Saratoga is well known for being the graveyard of champions, but the Grim Reaper is going to have to put in overtime to take down Essential Quality in the Travers Stakes this Saturday.

Travers Stakes Horse Racing Odds

This year the Travers, the Midsummer Derby, the centerpiece of the whole Saratoga meet, is dominated by one horse, the big grey son of Tapit who is already accepted as the best three-year-old colt in the US, who stands at this moment head and shoulders above the opposition in what is certainly not the most glittering renewal of this grand old race. It’s an ordinary Travers with an extraordinary favorite; can anything stop Essential Quality?

To begin with, he’s the only Grade 1 winner in the field, with three top-level victories to his name in the Belmont Stakes, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and the Breeders’ Futurity. Last year’s champion juvenile has followed through on his promise, with his only defeat in eight races coming in the Kentucky Derby, when he was hung out wide for much of the way before rallying to be a never-nearer fourth behind Medina Spirit.

He fixed that in the Belmont when putting away the high-class Hot Rod Charlie – winner of the Haskell before being disqualified – in a stirring display of power and stamina. His most recent outing, in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy, was no more than a stepping-stone between two major objectives, and although Essential Quality was visually less impressive in victory again coming almost wide enough on the home turn to find himself in the cheap seats there were still three solid things to take from the race: he has the speed to go with his stamina, he has the stomach for a battle, and he handles the main track at Saratoga.

“Every time I watch the Jim Dandy it gets more impressive,” trainer Brad Cox told the Blood-Horse. “It was an incredible performance and Luis [Saez] thought there was still more left.”

There are very few boxes – possibly none – that remain unticked for the Godolphin-owned colt. He can be expected to step up from the Jim Dandy, the Travers trip seems ideal, and he is tactically flexible enough that Luis Saez will be happy to let him track whatever pace there is before going on at the top of the stretch to put the race to bed.

Midnight Bourbon may well bring that pace from his inside post, but the problem here is that Midnight Bourbon (9-2) is not a career winner. He is two-for-ten lifetime, was runner-up in the Preakness, sixth in the Kentucky Derby, third in the Champagne Stakes, and would have been third in the Haskell but for clipping heels and crashing to the dirt in mid-stretch. He is a fair bet to hit the board, but the fact that he is second-favorite on the morning line says more about the depth of the Travers field than it does for his own depth.

Keepmeinmind, who would be a very sentimental winner given the recent death of his principal owner B Wayne Hughes, pushed Essential Quality all the way in the Jim Dandy, closing to within half a length at the wire. It looked strong, but Keepmeinmind (6-1) is another serial non-winner – one-for-ten lifetime – and has raced against Essential Quality five times without ever finishing in front of him.

Why should it be any different now? Jim Dandy third Masqueparade (8-1) previously had Keepmeinmind back in the third place when winning the Grade 3 Ohio Derby by half a length from King Fury (15-1), and there is both little between this trio and little to suggest that one of them can suddenly make the improvement required to begin making it pay at Grade 1 level.

The two who do have that potential are Dynamic One and Miles D, the exacta from the Listed Curlin Stakes here last month, when Dynamic One had the call by a length and three-quarters, with the pair seven lengths clear.

Dynamic One (6-1) has a pedigree that suggests he should thrive at this trip and in this class, but doing is believing and he hasn’t done it yet, although there is the suspicion that one day he might. Miles D (12-1) hasn’t done much of anything yet, making his graded-stakes debut with only three starts to his name, and to win a Travers off such a short and unfancy resume would be a huge shock, yet he has scope for improvement and is no throwout.

All of which makes the 4-5 morning-line odds about Essential Quality look positively generous, and he will probably go off at a much skinnier price. He is by some way the best horse in the race, and barring bad racing luck should prove it with ease. Midnight Bourbon and Dynamic One look at the likely names for those playing exotics. Prediction Essential Quality (Dynamic One to show)

HorseJockeyHorse Racing Odds courtesy of Jazzsports
MIDNIGHT BOURBONRicardo Santana. Jr+450
KEEPMEINMINDJoel Rosario+600
DYNAMIC ONE Irad Ortiz. Jr+600
MILES DFlavien Prat +1200
KING FURYJose L. Ortiz+1500
Prediction Essential Quality

Forego Stakes Horse Racing Odds

The collateral form lines in the Forego make a convoluted, sticky web of information that will trap the unwary bettor, with the perfect example being the result of the Grade 1 Alfred G Vanderbilt over six furlongs here at the Graveyard of Champions a month ago.

Lexitonian was the upset 34-1 winner, chalking up his first success at this level, which might suggest that there was a fluke about the result. Nevertheless, behind him, that day was last year’s champion sprinter Whitmore (third, length-and-three-quarters), Firenze Fire (fifth), and Mischievous Alex (eighth).

On that occasion, Lexitonian (9-2) was getting 5lb and upward from that trio, and now meets them on hugely disadvantageous terms, and his general inconsistency indicates that perhaps his lightning won’t strike twice. Firenze Fire (6-1) has been beaten in his last seven starts at Saratoga – he is much better at Belmont Park – so is easy to overlook.

Whitmore (4-1) is the old man of the party at eight; he won the Forego three years ago but has been finding one or two too quick for him this year and that seems likely to happen again, especially in a field of this depth.

Mischevious Alex (6-1) had been on the upward trend before that Vanderbilt shellacking, stretching out to be third in the Grade 1 Met Mile after thrashing Mind Control in the Grade 1 Carter at this distance at Aqueduct. He should be happy over these seven furlongs, although he has been well beaten on both his starts at the Graveyard of Champions, which strikes a note of caution.

