Who would you pick to run second in the Travers to American Pharoah?
American Pharoah is dominating the discussion ahead of Saturday’s Travers S. (G1), and it's tough to go against the Triple Crown champ. But if you're looking for a potential upsetter, or just hoping to round out the exacta, the TwinSpires team offers their views on the best alternative.
I’m expecting American Pharoah to dominate on the lead and believe Texas Red, who is clearly in strong form for trainer Keith Desormeaux, to be taken out of his game as jockey Kent Desormeaux aggressively rides his mount from the start to stay close. Frosted remains a serious threat to run late for second, but I’ll go a different direction with SMART TRANSITION (#10) following a smart 4 3/4-length win in the July 31 Curlin Stakes over the track. V.E. Day received no respect last year following his Curlin victory, upsetting the Travers at 19-1, and Smart Transition figures to be overlooked as well (Texas Red, Frosted, Upstart & Keen Ice could all pay less underneath in the exacta). I’ll play an American Pharoah-Smart Transition straight exacta (2-10) and will take a swing at a couple of trifectas, adding Frosted to the mix (2-10-6 and 2-6-10).
Aside from the Kentucky Derby (G1), when the presently-sidelined Firing Line got within a length of American Pharoah due to a favorable pace scenario, what other three-year-old has turned in the best performance against the Triple Crown winner this year? The record shows American Pharoah completed his classic sweep in the Belmont S. (G1) by a commanding 5 1/2 lengths, but the feeling here is that runner-up FROSTED (#6) still gave a very good account of himself. He can do so again in Saturday’s Travers (G1) following a sharp second in the Jim Dandy (G2), a race he probably wasn’t totally cranked up to deliver his best performance in. This has been the main summertime goal for the Kiaran McLaughlin charge, the extra furlong should suit, and he looks from this view to be the most likely to complete the exacta behind American Pharoah who, like in the Belmont, figures hard to catch with his inside post and early foot.
TEXAS RED (#4) strikes me as best of the rest, and if American Pharoah turns in an uncharacteristic performance, he’s the likeliest candidate for an upset. I strongly suspect that we haven't seen the best yet from this strapping son of Afleet Alex. Always the type to improve with age and distance, he exceeded expectations last campaign with his 6 1/2-length demolition job of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1). The Keith Desormeaux pupil might have loomed as the main threat to American Pharoah's Triple Crown sweep, but his ill-timed foot problems ruled him off the trail. A fine second in his comeback in the July 4 Dwyer (G3) at an inadequate one-turn mile, Texas Red enjoyed the stretch-out in the 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy (G2) and edged Frosted over this track. That was an especially encouraging performance because of the moderate pace scenario. Texas Red displayed more tactical versatility as a stalker, rather than a come-from-the-clouds closer, suggesting that he no longer needs a pace meltdown to set the table for him. That will come in handy in a Travers lacking much in the way of projected pace.
American Pharoah is the horse to beat in the Travers S. (G1) so any value will have to come from the also-rans. KEEN ICE (#7) hasn’t scored since breaking his maiden last September at Churchill Downs, but the Dale Romans trainee has shown some serious improvement of late. The bay colt earned a shot at Kentucky Derby (G1) glory with placings in qualifying events over the winter and spring, and came with a nice late run to improve his position from 14th to seventh on the wire in the Derby. He returned for a gutsy third in the Belmont S. (G1) and was given some time to recover from his grueling early season schedule before rallying for second in the Haskell Invitational (G1) last out. Keen Ice has never been able to threaten American Pharoah, but he has carved out a space near the top of the other sophomores.
I do like American Pharoah to win the Travers Stakes, and after much consideration think the value is in playing a cold exacta with FROSTED (#6) in second. This has been an extremely formful year going back to the Kentucky Derby prep season, and I don’t expect that to change this weekend. The Triple Crown champion American Pharoah will win and the two other Grade 1 winners—TwinSpires.com Wood Memorial Stakes winner Frosted and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Texas Red—will determine the minor placings. I don’t say “fill out” the minor placings because I’ll try to beat Texas Red out of the number, but they’ll definitely be the horses to determine them because I anticipate Texas Red is here to try to win, and that means at some point he will have to engage American Pharoah, which typically hasn’t worked out for horses who have done so. Trying to win the war will cost Texas Red the battle, and that means Frosted is a clear choice to finish second. He’s proven on two occasions he’s superior to Keen Ice, and although he didn’t win the Jim Dandy, Texas Red isn’t chasing Japan this time.
Photo courtesy of NYRA/Adam Coglianese/Susie Raisher