Rail Runner

The Observations of a Horse Racing Enthusiast

144th Travers a Star-Studded Event

Posted by Brian Appleton on August 22, 2013

2013 Travers Stakes The 144th Travers Stakes presents a unique case for the die-hard racing fan this year: it is impossibly easy to promote. For those of us that spend the better part of our 365 days a year checking the Blood Horse, Daily Racing Form, and social media sites on a daily basis for news on our beloved hooved heroes, only to struggle when it comes time to explain just how amazing a race like the Travers Stakes, Alabama, Haskell or Jim Dandy Stakes are to the “fair weather fans” who have just a vague recollection of the Kentucky Derby winner, sometimes the Preakness winner and almost never the Belmont winner, the 2013 Travers Stakes is a dream come true.

The 2013 Travers features Palace Malice, Orb and Verrazano all in the same race. Now that they’re all entered in the same race, the trouble is trying to decide on a favorite, or better yet, separating the favorites and choosing just one to win. I for one am solidly behind Palace Malice yet again. Since winning the Belmont Stakes on June 8th this son of Curlin has done everything right, even going on to capture the Jim Dandy Stakes last month in the 2nd fastest running since the race was shortened to its current 1 1/8 mile distance in 1972. Trainer Todd Pletcher can’t seem to find enough praise for the bay colt these days and has been very pleased with the way he has trained since the Jim Dandy. The fact that Palace Malice comes off two straight graded stakes wins in two of the biggest 3-year-old races in the nation, is 2-for-2 at Saratoga and seems to still be improving makes him the horse to beat in my eyes. Plus the Jim Dandy has proven to be the most effective prep race for the Travers Stakes, especially in recent years.

It’s no secret that Todd Pletcher’s stable is loaded with incredible talent this year and the fact that he has both Palace Malice and Verrazano in the same year in the same race is incredible. Verrazano has only one defeat to his name, a 14th place finish in the 1 ¼ mile Kentucky Derby when he received a gash above his knee leaving the gate and then failed to mount any sort of challenge. Since beginning his career in January at Gulfstream Park, he has won his 6 races by a combined 46 ¾ lengths while racking up two Grade 1 wins, as well as a Grade 2 and a Grade 3 victory. A lot of people have expressed concern about his ability to get the distance because of his pedigree, but I firmly believe a good horse can overcome their pedigree, and Verrazano is a good horse. I just don’t think he’s as good as Palace Malice right now.

Orb has been away from the races ever since finishing third behind Palace Malice and Oxbow in the Belmont Stakes, resting up at Fair Hill before returning to the work tab in early July. After rattling off 5 straight wins earlier in the year, culminating in a Kentucky Derby romp before finishing a disappointing 4th in the Preakness Stakes we were practically ready to hand him the 3-year-old Male Championship. That has all changed now, the Kentucky Derby winner is now the underdog. That alone says a lot for how loaded the field is in the Travers. Of all the contestants lining up to take a run at Saratoga’s premier race for sophomore colts, Orb has posted the best workouts hands down. Three straight bullet works, each as impressive as the last makes me think Orb and trainer Shug McGaughey are out to prove something. If I’m being honest I’d have to say that Orb scares me more than Verrazano right now and I think he’s going to present the biggest challenge to Palace Malice.

The “Big Three” might be the ones stealing all the headlines and probably make up for about 90% of bettors selections in the Travers, but one of them winning is by no means a done deal. Will Take Charge, Moreno, War Dancer, Ramansh, Transparent and Golden Soul make up the remainder of the field and at least four of them seem capable of springing an upset. Will Take Charge seems most likely to benefit from the added distance of the 1 ¼ mile Travers while Moreno seems like the one that could most be negatively affected by the added distance. Will Take Charge ran a great race to earn second in the Jim Dandy, rallying from far back to miss catching Palace Malice by one length. He had a terrible run in the Triple Crown, but seems to have turned things around after his promising run in the Jim Dandy.

Moreno won the Dwyer Stakes impressively before finishing a tiring third as the initial pacesetting in the Jim Dandy and despite trainer Eric Guillot’s comments regarding the colts ability to win the Travers I doubt he can carry his speed over the 1 ¼ mile distance. If he couldn’t keep up at 1 1/8 miles I don’t think he’s going to stop Palace Malice, Orb, Verrazano or even Will Take Charge at 1 ¼ miles.

