It’s the big day of the year at Saratoga, with five G1s and a solitary G2 lighting up the sky on Saturday. for the 2022 Travers Stakes Tthe stars are out – Epicenter, Zandon, Cyberknife and Clairiere, Malathaat, Letruska (Personal Ensign), Jack Christopher (H Allen Jerkens Memorial) and the mighty track specialist Jackie’s Warrior (Forego) among several other big names – for what will be a magnificent afternoon of sport.
2022 Travers Stakes
Grade 1, $1,250,000, 1m 2f, 3yo
The biggest race of the whole Saratoga meet is the 2022 Travers Stakes, the Midsummer Derby, and this year’s contest is deeply stacked with candidates for end-of-year championship honours, although the morning-line favorite is a horse who hasn’t yet managed to get it together at the highest level.
It’s a peculiar quirk that Epicenter (7-5) has yet to win a G1 given his abundant class, although that isn’t to say he hasn’t been close. He had the Kentucky Derby in his grasp before it was snatched away close home, and a bad break and a mediocre ride snuffed out his chance in the Preakness – runner-up again.
On the other side of the ledger, he has been an impressive winner of the G2 Risen Star and G2 Louisiana Derby, and stamped himself as the de facto sophomore leader when coming from last to first to win the G2 Jim Dandy here over a mile-eighth last month. He has more than enough class to win a Travers and has already finished ahead of all his main rivals. Yet that G1 hex hangs over him still.
Jim Dandy runner-up Zandon (5-1) was beaten a length and a half, twice as far as he finished behind Epicenter when third in the Kentucky Derby, and the return to a longer distance is certain to benefit him. Stamina has always been his long suit, as he demonstrated when winning the G1 Blue Grass at Keeneland with a powerful and sustained stretch run that carried him from last place to two and a half lengths clear at the line.
The Travers has long seemed ‘Zandon’s race’ and he is preferred to his barnmates Early Voting (8-1) and Artorius (9-2). Early Voting showed plenty of pace when running off with the Preakness, but ran flat when last of four in the Jim Dandy and may not be suited by the Saratoga surface or by the extra yardage today.
Artorius is today’s dark horse, a wise-guy horse, full of precocious promise after just three starts, the most recent of which saw him run the opposition out of town in a mile-eighth stakes here, beating the rallying Gilded Age (30-1) by four and three-quarter lengths. The distance is an unknown and so is his class, and he’ll have to move up a mile against horses with proven top-level form, and on these metrics his odds are shorter than they should be.
The only runner with two G1 wins to his name is Cyberknife (7-2), who got them in a weak renewal of the Arkansas Derby and last time out in the mile-eighth Haskell at Monmouth Park, when he finished well up the rail to pip Taiba by a head, with the non-staying Jack Christopher in third. He makes plenty of appeal as a horse who still has more in store than he has shown, but he will nevertheless need a career-best to take this.
There’s a big chance Rich Strike (10-1) has already posted his best and he may not get near that level again. He was the longshot of the whole field in the Kentucky Derby and made the most of the colossal pace meltdown to come through late for an upset, and didn’t seem like the same horse when sixth, never a factor, in the Belmont Stakes last time. It’s distinctly possible that the Derby was a fluke and, although he is probably better than he showed at Belmont Park, he’s hard to like today. One positive is post two; perhaps he’ll get another crazy rail run.
Ain’t Life Grand (20-1) has been doing well at Prairie Meadows, winning two stakes there, but makes his debut at Graded level today and is likely to be outclassed.
|TRAVERS STAKES ODDS BY JAZZSPORTS
|Ain’t Life Grand
|Irad Ortiz, Jr
|Jose L. Ortiz
2022 Travers Stakes Betting Pick
This is a barnburner, as you’d expect. Epicenter and Cyberknife are big threats but ZANDON will relish the distance and can register his second G1 victory.
