08/20/2012 10:57AM

Travers Thoughts


Saturday’s Travers at Saratoga doesn’t look nearly as sexy as it did the Monday morning after Paynter dominated the Haskell because, of course, Paynter won’t be running due to illness. And this Travers has a lot of work to do to match what transpired at Saratoga this past Saturday, which, thanks to Questing and Point of Entry, was one of those unforgettable days Saratoga has long been known for. But this is the Travers we are talking about, a truly great race that is still worthy of our time and attention.

Alpha will be the Travers favorite as he attempts to emulate stablemate Questing. Questing swept the meet’s two premier events for 3-year-old fillies – the CCA Oaks and Saturday’s Alabama – and Alpha is in position to sweep Saratoga’s two top races for 3-year-old males, at least races  going long, after he won the Jim Dandy earlier in the meet.

Alpha’s Jim Dandy score seems to be a polarizing one. There are those who downgrade it because he had an easy early lead through slow fractions on a sloppy track he is bred to adore, and all of that is true. But I really liked Alpha’s effort because he’s a closer at heart, and yet he showed the versatility to adapt to a situation that would have been compromising if he stuck with his most effective running style.

But the potential pace scenario in the Travers, in view of the probable field as of Monday morning, should be different than it was in the Jim Dandy. For one, the Travers has Hansen, and the Jim Dandy had no such speed horse. Now, I like Hansen as a race horse, but I don’t like him going the Travers distance of 10 furlongs, especially since he is 0 for 3 in races beyond a mile and a sixteenth. In fact, I think Hansen is in the wrong race Saturday. I think he should be in the seven furlong King’s Bishop, a race that is also well worth winning as it’s a Grade 1 worth $500,000. That Hansen isn’t in the King’s Bishop could be emblematic of his somewhat questionable handling, which many doubt trainer Mike Maker has much to do with.

Anyway, Hansen is the main speed in the Travers, and we might also see a little pace from Stealcase, since closing hasn’t worked for him lately and who did show positional speed in the Derby Trial, and perhaps Nonios, who made a nice middle move when second in the Haskell. The potential Travers pace can’t hurt, and might only help Alpha. But the good news for those who like alternatives to the chalk, it helps other horses, too.

This pace set up is good for a group in the Travers who I will still be leaning against, namely Street Life, Liaison, and Fast Falcon. Although he was second in the Dwyer two starts back, Fast Falcon just isn’t good enough. Liaison, a son of Indian Charlie, hit the board in the Affirmed, Swaps, and Jim Dandy in his last three starts, but I don’t back horses by Indian Charlie to stay 10 furlongs. Street Life has certainly improved since getting blinkers, and he does come off a win over the track in the Curlin Stakes, the local “B” prep for the Travers. But Street Life got a perfect set up in the Curlin, and he beat a horse in Five Sixteen who is still eligible to an entry-level allowance race.

The potential pace scenario also helps Neck ‘n Neck and Atigun, who are, for me, more dangerous Travers horses. Atigun’s sixth in the Jim Dandy is a complete throw out as he is a dead closer who was compromised by the pace, but he is certainly in the mix off his close, if surprising third in the Belmont Stakes two starts back.

Neck ‘n Neck is very intriguing. He was a game second in the Jim Dandy after a stalking trip that just wasn’t going to work under the circumstances, and was turned back only late after making a run at the unmolested Alpha. Neck ‘n Neck really came to hand in his prior two starts with big triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure romps, and he hails from an Ian Wilkes barn that won a major race earlier in the meet, the Whitney with Fort Larned.

Although it’s old news by this point, here are a couple of thoughts on what happened last Saturday:

Let me echo what everyone else has said, which is Questing was astonishing in the Alabama to win the way she did after setting a pace that fast. She was erratic again in the stretch, though not as bad as she was in the CCA Oaks, and it is frightening to think that she could actually even be better if she ever improved her focus in the stretch. But there is no need to mess with her. She is a monster.