War Dancer seems to be the most logical longshot pick after Will Take Charge, but I think Palace Malice, Orb and Verrazano are still at the head of this class. There’s nothing we racing fans love more than a showdown of our top athletes and with three of the nation’s very best in the same starting gate on Saturday it promises to be just that. The 2013 Travers Stakes is going to be an amazing race and I’m going with Palace Malice all the way. It’s not Saturday yet, but with only three days left before the 144th running of the “Midsummers Derby” at beautiful old Saratoga, this dream lineup of champion-caliber colts is about as close to happening as you can get.


12 Responses to “144th Travers a Star-Studded Event”

  1. Jane J. said

    I love the way you write Brian, this was a great post. I love all the “big three”, but I’m partial to Orb because of his beautiful Kentucky Derby win and Shug. It’s going to be a great race, if Orb fails I hope Palace Malice can win!

    • Hi Jane, thank you very much, it’s always great to hear my writing is appreciated 🙂
      I love Orb and really thought he had a great shot at winning the Preakness and Belmont this year and I’m definitely thinking he’s the biggest threat to Palace Malice and Verrazano in the Travers. His works have been phenomenal lately. He might have just been worn out after the Derby from so many big efforts earlier in the year so the rest at Fair Hill probably did him a world of good. If he’s back to the Orb we all know from the Derby he’s going to be really dangerous. Of course though I’m rooting for Palace Malice!

  2. Nate Smith said

    I’m so stoked for this Travers Stakes, it’s already one of the best lineups in history if you ask me and like you said I’m having lots of trouble separating the top three. My gut says to go with Palace Malice, but Verrazano and Orb look so good right now too.

    • So am I Nate, and I agree, it is a terrific lineup of colts! Whenever the best of a generation are able to make it into the same race at peak condition it gets my blood pumping with excitement. It’s a shame Oxbow couldn’t be in the Travers, but I still think we’re getting an embarrassment of riches on Saturday. I’m right with you on Palace Malice!

  3. Arthur Mason said

    As always Brian I love the way your wrote this post. Everyone has their own take on the Travers this year, but I love the way you profiled the top three and stick to Palace Malice so loyally. By the way, I share your point of view, Palace Malice looks strong and fast right now and I fully expect to see him win his third in a row Saturday.

    • Hi Arthur, nice to see you again and thank you again for the kind words! I’m glad to see Palace Malice has so much support, he’s turning into such a fine racehorse with a big fan base.

  4. Carter Bell said

    I think I’m going with Verrazano here, he’s looked so impressive in all his wins this year.

    • Visually Verrazano is easily the most impressive bunch in the Travers field, that’s for sure. I’m not convinced this is the best distance for him though, I definitely wouldn’t be surprised to see him win though, but I’m rooting for Palace Malice all the way. I think Verrazano will definitely have to run a faster race than his recent wins to win the Travers.

  5. Brian,
    Great synopsis…you make a great point about Palace Malice. Loves Saratoga and, as the Belmont winner, will definitely appreciate the 1 1/4 miles which is a question for Verrazano. If they get caught up in a match race, Orb will definitely make his presence felt. I recall that Palace Malice’s sire, Curlin, matured into an unbeatable HOY at this time of year. The same may be true for his son off that huge Jim Dandy win. Verrazano’s last two wins come with an asterisk…his main competition in both races (Itsmyluckyday and Oxbow) got injured during the running which inflated the winning margin. Verrazano may be the equine Yasiel Puig and the Derby may have been a hiccup, but he really didn’t beat much in his wins. The only time he ran in a legit G1 (Derby), he got outrun and shuffled. He may be the second coming of Secretariat with his Derby being Secretariat’s disappointing Wood Memorial, but he’s gonna have to beat a legit colt in Palace Malice to justify that comparison. Orb has won big races this year. IMO, it’s because he’s good enough to take advantage of a favorable race shape or track condition. The first two make their own luck. Orb is running for a minor award in the Travers.

    • Thanks Rob,
      That’s my fear with Palace Malice and Verrazano having the same running styles is that Orb could benefit from a speed duel up front and beat them both. Yes, Curlin was turning into a monster this time of year, even more so than when he claimed the Preakness Stakes so if Palace Malice follows the same pattern then we haven’t yet seen his best. The thing with Verrazano is that he’s very visually impressive, but his final times aren’t and his neither is the vast majority of his competition, aside from Itsmyluckyday and Oxbow who were both injured as you pointed out. He’s really a wild card for me with the distance and tougher competition, now’s his time to step up and prove he can lead the division if he really is as good as many think he is.
      I think Palace Malice has the most upside and I hope he runs big Saturday.

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