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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


LAS VEGAS–A very few races transcend the quality of their field. No matter who runs, it is a special event, a happening. The Triple Crown races, of course, fall into this category. Ditto the Breeders’ Cup.

Beyond those the list gets short. The Travers definitely belongs in this distinguished group. Regardless of the field, it is a happening.  I know. I’ve been  to more than 30. I’ve switched my tack out West this year in line with the Yogi Berra-ism “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”

2019 Travers poster

Good thing, the Travers is so special. The 2019 Midsummer Derby is not a historic renewal. It’s almost as if this generation of 3-year-olds is cursed.

All three winners of the Triple Crown are on the sidelines. Eclipse champion Game Winner was coming and might have been the favorite. But he got sick. Also missing is the colt scratched as the morning line favorite for the Derby, Omaha Beach. Sidelined since winning the Arkansas Derby, he was never ticketed for the Travers. This week, he had to be pulled from his scheduled return in the Shared Belief at Del Mar with a virus.

Actually both Derby winners are AWOL. Kissed-in Country House hasn’t been seen since the first Saturday in May. It is not true he has avoided being seen in public from embarrassment at being the undeserving recipient of the gift of America’s biggest race.

Maximum Security, who got to the wire first, is still knocked out from his Haskell win in scorching heat, according to Jason Servis. (Interestingly, Mucho Gusto, who pushed him all the way, is fine and coming to upstate New York. I guess horses, like humans, react differently to adverse circumstances.)

Further evidence of this year’s distressing attrition rate among top sophomores is the absence of four of the five winners of the final phase 100-point Derby preps: Maximum Security, who also took the Florida Derby; Santa Anita Derby winner Roadster; Blue Grass champion Vekoma and By My Standards, who captured the Louisiana Derby.

The value of just being able to hang around is underlined by the fact that lone prep trail survivor Tacitus, who will be trying to add to his Wood Memorial laurels, is the likely favorite. Tax got home ahead of him in the Jim Dandy but all you have to know to understand why fans will bet for a reversal is Larry Collmus’ call of the local Travers prep: “A disastrous start for Tacitus…”

The fact that Tax drew the outside No. 12 post will also figure into Tacitus taking the favorite’s role.

Bill Mott is hoping the addition of blinkers will produce a cleaner trip for the regally-bred colt, who has a knack for finding trouble. It would be fitting for class act Mott to win  his first Travers, a race he says he values as much as the Triple Crown events, on the square after being handed the Kentucky Derby.

The horse moved up to second at Churchill Downs, Code of Honor, represents one of Tacitus’ most formidable challengers. Shug McGaughey skipped the rest of the Triple Crown to point the Fountain of Youth winner for the race he won for the first time with Easy Goer 30 years ago. (He has painted the canoe twice since, Rhythm in 1990 and Coronado’s Quest in 1998.) Code of Honor will start from the ground-saving two hole. Anything over 3-1 and that’s where my money will be.

Shug opted against a race over the track in the Jim Dandy for a much less challenging spot in the Dwyer, which Code of Honor won easily. Shug had the advantage of knowing Code of Honor has a fondness for the Saratoga strip. As a juvenile, he  broke maiden at first asking, something not many Shug youngsters do.

The only other Travers starter to win at the Spa as a 2-year-old is Endorsed. While fans and analysts like to project Saratoga achievements as a juvenile to be precursors of 3-year-old success, nine of the dozen in Saturday’s race did not start at the Spa as a 2-year-old. Laughing Fox is the lone other Travers entrant with a 2-year-old race at the Spa.

The way Chad Brown is winning everything in sight, it would be foolhardy to overlook Highest Honors, impressive in taking the Curlin, and Looking at Bikinis, third in that race after setting the pace on a muddy strip when the inside might not have been the place to be. Both will be rare long-priced starters for Chad.     

This summer’s Travers might not have championship implications but it is a great betting race. A solid case can be made for about the field, so there will be alluring prices available.

Isn’t that what it’s all about? Besides, it’s the Travers.

NYRA stands out

There’s no Eclipse Award for outstanding simulcast presentation. If there was, NYRA would be 1-9.

I say this after a week in Las Vegas playing simulcasts from coast to coast. It’s maddening at some major venues, notably Del Mar, to track exotic possibilities and will-pays. NYRA shows odds, exacta and double possibilities on the bottom of the screen from the official of the previous race to the horses entering the gate for the next one.

Will-pays are displayed immediately after the posting of the payoffs and are on a constant roll during the multiple replays of the just finished race. At most tracks, you have to wait until after the replays. At Del Mar, they could show up at almost any time. You snooze, you lose.

NYRA has assets far in excess of those available at many tracks, especially smaller ones. However, displaying information bettors want and need is not costly. All any track would have to do is take a look at the NYRA site and copy what they see.

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2 Responses

  1. Thought I would get through a commentary by you without your writing ‘it’s a great betting race’. After all these years I am still flummoxed as to what constitutes a great betting race.

    Love Vegas. I, and two others, rented an apartment at the Meridian for about twelve years (1987 – 1999). Walking distance to the strip. None of us were there at the same time, like a time-share. Each of us would stay for a month, then just pay the rent for the rest of the year. My best investment to date!

    Weather was always great, the mornings beautiful, and the Barbary Coast was just down the street. Aah, the memories. And, the nightlife fabulous.

    But, I am still befuddled as to why the Travers is a better betting race than the last race at twenty other race tracks (two words today, Alice).

  2. A good betting race is one in which you are not going to have to take 6-5 on the favorite and 8-5 on the second choice and there are legit contenders at or near double digits.

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