) has bookended a disappointing Kentucky Derby run with wins both before and after that first Triple Crown leg, giving him a dominant run if overlooking that outlier. Most recently in the Grade I Haskell Stakes, he closed on and overcame two dominant favorites in what has been his best race to date. He has it in him, but expecting him to remain at that level twice in a row is a big ask.
JACK CHRISTOPHER WILL BE TOUGH TO BEAT
Jack Christopher (6-5) was of those favorites overcome by Cyberknife in the Haskell in what has been the only loss of his five-race career. The colt returns to a sprint in the Grade I H. Allen Jerkens Memorial Stakes, and seven furlongs is the distance where he ran his best race, the Grade I Woody Stephens Stakes at Belmont in June.
Anyone looking to beat Jack Christopher here will have to run the race of their careers, like Cyberknife did, in order to have any chance.
Accretive (9-2) is lightly raced, but showed incredible potential in his second race, slightly gaining in the stretch, but ultimately finishing behind Gunite (6-1) in the Grade II Amsterdam Stakes. Although Gunite is more experienced and has both the Amsterdam and last summer’s Grade I Hopeful Stakes wins to his name, Accretive is trending up and looks to be ready to overtake Gunite in this meeting.
Conagher (7-2) has been on a tear in recent races, including a non-graded stakes win in his last outing, and beat Gunite with ease back in June, but this race is a big step up from his past competitions. It will be interesting to see how Conagher reacts to the likes of Jack Christopher.
Despite a short field of five entrants, the Personal Ensign is expected to be a duel between Malathaat (5-2) and Clairiere (6-5). Clairiere has gotten the better of Malathaat recently with narrow wins in both the Grade I Ogden Phipps Stakes in June and Grade II Shuvee Stakes in July.
But, in August, one can see Malathaat regaining the upper hand. The filly has finished more consistently than her rival, never placing outside of the money in 11 career races, and although Clairiere has been better recently, her history suggests that she is due for a less-than-perfect outing. All that combines into my choice being Malathaat in this one.
Letruska (3-1) is looking to right the ship after folding in the Ogden Phipps after leading the opening half. She ran similarly in the Grade I Breeders Cup Distaff Stakes last November, but otherwise tends to wire the graded fields she enters. It has been all or nothing for Letruska, who has broken out to an early lead that she never relinquishes in seven of her nine most recent races (all graded stakes), with the exceptions being the two noted. This field will let her run first, so it is just a question of whether they can catch her.
The Ogden Phipps also included Search Results (7-2), who finished third after relinquishing a 2 1/2-length lead in the stretch to both Clairiere and Malathaat. If Letruska is setting the pace as expected, there will likely be no lead to relinquish to this field. A spot in the top-three would feel like a victory here for Search Results.
Of the five Grade I Stakes races to be run Saturday, the Sword Dancer feels like the one most open to an upset.
Adhamo (7-2) appears to be the safest of the field, hitting the board in each of his last three Grade I Stakes races and most adept at extended route turf races.
However, Rockemperor (8-1) and last year’s Sword Dancer winner Gufo (9-2) have the potential to unlock their excellent forms from last fall now that they are back at the Spa.
Channel Maker (8-1) has had a series of races with excellent speed ratings that have not always resulted in wins, but keeps him dangerous. If filling out a pick 6, this is the race on which one should consider keeping their options open.
TECHNICAL ANALYSIS THE PICK
Technical Analysis (1-1) has earned her place as the morning line favorite in the Grade II Ballston Spa Stakes by having gone a full year without finishing worse than second over six (mostly graded stakes) races.
One should expect that streak to continue, but if the opening pace is a little slow, expect Fluffy Socks (7-2) to be applying closing pressure on the leader.
Our Flash Drive (4-1) should be in the mix, but she has not won a graded stakes since last August and is moving up in class from her last win.
Lemista (3-1) won her last outing at Saratoga, the Grade III Matchmaker Stakes, but that performance looks like it could be an outlier. One would like to see a bit more consistency from her before putting her above the rest.
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