Saratoga's 149th Travers Stakes day is loaded with intrigue, high-class racing and betting opportunities galore. With half a dozen Grade 1 races on a 13-race card, the choices are many, including a NYRA Bets Pick 5 that ends with the Travers and a $1 million guaranteed all Grade 1 Pick 4, also ending with the Midsummer Derby.
In today's Weekend Play, let's take a run at the latter.
Race 8, G1 Ballerina, 7 Furlongs
I think we can get through the first leg of the $1 million Pick 4 by halving the field and we might even get a price. #5 Finley'sluckycharm (3-1) comes in off a strong victory at Saratoga but she's no lock by any means. Trainer Chad Brown sends out #6 Lewis Bay (3-1) off a 5 1/2-length G3 win at Belmont. Bob Baffert shipping a horse to New York can never be ignored, so #7 Marley's Freedom (5-2) is also a strong win contender vying for her fourth straight victory.
The two most interesting outside contenders are Ivy Bell and Union Strike. #2 Ivy Bell (5-1) loves the 7 furlong distance and she's been knocking heads with the likes of Abel Tasman and America Gal. #8 Union Strike (15-1) is a trainer switch play. She moved from the barn of Mick Ruis to Steve Asmussen in June and this will be her first start for Asmussen. She's doesn't need a huge improvement to compete here and the trainer change is definitely an upgrade.
Selections: 2, 5, 6, 7, 8
Race 9, G1 Forego, 7 Furlongs
You could make a case for several in here, but I'm going to create space elsewhere by making this a single. #8 City of Light (9-5) is 2-for-3 with a second at 7 furlongs (both wins G1) and was last seen finishing third to Accelerate in May, Accelerate being the country's top horse after demolishing the Pacific Classic field. New York star Irad Ortiz picks up the mount, trainer Michael McCarthy has a good record with layoffs and in graded stakes. All signs point to City of Light.
Race 10, G1 Sword Dancer, 1 1/2 Miles, Turf
This 10-horse field screams ALL button. Based on their past performances, you can see any one of them winning if the conditions are right and they fire their best shot. Even the longest shot in the field, #8 Seahenge (30-1) has ammunition, going out for classy connections Coolmore and Aidan O'Brien. The last time he ran on the turf, Seahenge was up against horses like Saxon Warrior, US Navy Flag, Mendelssohn and Roaring Lion, who just won the Juddmonte International this week.
#2 Spring Quality (4-1) is my top choice but almost every horse in this race comes into it in good form, and who winds up in the winner's circle will depend greatly on the pace, trip and turf conditions. I'm going to take a free square.
Race 11, G1 Travers Stakes, 1 1/4 Miles
I'm not convinced #9 Good Magic (2-1) is truly a 10-furlong horse so I'm going to toss him as the favorite and make room for a price. The favorite's Chad Brown stablemate, #3 Gronkowski (4-1), showed his distance capabilities finishing second in the Belmont and he's likely to get a set-up for his closing style. #2 Wonder Gadot (5-1) might have just figured out the racing game. After six second or third place finishes earlier this year, her last two races have been open-length victories — against the boys no less. Now, those were Canadian breds and this is a much deeper pool but she might be special.
#11 Catholic Boy (8-1) didn't draw well but he's shown grit in his races and trainer Jonathan Thomas has great figures switching from turf to dirt, keeping horses in form and winning graded stakes. Finally, despite his last two outings, I believe #8 Mendelssohn (12-1) could win this race IF his connections send him straight to the lead and go for it. He's a hard-running colt who can keep going if allowed to show his bravery on the lead. Not saying jockey Ryan Moore will let this happen, but he should. I'll stick with those four to keep the cost down but with a good pace set-up, I could see #5 Vino Rosso (10-1) pulling off an upset as well. We could drop #8 from the first race and include him and keep the cost the same.
Selections: 2, 3, 8, 11 (5)
2, 5, 6, 7, 8
2, 3, 8, 11
2, 5, 6, 7
2, 3, 5, 8, 11
Both tickets equal $100
However you bet, good luck and enjoy the races.
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