Pricci's Saratoga Diary
For the next 40 days of New York racing, Executive Editor John Pricci will provide his insights on all things Saratoga for the 35th consecutive year in his original "Saratoga Diary." It debuted in 1977, the year Seattle Slew won the Triple Crown and Jatski was placed first in the Travers Stakes following the disqualification of Run Dusty Run. So keep up with the cold exactas, hot issues, and build your own stable of live horses, all from John's unique perspective, exclusively at

Friday, August 25, 2017

TRAVERS 148: Best Betting Race of the Modern Era

SARATOGA SPRINGS, August 25, 2017

...And maybe the toughest handicapping puzzle I've ever attempted to solve.

Listed below are all the horses that wouldn't shock me if they emerge as the leading three-year-old dirt male in the country shortly after 5:44 p.m. Saturday.

Only five points on the Pricci Energy scale separates all horses listed; can't remember that happening in any race we've ever handicapped using our own personal scale.

(For full rankings of these contenders, as well as an analysis of the other three races comprising the $1 million guaranteed Pick 4, find more information at

Meanwhile, if you have a hunch, bet a bunch. But an assessment of the odds, after betting has begun, is a must. If your opinion is correct in this race, you had better be properly rewarded. Prime contenders listed in post position order:

Following uncharacteristically poor effort, Preakness winner has trained himself back into the Travers following horrific Jim Dandy effort. Distance is not an issue and he’s well drawn to trip-out switching to five-time Travers winning Javier. Connections wanted an inside draw; they got it. Horses that tout themselves are dangerous.

3 – WEST COAST (4-1)
The obligatory Baffert whose proficiency with ship-ins is nothing short of legendary. Demonstrated high class winning the Easy Goer on Belmont undercard. Pedigree and style indicate no potential distance issues. Made a great physical impression on arrival. Needs to bring A+ game vs. this group but is more than capable.

4 - TAPWRIT (7-2)
Somewhat surprising early line favorite makes first start since winning the Belmont--a most unusual road to the Travers, even if Belmont winners have done well in this race historically. Reported to be working extraordinarily well--and he had better be under the circumstances. Fresh, fit, very solid, but looms an underlay at early line odds.

Won the Jim Dandy going away in dirt debut looking as if he had just dropped in at the eighth pole, an extraordinary late run. Has the benefit of a winning race over the track, the Jim Dandy historically an extremely productive prep. Blowout earlier this week was very sharp and Mott en fuego, winning with most everything, anywhere, right now.

6 - GIRVIN (10-1)
That’s a big early line quote on a Haskell winner whose only poor effort dating back to the spring was in rough-house Derby in which he had tough trip after having missed training time with sore feet. Unlucky loser of Ohio Derby but a fortunate head-bob winner at Monmouth, most recent work was sharp and fast. With proper handling…


Good value on early line with Pletcher accepting the blame for having him “a little too short” on very demanding loose surface in the Jim Dandy, working him only four times since Preakness debacle. Held very gamely while tiring and should benefit from that prep, followed by two sharp breezes. Could easily win this if on or near soft pace.

9 - MCCRAKEN (12-1)

Value play at early line odds, he too has been extremely consistent and owns the best turn of foot in this group which he can sustain a long way. Forced into moving earlier than rider wanted when beaten a nose in Monmouth’s Haskell on surface that favoring late runners. Returned with brilliant breeze 11 days later. Set for best right now.

11 - GUNNEVERA (20-1)
Another who was freshened after Preakness, he had his prep at Gulfstream after long series of bullet works over demanding ‘Calder’ strip. Post should not hinder a slow beginner and Edgard Zayas got along very nicely with him in recent prep and has been riding in top form at GP. Has historically best Thoro-Graph figure and won here at 2.

Per usual, our on-the-record selection will be posted in Saturday's Feature Race Analysis section

Written by John Pricci

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