Personal Ensign Stakes
Grade 1, $600,000, 1m 1f, 4yo+ fillies/mares
The Personal Ensign, the highlight of the glittering Spa undercard, is basically a repeat of the G1 Ogden Phipps, with the four main players today coming on from that mile-sixteenth Belmont Park contest.
Back in June, Clairiere (6-5) outfought Malathaat (5-2) to win by a head, with Search Results (7-2) a valiant third – two and a quarter lengths back – and last year’s champion older distaffer Letruska (3-1) a very disappointing last of five, after she and Search Results had set up a speed duel that imploded and left the way clear for the closers to pick up the pieces.
Context is important here. Last year, Clairiere couldn’t beat Malathaat no matter how hard or how often she tried. Things have changed. After the Ogden Phipps, that pair came on to the G2 Shuvee over this course and distance and Clairiere outfinished her again, stretching the margin of superiority to a length and a half, with Crazy Beautiful (15-1) – who has yet to convince that she can handle G1 company – finding no extra in third, another length and three-quarters away.
Clairiere has clearly moved up, and perhaps Malathaat has lost her brilliant edge that won her an Eclipse Award last year. Whatever the cause, the balance has tipped and Clairiere now simply looks a better filly than her old rival.
Letruska won this race last year and looked as strong as ever until falling apart in the Ogden Phipps, and perhaps her magnificent brand of front-running is no longer going to cut it against the best around. Equally, every horse should be forgiven an out-of-character blowout, but Letruska really needs to get the fractions right today or she will again be vulnerable to her younger, late-closing rivals. Faith alone is not enough; she arguably needs a career-best
Search Results kept on surprisingly well after chasing Letruska hard in the Ogden Phipps, and her rate of progression was sustained next time out when she cleared away to win the mile-sixteenth G3 Molly Pitcher at Monmouth Park by three easy lengths. She is already a G1 winner, has never been off the board in her life, and won’t be far away if she can avoid a battle up front.
|PERSONAL ENSIGN ODDS BY JAZZSPORTS
|Jose L. Ortiz
|Julien R. Leparoux
|John R. Velazquez
Personal Ensign Betting Prediction
Last year’s winner Letruska is a grand mare but nothing lasts forever, and the much-improved CLAIRIERE looks capable of continuing her winning streak.
H Allen Jerkens Memorial Stakes
Grade 1, $500,000, 7f, 3yo
It’s back to Plan A for the fleet-footed Jack Christopher (6-5), cutting back in distance now after looking a doubtful stayer when third in the mile-sixteenth G1 Haskell at Monmouth Park last time, giving up his unbeaten record in the process.
There was no disgrace in defeat at the hands of Cyberknife – and he still had four and a half lengths to spare over Howling Time (10-1) in fourth – but now Jack Christopher reverts to the distance over which he came home a romping ten-length winner of the G1 Woody Stephens at Belmont Park in June, and that performance gives him a clear class edge over these rivals.
Gunite (6-1), winner of the G1 Hopeful over course and distance last year, has returned with a vengeance from a short spell in the wilderness, and came out just the best in a thrilling stretch duel with Jack Christopher’s barnmate Accretive (9-2) in the G1 Amsterdam here over six and a half furlongs last month, winning by a head with longshot Runninsonofagun (30-1) four and a quarter lengths back in third. That was only Accretive’s second start, so improvement is certain and he is a worthy second-string to his vastly more accomplished barnmate.
Also cutting back in distance is Actuator (12-1), winner of the mile-sixteenth G3 Indiana Derby last month, but this demands a great deal more. That also applies to Colonial Downs stakes winner Conagher (7-2), who was on the pace throughout in that seven-furlong contest and could vie with Jack Christopher for the lead, although that might be a short-lived battle.
Failure in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness has left Happy Jack (15-1) seeking a new role, and his performances in allowance optional claimers since that defeat at Pimlico suggest that he won’t find it here, although he did rally gamely last time after being sandbagged at the start.
|ALLEN JERKENS ODDS BY JAZZSPORTS
|J R Velazquez
|J L Ortiz
|L Ortiz Jr
H. Allen Jerkens Memorial Betting Choice
Chad Brown has two major players but Accretive hasn’t yet shown the brilliance of JACK CHRISTOPHER, who can regain winning form down in distance.
