On Track With Johnny D: Travers Stakes Analysis & Selections

This year’s Travers field lacks a superstar. So far.

A victory here parlayed to a Breeders’ Cup Classic score would be enough to garner a statue in January at Gulfstream Park as top 3-year-old male. Do any of this year’s Travers starters have the juice to pull off that maneuver? Probably not. However, favored Tacitus and second-choice Code of Honor appear to have the best chances.

In 2016, in this space, we analyzed the Travers and failed to identify as winner a streaking comet named Arrogate. He demolished the field by 13 ½ lengths in track-record time at a mouth-watering 11.70-1 odds. He went on to win the BC Classic, the Pegasus World Cup and, in a performance for the ages, the Dubai World Cup. He proves that you just never know. Granted, that was a once-in-a-blue-moon occurrence. Arrogates don’t come along very often. But 3-year-olds improve and regress at the pace of expired calendar pages and what was true yesterday doesn’t always hold sway today. Suppose that’s why we watch and wager.

Below is one man’s opinion of the 2019 Travers Stakes, including a suggested wagering strategy.

  1. Owendale 6-1       Cox/Geroux

This guy is solid. He tries nearly every time and has enough ability to win this race on his best day. He doesn’t have speed, so he’ll be in the back of the pack early. There’s not much early pace in this race, so he’ll have company in the rear. His trainer is having an enviable Spa meeting and the rider is accomplished. Owendale has won two of his last three and four of the last six. His claim to fame was finishing third in the Preakness behind War of Will and Travers foe Everlast. One slight negative is that his sire Into Mischief is not known for producing classic-distance runners.

  1. Code of Honor 4-1       McGaughey/Velazquez

This son of Noble Mission has the kind of resume that suggests he can win the Travers. He’s won a maiden at Saratoga, the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth and the Grade 3 Dwyer. He’s finished in the money in his three Grade 1 starts—the Champagne, Florida and Kentucky Derbies. Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey has won a pair of Travers and has prepared this guy with this race in mind, and the Kentucky native is one of the best at hitting the bullseye. Code of Honor has no real early speed, so he should be rallying of the final turn under Hall-of-Fame jockey John Velazquez. You may recall the pair made a sweeping move to the lead in the Kentucky Derby before wilting a bit late. This colt seems poised for a big effort.

  1. Highest Honors 10-1     Brown/Saez

This lightly-raced son of Tapit has two wins in three starts for the meet’s leading trainer Chad Brown. How good might he be? That’s the question. He won the restricted Curlin in the mud last out and takes one giant step up for this. He’s not a dead-closer, so look for him in the middle of the pack early. Jockey Luis Saez has been strong this year at the Spa and is guaranteed to give you a top effort. Still, this one would need to leap forward to win.

  1. Laughing Fox 30-1     Asmussen/Santana, Jr.

Void of speed, this son of Union Rags probably will be far back in the early going. And since there’s little pace in the race, his chances of success are limited. He was closer to the early going in the Jim Dandy last out, but then had no punch. He seems in a tough spot again.

  1. Everfast 30-1     Romans/Martin Chuan

Here’s another with no speed. He did manage a surprising second at nearly 30-1 in the Preakness to detonate many exotic Preakness wagers. He’s faced the best on many occasions and come up short—one win in 13 tries—so there’s little reason to expect a big performance here, especially with no pace in the race.

  1. Tacitus 5/2      Mott/Ortiz

Here’s a colt that’s been unlucky during a seven-race career. Last out, he stumbled badly at the start and appeared to lose all chance. Amazingly, jockey Jose Ortiz remained in the saddle and the pair managed to rally on the inside and finish second, just short of Tax, another Travers foe. Tacitus also had trouble out of the gate and on the first turn in the Wood Memorial but was able to recover and win the race. He also was unsettled at the start of the Kentucky Derby, broke 15th of 19 and still managed to finish fourth--moved to third via dq. Hall-of-Fame trainer Bill Mott adds blinkers for this race hoping they will focus Tacitus on the task at hand. Like second-choice Code of Honor, he seeks his first Grade 1 victory.

