Litfin: How to Bet the Travers
by DAVE LITFIN
Those who make it through five races of Saturday's all-Grade 1 $250,000 pick six or the first three of the $1 million pick four at Saratoga must still come up with the Travers winner to collect.
Even with Flintshire, whose picture should be on a U.S. Treasury note based on the weight he's already carried twice as a universal single at the Spa, pick fours must get through a 13-horse King's Bishop and a 12-horse Forego. That's before dealing with the biggest Travers field since 1977.
The starting gate holds 14 maximum, and when all stalls are filled the rail horse is on the rail, unlike smaller fields when spots are left open. So you know Bob Baffert must have loved it when he put Arrogate (#1) and American Freedom (#2) on a plane and then settled in to watch a live stream of Tuesday evening's post position draw.
The rail seems especially distressing for Arrogate, who makes his stakes debut after beating a total of 10 horses running through his preliminary conditions. This will be quite a new experience for him.
While post 2 is not ideal for American Freedom, those who fancy him can be heartened by what Todd Pletcher has rightly observed: Horses get bad trips from good posts, and they get good trips from bad posts.
“Everyone has a plan 'til they get punched in the face,” said that other great source of wisdom, Mike Tyson, but to my mind at least, American Freedom's chances are equal to those of Exaggerator (#7) based on Round 1 in the Haskell.
Keith Desormeaux caught everyone by surprise when he shipped Exaggerator to the Jersey Shore, and looked like Nostradamus when the rains came and a sharp pace developed – this just 24 hours after Laoban got away with murder on the lead in the Jim Dandy, a race Exaggerator never would have won under the circumstances.
American Freedom had the tougher trip in the Haskell, putting away Nyquist and then having Exaggerator tighten things up as he was edging past a furlong out. American Freedom then finally changed leads and finished with renewed energy to draw away from the others. That race was his first against top-class competition, and such an experience can move a horse up.
There are a few other fairly straightforward contenders, to be sure, but for win bets I am considering just those two, figuring something like 4-1 fair odds on each. I doubt Exaggerator will be that high, but American Freedom might.
For A-B-C ticket fans I have the Travers like this:
A – 2, 7
B – 8, 10, 12, 14
C – 1, 4, 5, 9, 13