Last Saturday, at Del Mar, the Bob Baffert-trained Thousand Words took control of the Shared Belief Stakes and never let go. In his wake was the highly regarded and heavily favored Honor A. P. This Saturday, on the opposite coast, at Saratoga, a similar scenario could play out when Baffert saddles talented-but-untested Uncle Chuck against top-ranked sophomore Tiz the Law.
Granted, Tiz the Law probably is a better colt than Honor A. P. And Uncle Chuck is way more inexperienced than Thousand Words. But if speed is the great equalizer, then Saturday’s Travers could be a real horserace.
Tiz the Law’s owners are a bunch of Saratoga Springs locals who desperately want to win the Travers—crown jewel of the Spa and a major international race. The colt has trained flawlessly for this challenge under the careful tutelage of veteran Barclay Tagg. In short, all systems are ‘go!’
Funny thing, though, about this racing game: Sometimes things are just too perfect.
There’s little reason on paper to suggest that upstart Uncle Chuck could knock off multiple Gr. 1 winner Tiz the Law. But that ‘little reason’ is what interests this horseplayer. No horse in the Travers has Uncle Chuck-level speed. Expect Baffert’s colt to go to the lead and dare Tiz the Law to come and catch him. From this chair it’s a strictly a two-horse race.
Over a strip of dirt in Saratoga Springs, NY—right where the homestretch unfurls and the ‘real running’ commences--Uncle Chuck will have the Travers lead. That’s when Tiz the Law will come calling. Then and there, on that patch of brown history, where so many heavy favorites have cried ‘Uncle!’ that they have a name for it: Graveyard of Champions. It’s where Man o’ War, Gallant Fox, Secretariat, American Pharoah and a host of other luminaries all have lost when they really weren’t supposed to.
Saturday then, for a baker’s dozen’s-worth of seconds, we will lose ourselves in a struggle between two extremely talented and well-honed athletes, as they give what they’ve got, whatever they’ve got, stride-for-stride to the wire. And, no matter the outcome, as we watch we will disappear into the moment, engrossed in the struggle and forgetting the trying first seven months of 2020.
Below is one horseplayer’s horse-by-horse analysis of the Travers Stakes, including analysis of the Saratoga late Pick 4:
1. First Line Noda/Cohen 30-1
This son of First Samurai stretched out to one mile and one-eighth at Saratoga July 29, and won his first race in four starts by a neck at 12-1 odds. It’s an awfully big step up from a narrow maiden win to the Travers winner’s circle…even without fans in attendance. Previously low-profile trainer Orlando Noda is having a great Spa meeting and thinks this guy fits in here. Noda must know something we don’t. We know that Noda horses are running out of their skins and that First Line is fit and likes the track.
2. Country Grammer C. Brown/I. Oritz, Jr. 6-1
Kelsey’s brother (sorry, couldn’t help it) outlasted Travers foe #7 Caracaro last out by a neck in the Gr. 3 Peter Pan over one mile and one-eighth at the Spa. That was his first win since breaking maiden second time out at Aqueduct in November. He usually is positioned about 6 lengths off the leaders and is asked to gradually close from there. Jockey Irad Ortiz, Jr. has two wins in as many tries with this son of Tonalist and has been riding ferociously at Saratoga. Distance shouldn’t be a hindrance to this colt as both of his dirt-surface losses were at a mile and one-sixteenth. Both wins, though, came at one mile and one-eighth. Trainer Chad Brown explained that Country Grammer did not like the Belmont surface, so toss that effort.
3. Uncle Chuck Baffert/L. Saez 5/2
Would it surprise you Saturday evening if trainer Bob Baffert saddles the winner of a Gr. 1 sophomore stakes race? Didn’t think so. Love the way this guy gobbles up mounds of ground with huge, high-kneed action. He’s fast, athletic and has been drilled to perfection by possibly the greatest 3-year-old conditioner ever. Still, Uncle Chuck has only had 2 races and still could be a bit green—he doesn’t quite have lead changes down pat. No matter. He’s a runner and will provide #6 Tiz the Law with a stout challenge. The son of Uncle Mo broke maiden by 7 lengths first-out going a mile at Santa Anita and returned to triumph by 4 in the Gr. 3 Los Alamitos Derby at a mile and one-eighth over Thousand Words, who upset highly ranked Honor A.P. Saturday in the Shared Belief Stakes at Del Mar. Some pedigree analysts suggest that one mile and one-quarter might not be ‘Chuck’s ideal distance (dam’s side is speedy), but they’re not always correct. Look for ‘Chuck to use speed as a deadly weapon in here.
