Scully: Gift Box in Travers, three value plays on undercard
Saturday's $1.25 million Travers (G1) doesn’t have the star appeal of last year with American Pharoah, but it’s a much better betting race. And outside of the Sword Dancer (G1) with Flintshire, the undercard is dynamite as well for horseplayers.
I think Gift Box is sitting on a massive performance in the Travers and at 12-1 on the morning line, the opportunity for a nice score is possible. I also like a trio of horses listed at double-digit odds in the supporting features.
Gift Box is eligible to improve significantly upon a runner-up finish in the July 29 Curlin Stakes. The Chad Brown-trained ridgling recorded an impressive performance when making a belated 2016 bow, winning easily by a 4 1/2-length margin over a decent allowance field at Belmont May 26, and the son of Twirling Candy was freshened two months for his second start back in the Curlin.
He never got the chance to show his best last time. The inside was dull on July 29 – every winner from five dirt races was kept at least a couple of paths off the rail that afternoon – and John Velazquez knew how the track was playing, guiding pacesetter Connect three-wide into the clubhouse turn despite breaking from the innermost post. After starting from post 4, Gift Box wound up settling along the rail entering the first turn and was kept on the slowest part of the track throughout the 1 1/8-mile race.
Not only did he find the wrong spot, jockey Javier Castellano had to take a hard hold several times, yanking Gift Box’s head back as he tried to settle behind the glacial walking pace (:24 and :48 2/5). Gift Box made a run up the rail at the pacesetter turning for home, but Connect had plenty left and repulsed the challenger to win by a length.
The Curlin provided valuable fitness and the projected Travers’ pace scenario will be much-improved for the gray sophomore with triple-digit BRIS Late Pace ratings in his last three outings. Gift Box drew well in post 9, allowing new rider Junior Alvarado to avoid getting bottled up in the congested field, and I expect him to launch a winning rally on the far turn.
A contentious pace appears likely, with By the Moon and Paulassilverlining likely to show speed from inside posts and Sarah Sis a confirmed need-the-lead type, and I’ve landed on Haveyougoneaway. The 5-year-old mare registered her first graded victory in the July 27 Honorable Miss (G2) at Saratoga, rallying boldly to get up by a neck at 6-furlongs, and will bring a two-race win streak into the 7-furlong Ballerina.
Tom Morley’s horses have been firing all meet, with the conditioner winning at a 31% clip, and Haveyougoneaway will enter in razor-sharp form. She’s no confirmed closer – the chestnut likes to stalk in midpack – and the outside post should allow Velazquez to establish good positioning down the backstretch. I’m expecting another strong finish and won’t be surprised to see Haveyougonemyway drift upward from her 10-1 morning line.
Blazing fractions are likely, with Summer Revolution, Jazzy Times, Noholdingbackbear and Drefong all capable of running opening splits in :21 & change and :44 & change, and the race is going to set up perfectly for Rated R Superstar, who registered a 103 BRIS Speed rating winning the 7-furlong Carry Back (G3) last out. Not only is the Speed number on par with his main rivals, the gelding had to run down a quality foe last time, multiple Grade 2 winner Awesome Banner, who was loose on the lead and not stopping.
A Grade 1-placed juvenile, Rated R Superstar made his first three starts this season at two turns – throw those races out. He’s become a different horse since cutting back to a sprint two starts back for Kenny McPeek, posting a 110 BRIS Late Pace rating last time, and the son of Kodiak Kowboy is poised to keep showing more on Saturday. He shows a couple of works locally and rates as the most dangerous closer in a speed-laden field. And he’s listed at 20-1 odds.
Limousine Liberal turned in a terrific performance last year on Travers Day, finishing a clear second behind eventual sprint champion Runhappy in the King’s Bishop, and appears ready to deliver another top-class effort at the same 7-furlong distance.
The 4-year-old gelding returned this year in spectacular fashion, establishing a new track record when taking a 6 ½-furlong allowance at Keeneland, but appeared to bounce four weeks later recording a dull sixth in the Churchill Downs S. (G2). He shrugged off the regression with a pair of strong efforts, finishing second in the Aristides (G3) and Smile Sprint (G2) at 6-furlongs, and appears ready to take another step forward while stretching back out to a preferred distance. An early 15-1, Limousine Liberal won’t face the deepest competition in this spot and I like his chances with Castellano.
Best of luck on Travers Day!