Grade 1, $600,000, 7f, 4yo+
There are plenty of old favourites at Saratoga on Saturday but the heaviest favourite of the lot will be Jackie’s Warrior (1-2), who bids to create yet more history in the Forego on what could be a day to remember for trainer Steve Asmussen, who also has Epicenter in the Travers and Clairiere in the Personal Ensign.
The outstanding four-year-old is capably summed up by his statistics – 12-for-16 lifetime, five G1 wins, five-for-five at Saratoga and the only horse ever to win G1s at the Spa three years running. Last year’s champion sprinter is so far superior to this opposition on all metrics that it will be a huge shock if he doesn’t win with ease, as he has in all his four starts of 2022.
Last time he beat Kneedeepinsnow (15-1) by a dialed-right-down two lengths in the G1 Alfred G Vanderbilt here over six furlongs, and a repeat of that will get the job done. But there are exactas and trifectas to consider, and Bill Mott’s pair Baby Yoda (8-1) and Cody’s Wish (7-2) will be on plenty of lists for the place and show spots.
Baby Yoda is unbeaten in three at the Spa, but has never won a stakes and was walloped by Jackie’s Warrior in the G2 True North at Belmont Park in June. Cody’s Wish has never missed the board and is bidding for a three-timer after two wins at a mile, in the G3 Westchester at Belmont and a stakes at Churchill Downs.
He has his share of class but may not have the speed to cope down in distance, which also goes for Pipeline (8-1), runner-up in the G3 Monmouth Cup over a mile-sixteenth, while the old-timer Drafted (30-1) is in fair form with three wins from his last five starts but this isn’t the place for him.
|FOREGO STAKES ODDS BY JAZZSPORTS
|Jose L. Ortiz
|Luis A. Rodriguez Castro
|Three Two Zone
|Irad Ortiz, Jr.
|Ricardo Santana, Jr.
Forego Stakes Betting Prediction
It’s JACKIE’S WARRIOR for the win, simple as that. Exacta tickets should include Cody’s Wish and Kneedeepinsnow.
Ballston Spa Stakes
Grade 2, $400,000, 1m 1/16 turf, 4yo+ fillies/mares
Chad Brown – who could also have a stellar afternoon with Zandon and Artorius in the Travers and Jack Christopher in the Allen Jerkens – is bidding for his seventh win in the Ballston Spa and has 60 per cent of the field in his corner.
His trio are fairly evenly matched, with Technical Analysis (Even-money) probably the furthest forward after chasing home barnmate In Italian in the G1 Diana here over a mile-eighth, giving up her unbeaten record at the Spa despite running arguably a career-best. Last year she won twice here over a mile, beating barnmate Fluffy Socks (7-2) by a length and a quarter in the G3 Lake George and also taking the G2 Lake Placid, and this track clearly brings out the best in her.
It wasn’t certain if anything brought out the best in Brown’s third runner Lemista (3-1), until she rode a six-race losing streak into the mile-eighth G3 Matchmaker at Monmouth Park and snapped it with a half-length defeat of Fluffy Socks, whose consistency disguises a habit of not winning. With a confidence booster behind her, Lemista may move up from that.
Last year’s runner-up High Opinion (8-1) hasn’t been in the same form this year and along with Our Flash Drive (4-1), winner of a stakes here three weeks ago over a mile, may not have what it takes to turn back the Brown battalion.
|BALLSTON SPA STAKES ODDS BY JAZZSPORTS
|John R. Velazquez
|Our Flash Drive
|Irad Ortiz, Jr.
|Technical Analysis (IRE)
|Jose L. Ortiz
Ballston Spa Stakes Betting Pick
Lemista may maintain her forward progress but a safer choice is barnmate TECHNICAL ANALYSIS, twice a winner here and getting class relief today.
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