Point of Entry is pure class. And after his show of authority in the Sword Dancer, he is, for me, and with all due respect to Acclamation, Wise Dan, and Arlington Million winner Little Mike, the best turf male in the country right now.

As for Little Mike, yes, of course, he stole the Arlington Million. But I can think of more than a few horses would have been incapable of capitalizing on setting as slow a pace as Little Mike did at Arlington, so he deserves his due.

Bill Kaup More than 1 year ago
It must not be easy having to write columns when horses expected to race in upcoming stakes races keep falling by the wayside. Don't give up. In a way it's good that Hansen is being retired. The way the owner kept meddling with the horse and his schedule it couldn't have ended well. Now, at least the horse will be remembered as one of the more brilliant members of his class. One who would have been a great miler.
Don Passidomo More than 1 year ago
Sorry to hear Hansen is injured, hope he can recover to run later this year, do believe a mile is his best race win potential, best of luck with this great guy Dr. H. Don
Susan Huart More than 1 year ago
I saw the Alabama and watching that crazy filly, Questing, serpentine down the home stretch was the best time I had watching a race since the Preakness. Her jockey Irad Ortiz was the perfect match as he had fallen off his mounts 2x in the 24 hours prior to the Alabama. What a freakin' wild ride!!! It was amazing. I think Johnny V was stunned as well, almost had to stay clear on In Lingerie, IMO. One drawback was the injury to Questing's sister and stablemate, Zo Impressive. She came in third, but sustained a condylar fracture doing so. Hope she is well.
Rick Marciniak More than 1 year ago
I wanted to see Hansen run his stuff at the Smarty Jones at Parx, but I don't blame the Hansen connections for running him at the Travers Stakes. He doesn't need the lead and it was mind boggling why Smith gunned Hansen to the lead in the WV Derby against a longshot who had no chance. He was able to sit off the pace in the Gotham and it worked. Hansen is my favorite horse and i think he wins this race. I hope Hansen runs at 4 and looking forward to a great race this Saturday.
MJP More than 1 year ago
Little Mike, IMO, is the best turf horse in the country. He has blazing early speed, when needed. On Saturday, he proved that he can relax and then kick it in. He ran the last quarter of the Million in 22.9 seconds. He seems to inspire fear in his competitors, inasmuch as if you decide to throw down with him, and force the pace, you will likely nuke yourself into the bargain.
Tim Race More than 1 year ago
This is like going to see a Yankees-Red Sox game and your watching two double A teams. Travers is 2nd rate this year and these writers are paid to create interest in the race.
Frank Martinez More than 1 year ago
Sexy.? gee..i didn't know racehorses were sexy.
Ron DeNorscio More than 1 year ago
Way to go Mr Hansen I don't know if your horse can win the Traver's, but at least you said your mind in regard to Crist's article.
Thomas Cook More than 1 year ago
Questing is a superstar in the making. I believe Wise Dan is the best turf horse right now. Hansen really belongs in Kings Bishop as a prep for future races. I think your Travers analysis keying Alpha off his last where he showed another dimension. Also Neck n Neck looks tough with race over track and I believe highest beyers.
Susan Huart More than 1 year ago
Questing is one crazy filly! Lived watching her serpentine in the Alabama!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
as if the game wasnt hard enough we have idots who want to paint their horses and run them in wrong spots.my prelimanary assessment of the race is that ATIGUN will benefit from hansens presence and win,ive never really liked ALPHA and have allways thought he was way behind the top 3 yos.like ill have another,union rags,bodemeister,paynter and others but since they are all falling like flys i guess he has moved up,i still dont buy that hes gr1 but then again most of the others in the field arent either,LIASON is a decent sort from a dangerous barn but it is true that indian charlies have dificulty at this distance i will use him for 2nd and 3rd behind atigun. so its ATIGUN over street life and liason.and an exacta boxed LIASON X ATIGUN in case baffert pulls a rabbit out of his big hat