What The Travers Means To Me
By Dustin Haluska
One thing people know about me is that I love Saratoga, and another is that I am crazy about Penn State football. There is a day that forever sticks in my mind that links both.
Rewind back to 1999, I was one year removed from high school and a student at Penn State. The Nittany Lions kicked off the season that day as the No. 3 ranked team and oddly enough hosted No. 4 Arizona.
Meanwhile, at my other favorite place, it was Travers Day.
Now this was a little before the days where I could watch the races on my phone, and I even had to phone my bet into a wagering clerk. Back then, I dabbled at handicapping and probably thought I know a lot more than I did. I had a whole three years under my belt of following horse racing.
I hit the Belmont Stakes that year with Lemon Drop Kid and my $20 win bet returned several hundred dollars. Also a huge score for me back in the day. So needless to say without looking at past performances, I went with what I knew that day and played a $5 exacta box with Lemon Drop Kid and Belmont runner-up Vision and Verse. The fact that Lemon Drop Kid didn’t fire in his prep race in the Jim Dandy over the slop, gave him fair value.
It happened to be a Belmont rerun in the Travers as Lemon Drop Kid outkicked Vision and Verse to the wire, returning $96 for a $2 exacta. Again, I won close to $240 on the race, so I was on top of the world. I was also loving life because Penn State crushed Arizona by about five touchdowns that day.
As I have grown up over the years and continued to pick up handicapping knowledge, I often think about why and how I got to some of the horses that I did when I was relatively inexperienced at following horse racing. I can admit that I probably went with Lemon Drop Kid on Travers Day in 1999 simply because he was good to me in the Belmont Stakes when defeating Charismatic, who was attempting to win the Triple Crown.
Fast forward to today, however, I would have still backed Lemon Drop Kid based on some simple ideologies that I have.
The Travers is considered the mid-summer derby for a variety of reasons, but I have found it to have some tendencies over the years. For example, horses that have run well in the Belmont Stakes at a mile-and-a-half have come back to fire big shots in the Travers. It’s a list that includes the likes of Point Given, Birdstone, Summer Bird and Ten Most Wanted.For Birdstone and Summer Bird, the Belmont Stakes was their first landmark victory as 3-year-olds in a stake race. Neither made much noise during their winter or spring campaigns.
Two things I believe hit these horses between the eyes was the fact that they wanted extra ground, and they were maturing as 3-year-olds.Many horses peak during their Kentucky Derby campaigns and never really get better after that. Others like the highly-regarded Point Given simply get beat by the Kentucky Derby and still prevail throughout the rest of the year as top of their class.
As far as distance, I often think a mile-and-a-quarter at Saratoga can feel like the Belmont Stakes distances to some horses, and I find it typically true with the grueling nature of the two-turn dirt races at the Spa. Just ask Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, who suffered his lone defeat of his banner 3-year-old season in the Travers last year. Pace pressure did him beat in that race, but maybe if the race were at anywhere but Saratoga, he would have found a way to win.
So let’s talk about today’s Travers and how it relates to the history of this race. I’m sorry, but I cannot link today’s race to Penn State football.
Arrogate, American Freedom and Connect fit the category of horses getting good or at least catching up to the figures of the ones that have been successful during the first half of the year. Creator, Destin, and Governor Malibu proved in the Belmont Stakes that they could handle the distance. So that slashes the field in half, and I do not mention Exaggerator simply because he should be overbet and I feel as if he has received perfect setups in all of his victories. I am going to try American Freedom in here because I feel like he ran huge in the Haskell despite taking all the heat on the pace. He put Kentucky Derby winner, Nyquist, away and ran on. Possibly with the subtraction of blinkers, he will have the option to relax if today’s pace gets hot. I do think the other horses that fit my particular Travers formula should all be considered as well.
Happy Travers Day!