On Carter running Mind Control (7-2) doesn’t have an earthly, but things have changed for the five-year-old since that run. He moved barns to Todd Pletcher’s empire before his most recent outing and showed that the change had done him good when pipping Firenze Fire by a head in the seven-furlong Grade 2 John Nerud at Belmont in July, ending an eight-race losing sequence.

Horses have their preferences just as much as humans, and if the switch to Pletcher has rekindled the flame in Mind Control – a flame that has already brought him two Grade 1 win over this track and trip – then he could easily be the answer to a puzzle that may not be best solved by wading through those intricacies of collateral form.

The only one without integrated form is Yaupon (5-2), the morning-line favorite based surely on promise rather than proof. His comfortable victory in a black-type contest at Pimlico in July doesn’t match up with his hard-knocking rivals, but he is two-for-two at Saratoga and can’t be left out of calculations.

HorseJockeyHorse Racing Odds Courtesy of Jazzsports
WHITMOREJoel Rosario+400
LEXITONIANJose Lezcano+450
MIND CONTROLJohn R. Velazquez+350
CHANCE IT Tyler Gaffalione +2000
YAUPON Ricardo Santana. Jr+250
FIRENZE FIREJose L. Ortiz+600
Prediction Mind Control

H Allen Jerkens Memorial Stakes Horse Racing Odds

The younger set’s version of the Forego brings Saratoga specialist Jackie’s Warrior back into the fray, bidding to go four-for-four at the Spa after a breathtaking victory over a sloppy, sealed track in the Grade 2 Amsterdam here four weeks ago.

The Steve Asmussen-trained colt has never run a bad race – the only time he has been off the board in his life was when fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, beaten by some horse called Essential Quality – and ran a brilliant one in the Amsterdam, leading just about every step of the way and drawing off in the stretch to beat Drain The Clock by seven and a quarter lengths.

That was sweet revenge for defeat on his previous start when Drain The Clock (6-1) had his measure by a neck in the Grade 1 Woody Stephens at Belmont Park in June after Jackie’s Warrior had again set out to wire the field. There is little doubt that Jackie’s Warrior will again be on the pace, but this time he’ll have company.

Enter stage right Life Is Good, who has been in front at every call of his three-race career and returns with a new trainer – Todd Pletcher now, Bob Baffert before – after nearly six months off the track. He won by nine and a half lengths on his debut at Del Mar, by three-quarters of a length from no less a rival than Medina Spirit in the Grade 3 Sham at Santa Anita, and then blitzed the future Kentucky Derby winner by eight lengths in the Grade 2 San Felipe.

There is no argument with any of that form, or with Life Is Good’s still untapped potential.

The only query is over who will come out on top in the pace duel with Jackie’s Warrior (Even-money), especially as Life Is Good (8-5) can’t be as sharp after all that time in the waiting room and drops back below a mile for the first time since his debut. Yet if Life Is Good is as good as he appears, it may not matter.

In a race that seems a match between two trailblazers – two of the other three contenders are making their graded-stakes debut, and Following Sea (5-1) would have been fourth in the Haskell, beaten a million miles, but for a faller and a disqualified winner – there is always the possibility that they will cut each other’s throats and set the race up for a closer. That could happen. Something about these two speedballs says it won’t. Prediction Life Is Good

HorseJockeyHorse Racing Odds courtesy of Jazzsports
DRAIN THE CLOCKIrad Ortiz. Jr+600
JACKIE’S WARRIOR Joel Rosario+100
NEWBOMBJose L. Ortiz +3000
FOLLOWING SEAJohn R. Velazquez +500
JUDGE N JURYLuis Saez +1500
LIFE IS GOOD Mike E. Smith +160
Prediction Life Is Good

Ballston Spa Stakes Odds

Finding the winner of the Ballston Spa is largely a matter of sifting through trainer Chad Brown’s three-strong entry, but that doesn’t make the task a whole lot easier.

Brown’s trio started life in three different countries – France, Ireland, and Germany – but all have adapted to life Stateside, although Kalifornia Queen (2-1), a Group 2 winner in her native Germany, has so far come up short in Graded company but is going the right way as speed is given emphasis over stamina.

She won an allowance optional claimer at Belmont Park over this mile-sixteenth, but that doesn’t stack up against her stablemates, who have Grade 1 form to their names. They met in the Grade 1 Matriarch at Del Mar in November, in which Viadera closed late and fast to get up and win by a nose with Tamahere – a warm favorite – a never-in-it sixth. Next time out Tamahere (7-2) was a closing second in the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley at

Keeneland, but she has been below that level in two starts since and her Del Mar conqueror can come out on top again in the battle for bragging rights at Brown’s barn.

Viadera (8-5) reappeared after an eight-month break since the Matriarch in a Listed race here over a mile three weeks ago, in which she was restrained early, found trouble at the three-sixteenth pole, and was switched to the outside to come home for fourth without having too tough a race. In hindsight, it was the ideal reintroduction with bigger things ahead, and it should have put her spot-on to show her best here.

High Opinion (8-1) makes her graded-stakes debut; Platinum Paynter (10-1) has never won outside claimer/allowance grade; New York Girl (6-1) showed promise when runner-up in a blanket finish to the Grade 2 Distaff Turf Mile at Churchill Downs, but hasn’t run to that form in two starts since. A Chad Brown trifecta? Prediction Viadera

HorseJockeyHorse Racing Odds courtesy of Jazzsports
TAMAHEREIrad Ortiz. Jr+350
VIADERAJoel Rosario +160
NEW YORK GIRLJohn R. Velazquez+600
KALIFORNIA QUEEN Flavien Prat +200
Prediction Viadera

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