Scully's Travers Day handicapping blog

Profile Picture: James Scully

August 26th, 2017

Outside of the Breeders’ Cup, it doesn’t get any better than Saturday’s 13-race program at Saratoga. The centerpiece event, the $1.25 million Travers (G1), is a great betting race with a contentious 12-horse field and the undercard features a host of horses who could go favored in their respective Breeders’ Cup events: Songbird (Distaff), Lady Eli (Filly & Mare Turf), Idaho (Turf), Paulassilverlining (Filly & Mare Sprint), Drefong (Sprint) and Mind Your Biscuits (Sprint).

The stakes action doesn’t start until the 6th race and I will go after the early Pick 5, leveraging opinions in both maiden races in the sequence.

Here are my thoughts on the program:

1st race: Always think of Uncle Mo when it comes to Todd Pletcher firsters on big racing days – the leading trainer waited to run him on Travers Day and the eventual 2-year-old champion romped by nearly 15 lengths. Pletcher will unveil #2 Hazit in today’s opener and the War Front colt is bred to be precocious. He hails from Grade 3-winning sprinter Rumor and is from the female family of 2-year-old champion Phone Chatter. I like his chances in the opener.

2nd race: Little separates the top contenders and a slight edge goes to #3 Surprise Twist, who didn’t have a clean trip finishing a close third to a good-looking winner earlier in the meet. He can move forward for Arnaud Delacour today. #9 Focus Group won like a good thing last time and is eligible to run another big race today for Chad Brown. #2 Memories of Peter could be dangerous with his speed and #9 Son of a Saint is interesting in his turf debut.

3rd race: One of my best bets is #8 Strike Me Down, who can prove best at first asking for Graham Motion. Despite being a leading sire, Tapit is a little underappreciated when it comes to turf but has produced four turf Grade 1 winners in America. Strike Me Down is out of Grade 2 turf winner who ran well early and the gray colt shows a strong worktab at Fair Hill. He doesn’t appear to be facing the most imposing group.

4th race: Tough race. #2 Ostrokenka, #4 Threefiveindia, #5 Angry Moon, #6 Shaft of Light and #9 Stickstatelydude will be used in multi-race wagers.

5th race: #7 Tathqeef ran a big race two back and is eligible to make amends today after never firing following a bad start last time. #6 Poshky is a longshot of interest – his last four turf efforts are good and he could get first run on the closers – and #1 Profiteer is another intriguing price horse for Shug McGaughey. #8 Ray’s the Bar and #10 Cerise’s Prince will also be used. #4 Cloontia is a vulnerable favorite in my estimation.

50-cent Pick 5 plays (races 1-5):

2 with 2,3,9,10 with 8 with 2,4,5,6,9 with 1,6,7,8,10 ($50)

1,6,8 with 2,3,9 with 8 with 2,4,9 with 6,7 ($27)

The stakes action gets underway with the $700,000 Personal Ensign (G1) (6th race) and while I have some concerns about #2 Songbird, who hasn’t performed at the same level in two starts this year, the dual champion has too much of a pace advantage to take a stand against. I’ll watch and see how she runs.

7th race: Plenty of respect for multiple Grade 1 vixen #3 Paulassilverlining, who has captured all three graded starts this year by a neck, but I think she could be vulnerable today after an all-out performance in which her BRIS Speed figures jumped 10 points. #4 By the Moon, who had a troubled trip finishing a half-length second in last year’s Ballerina (G1), is a key play for me today. She loves Saratoga and the 7-furlong distance, and has posted 105 Speed numbers in the last two outings. 5-year-old can finish up best of all.

8th race: Plenty of pace is signed on for the Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1) and #1 Practical Joke rates top billing. Unbeaten in four starts at one-turn, the Brown trainee loves Saratoga (2-for-2) and the rail has not been a disadvantage in 7-furlong races this year. In theory, #9 American Anthem might be hard-pressed to run back to his phenomenal performance in the Woody Stephens (G2) but Bob Baffert-trained horses aren’t known for regressing off big efforts. #8 No Dozing may not be good enough to beat the top two, but he recorded a nice confidence-builder for Delacour last time and could outperform his double-digit morning line odds.

9th race: On paper, the Forego (G1) has two main players in #6 Mind Your Biscuits and #10 Drefong. The latter is essentially making his first start since November after dislodging Mike Smith early in the July 29 Bing Crosby (G1). Mind Your Biscuits couldn’t have been more impressive in his last two outings, but he reportedly didn’t train well in a local work. I’ll use both in any multi-race wagers but am intrigued by #4 Divining Rod, who has registered BRIS Speed ratings of 108-108-106 in his last three outings. A head second in the Cigar Mile (G1) two back, the 5-year-old rolled to a 6 ¼-length decision at Laurel recently and may continue to improve for Delacour in his second appearance this year.

10th race: Viewing the Sword Dancer (G1) as a two-horse affair. #7 Idaho appears much-improved as a 4-year-old for Coolmore/Aidan O’Brien and a class advantage over these foes based on recent efforts. #5 Money Multiplier finished second to Flintshire in last year’s edition and has thrived locally for Brown with a 3-1-2-0 record. He could be showing the way in this paceless affair and has the best chance at upsetting the favorite.

11th race: I love #10 Irap in the 148th running of the Travers (G1) – click here to read my preview. #6 Girvin and #5 Good Samaritan will be keyed underneath in vertical exotics. #3 West Coast could go favored for Baffert with a three-race win skein in tow and is a talented colt, but there seems to be an assumption that the 1 ¼-mile distance will be no issue despite the fact he’s bred to be a miler (by Flatter and out of an Honour and Glory mare). I’m not convinced and will let the up-and-coming sophomore beat me.

12th race: Brown has the top two contenders in the Ballston Spa (G2) and I’m giving the edge to #5 Antonoe, who got the worst of it breaking through the gate and being squeezed tight quarters before finishing a close third in the Diana (G1) last out. The 1 1/8-mile distance may have been a little outside her scope as well and like the cutback to 8 ½-furlongs today. #1 Lady Eli will tough to beat if shows up with her best.

13th race: The finale is $40,000 maiden claimer at 1 1/16 miles on turf and #9 Praise the Moon rates a look at 20-1 on the morning line. Draw a line through his well-beaten performances on the main track – the gelding shows sneaky turf form competing against better rivals in all four attempts and will be rolling late from off the pace. Will also use #4 Prognostication, #8 All About Voodoo and #11 Herecomesyourman on multi-race tickets.

Good luck on a dynamite Travers Day program!