  1. Mucho Gusto 6-1       Baffert/Talamo

Hall-of-Fame trainer Bob Baffert had planned to run the 2018 2-year-old champ Game Winner in this race, but that colt got sick. Enter the fast-working Mucho Gusto, four-time Grade 3 stakes winner and runner-up to Haskell winner Maximum Security last out. This son of Mucho Macho Man has early speed and is likely to lead the field for part of the way. How far might he take this group? That depends a bit on how aggressive jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. is with Tax from the far outside. The pair figure to have things to themselves early. A mile and one-quarter seems a bit more than Mucho Gusto would prefer and there’s a real question about how much that gut-wrenching effort in the oppressive Monmouth heat took out of him. Still, he’s a Bob Baffert Travers starter. Can’t totally dismiss him.

  1. Chess Chief 30-1     Stewart/Smith

Second by six lengths last out in the West Virginia Derby, Chess Chief would be a real surprise winner.

  1. Looking At Bikinis 10-1     Brown/Castellano

This son of Lookin At Lucky has some pace and could add excitement to the early going. He’s won two of three starts—an impressive maiden score in the Belmont slop last September and a first-level allowance win there in June. He was third, beaten six and one-half lengths in the Curlin last out. Despite being trained by the meet’s perennial leading trainer Chad Brown, this one would need to leap forward to contend in here.

  1. Scars Are Cool 30-1     Hough/Gaffalione

Seemingly overmatched in here, this recent impressive maiden winner takes a gigantic leap up the class ladder. He would be a shock. On the positive side, his maiden score was here at Saratoga at a mile and one-eighth which suggests he’s fit, sharp and likes the track. He’s got that going for him, which is nice.

  1. Endorsed 15-1     McLaughlin/Rosario

When Game Winner was forced to cancel his Travers reservation jockey Joel Rosario moved to Endorsed for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. A first-out maiden winner at Saratoga over a good track, Endorsed was injured in the Champagne and off until a June allowance victory. Second behind Highest Honors last out, this son of Medaglia d’Oro would need to improve to threaten here.

  1. Tax 6-1       Gargan/Ortiz

At the Travers draw, trainer Danny Gargan announced that drawing the far outside post for this race would force him to send jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. and Tax immediately to the front. We’ll see. With a quarter of a mile to establish position before the first turn and no real speed inside him except Mucho Gusto, Tax ought to be able to outrun everyone else and find a suitable early position. The question then becomes is Tax good enough to win? Claimed for $50k in his second start, he’s been knocking heads with the big boys and holding his own. He was third in the Grade 2 Remsen, second in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial and a close fourth in the Belmont Stakes. Wins include the Grade 3 Withers and the Grade 2 Jim Dandy at the Spa last out. Of course, many who saw the Jim Dandy would suggest that runner-up Tacitus was best. Tax sure is working well for the Travers with a bullet, best-of-64 half-mile blowout on his resume.

Bottom Line

Should Run Well: #2 Code of Honor, #6 Tacitus

Must Respect: #1 Owendale

Exotic Add-Ons: #3 Highest Honors, #7 Mucho Gusto, #10 Scars Are Cool, #11 Endorsed, #12 Tax

Suggested Wagering Strategy:

The top two choices--#6 Tacitus and #2 Code of Honor seem strong and #1 Owendale is solid at 6-1. Pacesetters #7 Mucho Gusto and #12 Tax could hang around for a minor award. Exotic players also could look to juice mutuels with a longshot or two eligible to outrun thick odds.

$1 Trifecta ($36)

1, 2, 6

1, 2, 6

1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12

$.50 Trifecta ($18)

1, 2, 6

1, 2, 3, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12

1, 2, 6

Race On!

On Track With Johnny D: Travers Stakes Analysis & Selections

On Track with Johnny D |