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 27, 2010

Taking the Express to Travers Winners’ Circle


August 27, 2010

Dear Diary,

Are you ready for some Mid-Summer Derby?

Eleven three-year-olds including the Kentucky Derby winner were entered to see if (a) They could become household names, (b) Vindicate their tarnished reputations, or (c) Win a big pot.

If you answered by asking: “where’s (d), All of the above?” I won’t be playing poker with you anytime soon.

All the imponderables is what makes the 141st renewal of the Travers Stakes so fascinating. And a great betting race, too.

As has been our custom, we’ll take an in-depth look at the entrants from a handicapping perspective, in post position order.

“Good betting race” is most often used as a euphemism for big field of so-so horses. Well, there are some good colts in here with a few others on the make.

You never know what will happen when the starting gate opens. One of these colts just might step up his game enough to challenge divisional leading Lookin at Lucky, currently surfing and turfing out West. Or not.

1-Miner’s Reserve (12-1): Churchill Downs notwithstanding, when was it exactly that post #1 in a two-turn race became bad position, especially for a speed type? Of course, there will be pressure to break sharply and use early speed to keep that position. But the good news is that’s how you take control of a race, by dictating to the competition. Late developing Mineshaft colt, a courageous second in the Jim Dandy over the track, is bred for distance on both sides of his pedigree. If he is defeated, which is likely, it won’t be the post that beats him.

2-Trappe Shot (4-1): Rapid developer has had quite a summer, going from eye opening Belmont undercard seven-eighths, to the two-turn Long Branch at Monmouth Park, to a game, not-the-smoothest trip Haskell placing. Not wild about the karma around the colt vis a vis his on-again, off-again, last minute on-again preparation for his biggest career test. Agree with trainer Kiaran McLaughlin that he was very fit enough already for this race but I’m not sure how you keep a horse where you want him if he’s racing either 7 or 10 furlongs. Owns a long pedigree but seems at tops going one turn. Likely over-bet based on his press notices and Haskell placing.

3-Admiral Alex (12-1): Everyone loves a racetrack character and trainer Leon Blusiewicz certainly qualifies on several counts. Although he’s beaten Grade 1 horses with maiden winners in the past--Snow Plow over Larida in the Selima Stakes--this simply is a leap too far. His maiden score came on today’s surface at nine furlongs, which speaks to his potential class, and Kent Desormeaux can be spooky in these kinky scenarios. One question for “Blue.” If you weren’t training him, would you bet?

4-First Dude (8-1): A high quality individual who looks as good as he runs. He and Super Saver have the most Grade 1 experience in the field with five starts and four in-the-money finishes from nine to 12 furlongs. Adding blinkers on a speed horse can be dicey but Dale Romans calling the shots very well this year. The blinkers are meant to achieve push-button acceleration Ramon Dominguez calls on this guy. Well positioned but is highly likely to be pressured strongly at some early stage of this.

5-A Little Warm (7-2): A forwardly placed runner, he’s developing beautifully while learning his lessons and his performance figures are improving incrementally, a good sign. Loved the way he finished at the end of his Jim Dandy victory after stalking the leader, lengthening his stride as the wire approached. Drawn perfectly for his style, has the redoubtable Johnny Velazquez, and is trained by a man in the midst of a career year. Tony Dutrow is over the moon about this colt’s chances and the way he’s coming up to the race. The guy hasn’t been wrong in 2010 yet.

6-Ice Box (10-1): If you don’t think fortunes can change quickly, this 10-1 early line choice was the 1.85-1 favorite for the Belmont Stakes. He was exceedingly disappointing that day off his heralded Kentucky Derby placing, empty all the way around despite being given five weeks recovery time by trainer Nick Zito. He had an excuse in the Haskell but never showed speed at any point. Could it be he developed too early and has been unable to reacquire that form? We’re betting that’s the case, even with Julien Leparoux replacing the struggling Jose Lezcano.

7-Afleet Express (6-1): Talented late developer came to hand quickly after ordinary Florida campaign by beating older horses in a rapidly run Belmont sprint which he used successfully as a bridge to a winning two-turn debut in the G3 Pegasus. His next start was a strong, too late-finish when third in the Jim Dandy after racing one-paced and greenly down the lane, before galloping out with high energy past the wire. The effort seemed to indicate that he wants today’s added ground. Coming up to 10 furlongs perfectly off graduating distances and owns the fastest performance figure on the Equiform scale. Rallier will be suited by a realistic pace scenario and the services of co-leading rider Javier Castellano.

8-Fly Down (8-1): Zito, Part III. Announced his divisional presence in the G2 Dwyer with a comprehensive six-length score followed by a courageous finish in the final hundred yards of the Belmont. Briefly freshened, he returned in the Jim Dandy where he drew the outside slip in an eight-horse field and never appeared in position to win. He made a strong rally between horses, altered course to the rail, finishing with gusto but bogged down late. He was forced to check in the final strides but it had no effect on the outcome. It was an excellent race to build on and provided a race over the track. Better was his incremental improvement on the Equiform scale, making early line odds of 8-1 inviting.

9-Friend Or Foe (15-1): As live a longshot as you’ll ever see. His four-race career has been a series of New Pace Tops followed by a Reversal [of energy distribution] in his two-turn debut after a open maiden win and two New York-bred races including the seven-furlong Mike Lee Stakes in 1:21 3/5. In his Travers prep, he chased the pace comfortably from the outside throughout, raced a tad greenly at headstretch then finished willingly between horses through the stretch, galloping out passed the winner. He’s worked sharply since and has tremendous upside given his relative inexperience.

10-Afleet Again (30-1): Even though he finished close behind strong contender Afleet Express in the Pegasus, followed by a wide trip in the deeper Haskell waters, he has improved since adding blinkers for his first start of the year. But he’s simply too one-paced for this group.

11-Super Saver (6-1): Since 1999, with the exception of 2005 and Da Tara in 2008, the Travers has been won by an in-the-money Classics finisher that either won or finished closest in a Triple Crown race. Beyond the positive trend, there are other reasons to expect a return to top form. Over the top when he came up empty in Baltimore, he was freshened for the Haskell in which he had a difficult, albeit clean, trip. Stalking the pace while wide throughout, he was forced to move when Lookin at Lucky commenced a rally to his outside. Out-quicked, he kept fighting between rivals but tired in the shadow of the wire. Sure to benefit, his tactical speed should allow Calvin Borel a good look, either tucking behind the speed or going on with it if no one else does. Major improvement expected.

Travers 141 Selections: 1. Afleet Express 2. Super Saver 3. A Little Warm 4. Friend Or Foe

Written by John Pricci

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