08/14/2008 11:00PM

This Travers cast well-balanced but slow

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. - Next Saturday's Travers may not have the star power to match some recent runnings, but a prospective field of 11 is taking shape for what promises to be a competitive and entertaining race.

Since 1990, the average winning Beyer in the Travers is 110. Eventual 3-year-old champions Holy Bull (115), Point Given (117), and Bernardini (116) have run the fastest figures. In 1990, Rhythm earned a 104 that ranks as the slowest winning Travers figure, and 104 seems like a good projection for this year's race.

Even 104 might be a stretch considering five contenders - including Belmont Stakes winner Da' Tara and Santa Anita Derby winner Colonel John - have never reached triple-digits, and Macho Again and Pyro are the only ones to have done so more than once.

Macho Again, a grandson of Holy Bull, got his first graded stakes victory in the Jim Dandy. He has recent history on his side, in that Flower Alley, Bernardini, and Street Sense swept both races the past three years, but he will have to improve to join them. His half-length win over Pyro in the 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy was accomplished in 1:51.16 and earned a 102 Beyer. But the preceding race was a $90,000 overnight stakes restricted to nonwinners of a graded stakes this year, and Mambo in Seattle was a come-again winner over You and I Forever in 1:50.98, as both ran a 104.

Figures aside, the most potentially relevant piece of Travers history concerns the Nick Zito-trained Da' Tara, who was deep-fried in a duel with Mint Lane in the Jim Dandy and stopped badly to wind up last in his first start since wiring the Belmont Stakes. While it's hard to envision him winning the Travers off such a performance, the reason he is still a contender can be summed up in three words: Albert the Great.

To recall, Albert the Great was a late-blooming 3-year-old who won four in a row - maiden, first- and second-level allowances, and the Dwyer - after Zito equipped him with blinkers in the spring of 2000. The streaking Albert the Great was then bet to 5-2 in the Jim Dandy, but was cooked dueling through six furlongs in 1:10.60 and stopped to a walk - virtually the same thing that happened to Da' Tara.

Albert the Great didn't win the Travers, but came awfully close, leading to the final strides at nearly 8-1 before Unshaded nailed him.

(We pause for this history lesson: Albert the Great won the Jockey Club Gold Cup two starts later with a Beyer of 119 - in his 12th start of the year. He went on to run Beyers in the 111-119 range in seven of nine starts as a 4-year-old, credentials that nowadays rate a billion dollar stud deal and a marble statue.)

The good news for Da' Tara is that Mint Lane will not be in the field. The bad news is that Acai - from the same connections as Big Brown - may be on a payback mission, and he has the speed to do it. The day before the Jim Dandy (run in fractions of 23.51 seconds, 46.94, 1:11.82, 1:38.01), Acai won a 1 1/8-mile first-level allowance by pressing and overtaking fractions of 23.20, 46.57, 1:11.05, and 1:36.53, and finishing up in 1:50.42.

Beating favorites name of this game

The Travers will once again be part of an all-stakes $1 million-guaranteed pick four, along with the Grade 1 King's Bishop, the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch, and the Grade 3 Victory Ride. It sounds like a lot of money, but the winning combinations the past three years haven't exactly been life-changing scores.

In 2007, Street Sense ($2.70), Hard Spun ($4.60), La Traviata ($3.70), and Shakis ($12.60) linked for a payoff of $83.50, marginally better than the parlay of $72.20.

In 2006, Bernardini ($2.70), Henny Hughes ($3.50), Ashkal Way ($3.40), and My Typhoon ($8.10) rang up a $58 pick four, actually not a bad value compared with a $32.40 parlay.

In 2005, Flower Alley ($8), Lost in the Fog ($2.60), First Samurai ($6.10), and Leroidesanimaux ($3.40) got you $62.50, still better than a $53.80 parlay.

When you can beat a couple favorites, though, Travers Day is an excellent time to get some value in the pick four. Moreover, you don't have to have impossible longshots to do it, as was the case in 2004 when a pick four of Birdstone ($11.60), Pomeroy ($11.40), Smokey Glacken ($7.50), and Nothing to Lose ($5.80) returned $1,314, nearly twice the $719 parlay.

A week out, it looks as though a lot of pick four tickets may look like this: 1 x 3 x spread x spread.

The single will be in the Victory Ride, where Indyanne, who has won all four of her starts by a combined margin of better than 32 lengths, underscores the depth of the 3-year-old filly division.

Daily Racing Form reporter David Grening's handicapping assessment of Indyanne: "Winner, winner, chicken dinner."

The "3" probably locks up the King's Bishop. J Be K, Kodiak Kowboy, and Desert Key have run identical Beyer tops of 108, and tower over the others.

The spreads will be the Travers and possibly the Bernard Baruch, where a handful of probable starters, among them Distorted Reality, Operation Red Dawn, Proudinsky, and Thorn Song, appear evenly matched.