4. Max Player Rice/Rosario 6-1
Off from February until June, Max Player closed to finish third, beaten more than 5 lengths by #6 Tiz the Law in the Gr. 1 Belmont Stakes. Before that the son of Honor Code had won 2 of 3 races, including the Gr. 3 Withers at Aqueduct. He would appreciate some pace up front to compliment his closing style. A mile and one-quarter seems within his reach. Trainer Linda Rice has had Max Player training at Belmont for this and isn’t concerned at all about him handling the Spa surface because he’s shipped well twice before--to Parx and to Aqueduct. Rice also said that she expects jockey Joel Rosario to keep ‘Max closer to the early pace than they were in the Belmont.
5. Shivaree Nicks/J. Alvarado 30-1
With 12 lifetime starts, this son of Awesome of Course is the most experienced runner in the field. He’s got 3 wins, all in a row at Gulfstream Park, capped by the ungraded Limehouse at 6 furlongs in January. Last out, he showed speed and faded going one mile and one-eighth in the Gr. 2 Blue Grass at Keeneland. Shivaree did manage to finish second to Tiz the Law at 80-1 in the Gr. 1 Florida Derby. He’s got some speed and should be part of the early pace. It’s doubtful, though, that he’ll be able to hang around at the finish this time.
6. Tiz the Law Tagg/Franco Even
This son of Constitution is the number one ranked player in the 3-year-old ranks and is the current favorite to win the delayed 2020 Kentucky Derby. He’s won 5 of 6 starts, including 3 out of 3 this year and has 3 Grade 1 victories on his resume. He prefers to settle on the outside, just off the early pace and to attack leaders with a decisive crushing blow off the turn. He’s trained well for this race and, in fact, has developed a great deal since breaking maiden here at the Spa almost exactly a year ago. If there is any knock on him it could be that he really hasn’t been tested yet. That could mean one of two things: That he’s so good that no one can approach him in the stretch or that he hasn’t faced a really talented foe. Silver Prospector got the better of Tiz the Law in the Gr. 2 Kentucky Jockey Club by a mere three-quarters of a length and Finnick the Fierce split those two to be second by a head, but Tiz the Law had some trouble in the race. This colt has been managed expertly and done little wrong in his career. He’s even money to win and, from this vantage point, only #3 Uncle Chuck can possibly defeat him in the Travers.
7. Caracaro G. Delgado/J. Castellano 10-1
Just 3 starts under this one’s belt—a maiden win and a runner-up effort at Gulfstream Park, followed by a neck loss to #2 Country Grammer in the Gr. 3 Peter Pan going one mile and one-eighth at the Spa—suggest that there may be more improvement in this guy. He’ll need it. This is a huge step up in competition for him. The good news is that he’s fit and hasn’t ever finished worse than second. He’s got a bit of speed, so he should be up near the early pace, in the clear on the outside. The question remains: How good is he?
8. South Bend Mott/J. Ortiz 15-1
This son of Algorithms came out running to begin his career and won 3 consecutive races, including the ungraded Street Sense at Churchill. Since September, he’s started at least once each month except in December, April and July. He’s been close in a few stakes races—third in Dania Beach at GP; third in the Gr. 3 Palm Beach, second in the ungraded Cutler Bay at Gulfstream and second in the Gr. 3 Ohio Derby—but hasn’t been able to finish fast enough to win in his last 8 starts. He comes from well back and would appreciate a hot early pace to aid his cause. Trainer Mott and jockey Jose Ortiz always command respect. Another in-the-money finish seems likely.
Bottom Line: #6 Tiz the Law will take some beating, that’s for sure. #3 Uncle Chuck will go to the front and attempt to take this field wire-to-wire. He just might do it, too.
Saratoga Race 9—The Waya—Grade 3
There’s not much separating these mares from one another so late Pick 4 players will need to make some difficult decisions.
1. Mrs. Sippy faced some tough competition last season and mostly ran well. She’s been away since the BC Filly & Mare. Outstanding trainer Graham Motion currently is in an 0-11 Spa slump. This 5-yearold mare may need an outing before attempting to return her best form which may have been in ’18 as a 3-year-old.
2. Beau Belle seems to be the only speed in a paceless marathon. That’s reason enough to keep her in the mix. She also has 2 wins in 3 tries at Saratoga and both were over ‘yielding’ turf. Don’t expect ‘yielding’ conditions Saturday but, as a result of recent storms, there should be some give in the ground she might enjoy. Use her on the pace at a price.
4. My Sister Nat is that rare Chad Brown-trained European import that hasn’t blossomed in the US. The 5-year-old is winless in 5 stateside races. She has been close, second twice, and Jose Ortiz has gotten to know her, so a win may be just around the corner. Also, her Beyer Speed Figures have improved with each start, always a good sign.
