Handicapping Feature -- Travers


AUGUST 24, 2012

Travers & Pick 4 analysis

by James Scully

Much has been made of the attrition rate in the three-year-old ranks and I think that has to be taken into account when handicapping this year's Travers. There are no standouts in the 11-horse field at Saratoga.

With I'll Have Another, Bodemeister and Union Rags all retired, Paynter is probably the best member of his generation still in training, but he is currently sidelined recovering from a recent illness.

Questing wound up in the wrong race last weekend. The 1 1/4-mile Alabama for fillies was the logical spot, but imagine the glory if she had waited for the 1 1/4-mile Travers a week later.

She could've thrashed her male rivals. Questing's final time was 2:01 1/5; expect a much more pedestrian affair Saturday that is two-to-three seconds slower.

I respect the chances of Alpha, Neck 'n Neck and Nonios. They are all logical given the competition and will be the top three choices in the wagering, but there are holes in the resumes that make me look elsewhere.

Alpha has never run a BRIS Speed rating better than 101; five of his rivals have earned bigger numbers this season. His Jim Dandy victory came over a sloppy track and was accomplished in wire-to-wire fashion on a very slow pace (:24 2/5, :49 1/5 and 1:14). It will be a fast track Saturday and a couple of longshots, Speightscity and Golden Ticket, figure to keep him company up front during the early stages.

Neck 'n Neck offered a decent rally for second in the Jim Dandy, but all three of his career wins have come at Churchill Downs and I am not convinced that he can take another step forward on Saturday.

Nonios' lone stakes victory came in the Grade 3 Affirmed at Hollywood Park and his runner-up finish in the Haskell last time is perhaps a bit overrated. He basically inherited second when Gemologist began backing out of it on the far turn and never posed a serious threat to Paynter. His other career wins came at Golden Gate Fields earlier this season and Nonios has been racing against short fields in most of his starts. He did not draw well in post 10.

Confirmed closers Liaison and Street Life are not without a chance, and Belmont Stakes third-placer Atigun has the opportunity to run better following a disappointing sixth in the Jim Dandy.

Nobody should be shocked to see any of the above horses wind up in the winner's circle. But I am willing to take a contrarian approach with a longshot Saturday.

Stealcase is pegged at 15-1 on the morning line and nobody is picking the chestnut son of Lawyer Ron to win. But I see an improving colt with a chance to upset the apple cart.

After breaking his maiden at Gulfstream, Stealcase was no factor in two stakes starts before turning in a strong performance in the Derby Trial, finishing a neck back of Paynter in third. He registered a 105 BRIS Speed rating for that effort and the Mark Casse trainee then recorded a good-looking allowance score at Churchill Downs.

In his next two stakes starts, Stealcase experienced troubled trips. He was steadied early in the Matt Winn and never looked comfortable while finishing a non-threatening second behind Neck 'n Neck. In the Haskell, he missed the break when slamming into the starting gate and was left trailing the entire field, five lengths behind his nearest rival entering the first turn.

Stealcase had every reason to pack it in last time, but he started passing rivals on the far turn and finished up nicely for third, registering a 101 BRIS Late Pace rating. He possesses much more tactical speed than he displayed and is eligible to sit in a good stalking position Saturday, just behind the early leaders.

Sire Lawyer Ron ran his best races at Saratoga, recording a pair of outstanding wins in the Whitney and Woodward en route to champion older horse honors in 2007. And Stealcase appears to receive plenty of stamina from both sides of his pedigree (out of a mare by Breeders' Cup Classic winner Cat Thief).

He shows a pair of sharp works over the track for Casse, breezing six furlongs in 1:12 2/5 on August 13 before coming back six days later with a five-furlong move in 1:00 3/5, and is well-drawn in post 4 for a ground-saving trip.

I anticipate Stealcase being in a perfect spot to pounce at the top of the stretch and won't be surprised to see the entire field crawl home in a slow time. Stealcase just needs to finish a little faster than the rest of his rivals to prove best.

Stealcase is the pick, but the Travers is a good race to spread in the final leg of the $1 million-guaranteed Pick 4 at Saratoga.

The Pick 4 kicks off with the Ballston Spa at 1 1/16 miles on turf and I will recommend the chances of Zagora. The five-year-old mare was perhaps a little short last time when third in the nine-furlong Diana -- she appeared to miss a start in June following a sharp win in May's Gallorette at Pimlico and nobody was going to beat Winter Memories that afternoon any way. Trainer Chad Brown said last fall that her best distance is 1 1/16 miles and the cutback in trip Saturday should suit her well.

The main concern is whether Zagora has lost a step this season. Tapitsfly figures to enjoy a good trip just off the early speed and should be the horse to catch turning for home. I will use both horses.

Brown has another top contender in the Test Stakes with Book Review, who finished second to Questing prior to a smart allowance tally at Saratoga last time. I will also include the Grade 1-winning Contested on my tickets -- she will show speed from the start and could prove difficult to run down late.

The King's Bishop has pair of prime contenders in Trinniberg and Currency Swap -- either is very capable with their best. I like the cutback in distance with Ever So Lucky -- the Indian Charlie colt should relish the seven-furlong distance -- and give Unbridled's Note an upset chance following a respectable third in the Grade 2 Amsterdam, his second start off a lengthy layoff. He appears to be rounding into top form for Steve Asmussen.

This is a $40 Pick 4 ticket (50-cent) that I will be playing:


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