08/13/2001 12:00AM

Using trends to track Travers


NEW YORK - While awaiting the decision on whether Point Given will compete in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga a week from Saturday, it occurred to me to spend some time to develop a profile of the modern day Travers winner. What kind of horse is he? What kind of races did he run in previously? What kind of form does he bring to the table? How fast can he run?

The Travers is worth such a study. Although there will be other rich stakes events for 3-year-olds run like the Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Super derbies, the Travers is the last major race restricted to the Triple Crown class. It will be run for the 132nd time this year, making it older than the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. If classic status is ever bestowed on another American race - the three Triple Crown events and the Coaching Club American Oaks are the only four classic events in America - the Travers would be the one chosen. In the meantime, it is a classic in every other sense of the word.

Only three of the last 10 Travers winners actually ran in all three legs of the Triple Crown. They were Corporate Report in 1991, Sea Hero in 1993, and Thunder Gulch in 1995. Lemon Drop Kid, in 1999, was the only one of the last 10 Travers winners to compete in two legs of the Triple Crown (he ran in the Derby and won the Belmont), while Holy Bull, winner of the 1994 Travers, and Unshaded, last year's Travers winner, each ran in just one Triple Crown event. Holy Bull ran in the Derby and Unshaded in the Belmont.

What this means is four of the last 10 Travers winners didn't get involved at all in the Triple Crown. They were Thunder Rumble in 1992, Will's Way in 1996, Deputy Commander in 1997, and Coronado's Quest in 1998. (Coronado's Quest was entered and scratched in the Preakness.) While this finding is surprising and noteworthy, it is not especially helpful in identifying the ideal Travers candidate because it it means a Travers winner is just as likely to have participated in the Triple Crown as not.

What is helpful is knowing which races the modern-day Travers winner ran in most recently. The Jim Dandy, Saratoga's prep for the Travers, has produced half of the last 10 Travers winners - Thunder Rumble, Sea Hero, Will's Way, Lemon Drop Kid, and Unshaded. Monmouth Park's Haskell Invitational produced three of the last 10 Travers winners - Corporate Report, Holy Bull, and Coronado's Quest. The only other race that has recently been a springboard to success in the Travers is the Swaps at Hollywood Park. Thunder Gulch and Deputy Commander came out of the Swaps to win the Travers.

The Travers puts a premium on sharp recent form. Eight of the last 10 Travers winners finished either first or second in their previous starts. Unshaded finished third and Sea Hero finished fourth.

There's good reason for that. The successful candidate for the Travers has to be prepared to run fairly fast. The average winning Beyer Speed Figure in the last 10 Travers (eliminating Holy Bull's high of 115 and Coronado's Quest's low of 107 so as to get a more accurate average) is 110. Eight of the last 10 Travers winners came off triple-digit Beyers (Unshaded and Sea Hero were the exceptions), and, notably, five of the last 10 Travers winners either matched or recorded a best Beyer in their previous start. In the Travers itself, six of the last 10 winners earned what was at least to that point a career-best Beyer.

Yet, despite what these statistics suggest, the Travers hasn't been the chalk parade you might imagine. Holy Bull and Thunder Gulch were the only winning favorites in the last 10 Travers. When you eliminate Thunder Gulch's lowest parimutuel return of $3.50 and Thunder Rumble's high payoff of $17.20, the average winning mutuel in the last 10 Travers is a healthy $10.66.

So, how do these guides apply to this year's Travers? Well, by using a list of what are currently the eight most prominent candidates for the Travers - Point Given, E Dubai, Dollar Bill, Scorpion, A P Valentine, This Fleet Is Due, Volponi, and Win City - we can start throwing out horses. Dollar Bill, E Dubai, Volponi, and Win City have to go because none come out of the key Travers preps. Based on a sharp last race finish, A P Valentine, This Fleet Is Due, and Dollar Bill (again) have to go, since all were fourth in their last starts. Also, A P Valentine and Dollar Bill fail to qualify because neither received a triple-digit Beyer in his last start.

We are left with Point Given, who followed up wins in the Preakness and the Belmont with a workmanlike victory in the Haskell, and Scorpion, who earned a career-best Beyer of 105 in his implausible upset of the Jim Dandy. And, if you want to get ultra-wise guy about this, you could toss Point Given, since he will certainly be the favorite, and favorites haven't done that well lately in the Travers.

That leaves you with Scorpion, and me with an upset stomach.

Well, there's always the King's Bishop.