5. Olympic Games has a pair of seconds in two recent starts. Her jockey and trainer are hot—Irad Ortiz and Christophe Clement—and they are successful together 21% in over 500 races, according to Thoro-Graph stats. She’s a still developing 4-year-old with 3 wins in 8 starts. Lots to like. She also should race from just off the pace, closer than some of the other contenders. Last out, she finished one and one-half lengths in front of #2 Beau Belle in the River Memories at Belmont July 12. She’ll be on our tickets.
7. Fool’s Gold is the Gr. 3 Waya defending champ and hails from the Chad Brown stable. She had a prep race for this last out and a return to last summer’s form makes her a factor in here. Also note that when she won this race last year, she stalked a pacesetter in second, opened up and just held on. A similar trip would work nicely in here.
Saratoga Race 10—The Test
The main handicapping question in here is obvious: Can Gamine repeat her incredible performance in the Acorn last out? By anyone’s ciphering the race was off the charts. Sometimes that’s not the best scenario for a 3-year-old filly. They are much more likely to react to huge efforts than colts are. Still, the sight of her romping home by more than 15 lengths through the Belmont stretch is difficult to ignore.
2. Perfect Alibi would need to run much faster than ever before to win this race and that’s unlikely. She was beaten 31 lengths by #5 Gamine last out. Still, note that she is 2 for 2 at Saratoga—Grade 1 and Grade 2 stakes victories.
5. Gamine is the most obvious winner on the card. She exploded to win by more than 15 lengths last out in fast time. She’s got speed, is unbeaten and is trained by Bob Baffert and ridden by Hall of Fame jockey and Saratoga stalwart John Velazquez. What’s not to like? The only knock against her could be that she ran way too fast in her last race and that that performance may set her back physically. Her subsequent works have been solid, so there’s no clue there. Pick 4 players must consider that if she and Tiz the Law win, the sequence will not pay very much.
6. Venetian Harbor has speed and attempts to get her to carry that swiftness over more ground have not been completely successful. She shortens up in here, is drawn outside #5 Gamine and could pressure her a bit in the early going. She’s been favored in all 5 of her previous races—that streak ends Saturday. How much heat can she apply to #5 Gamine early? Will that matter? And if #5 Gamine does crack, will Venetian Harbor have enough left in the tank to carry on or will some other filly close to win the race? This game’s never easy…or, is it?
Saratoga Race 11—The Travers—Grade 1
See analysis above.
Saratoga Race 12—Maiden Special Weight—Fillies and Mares, Foaled in New York
Close out the late Pick 4 with this grab-bag sprint for state-bred maiden fillies and mares. There are a few ways to go in here and no single place to hang your hat.
2. Monificent didn’t fire first out in a turf race and returned to split the field in a dirt try at 30-1. So, why does trainer Bruce Levine employ the services of Jose Ortiz? They do well together-- 21% over 240 mounts--according to Thoro-Graph stats. The filly did show a bit of speed from the rail last out and returns in just two weeks. A reach, but interesting.
3. Blitchton Lady is the only 4-year-old in the field. She closed well last out over a sloppy track at 27-1. Her figure fits, but was it the slop that moved her up?
5. Misty Taste makes her first start for trainer Kelly Breen. She formerly raced poorly twice at Monmouth for Jason Servis. Irad Ortiz will ride and Breen combines with the top jock at a 15% clip from 48 mounts. She has two Spa bullets in her workout holster for this—both half mile breezes.
6. Sweat Sneak has done little in three starts and would be an easy toss. However, those starts came against ‘open’ maiden company at Ellis Park, Kentucky Downs and Keeneland. Two of those races were on turf. What’s also interesting is that her Beyer Speed Figures have improved with each start. She’s been working at Churchill and has one good five furlong move in :59 4/5. She’s a wild card and should be a decent price off her form.
7. Tiny Magoo has raced for a state-bred $40k maiden tag twice, failing last out at even money. Her first out fits well in her figure-wise and she had trouble in her last. In a wide-open race she can be used.
9. Bankers Beast split the field in July at this level on turf. Trainer Mike Stidham is an excellent 21% second time out with this kind, according to Thoro-Graph. He’s also just 5% at Saratoga from 39 starters.
Bottom Line: This Pick 4 is tricky because it really hinges on how you feel about two strong favorites: #5 Gamine in the Test and #6 Tiz the Law in the Travers. If you like both of them to win, you probably shouldn’t play this Pick 4.
On the other hand, if you sense weakness in one or both of those favorites, you could end up making decent money without spending a lot—especially, if you go against both heavy favorites and they both lose. That’s unlikely, but not unprecedented.
Here’s a ticket that takes a stand against both heavy favorites--just in case the racing gods are in a silly Saturday mood. We’re looking for Gamine to react off her powerful last race and for Uncle Chuck to survive over Tiz the Law.
Suggested Saratoga $.50 Late Pick 4 ($45 total)
2, 5, 7
1, 2, 3, 4, 6
2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 9
Take care of each other. Race On!