Equibase Analysis: ‘Midsummer Derby’ Contention Goes Deep

The 149th running of the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers Stakes should live up to its billing as the “Midsummer Derby” even though undefeated Triple Crown winner Justify has been retired. Simply put, a case can be made for eight of the 11 entrants, starting with Good Magic, winner of the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational Stakes last month.

Catholic Boy returns to dirt, where he won the Grade 2 Remsen Stakes last fall, after taking the Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes on the turf in July. The talented filly Wonder Gadot has only finished worse than third one time in 13 career starts and has beaten males in two straight races in Canada including the $1 million Queen’s Plate Stakes. Then there’s Gronkowski, who had to miss the Kentucky Derby with a slight fever and who made his U.S. debut in June with a fine runner-up effort behind Justify in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes when last seen.

The depth of the field in the Travers doesn’t end there, including Tenfold and Vino Rosso, who finished first and third, respectively, in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes over the track last month. Bravazo attempts to reverse the order of finish in the Haskell when second behind Good Magic and six lengths clear of the third finisher. Trigger Warning will be competing at the top level for the first time following a head defeat last month when second in the Grade 3 Indiana Derby. Then there’s Mendelssohn, 18 length winner of the Group 2 U.A.E. Derby who was then badly bumped and impeded in the Kentucky Derby when ending up last of 20. He returned to the U.S. from trainer O’Brien’s home base in the U.K.in July, setting a sizzling pace in the Grade 3 Dwyer Stakes before fading to third. King Zachary won the Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes in June then could only manage a fourth place effort in the Indiana Derby as the heavy favorite and hopes to rebound. Meistermind has only a maiden win to his credit and appears overmatched.

Catholic Boy has done little wrong in his career to date, winning five of eight races. The most recent of those wins came last month in the Belmont Derby Invitational Stakes on the turf, in which Catholic Boy earned a career-best 108 Equibase Speed Figure. The Belmont Derby was run at the mile and one-quarter distance of the Travers which, in my opinion, eliminates any concern about Catholic Boy’s inability to run this far. Although his last two wins came on grass, any concern about his ability to win on dirt are put to rest because he proved himself at the top level on dirt last December when dominating in the Remsen Stakes by five lengths.

The most interesting thing about Catholic Boy is the way in which he ran his last two races. In the Pennine Ridge Stakes in June, Catholic Boy led from the start but in the stretch found himself on the inside of his foe Analyze It, who had overtaken him to lead by a length. When jockey Javier Castellano brought Catholic Boy to the outside of Analyze It in mid-stretch, the horse found new life and got up to win by a head. In the Belmont Derby Catholic Boy once again led from the start then was overtaken by Analyze It in mid-stretch to find himself a half-length behind. This time, Castellano did not move Catholic Boy around his nemesis but rather just let the horse’s competitive juices kick in, the result being Catholic Boy once again getting up to win, this time by a head. Watching the video replay of the Belmont Derby, I believe Catholic Boy enjoys letting another horse pass him, all the while knowing he has the ability to fight back and win and that is exactly the kind of “Alpha” quality we should see in the Travers, making him the one to beat.

Wonder Gadot is another who has proven capable of winning at the classic mile and one-quarter distance of the Travers, having done so when winning the Queen’s Plate Stakes (against males) in June with a 102 figure before improving to the same 108 figure Catholic Boy earned recently when winning the Prince of Wales Stakes with the greatest of easy by five and three-quarter lengths. Wonder Gadot may be capable of running even better in the Travers, as her best career effort came in May when second in the Kentucky Oaks, beaten a half-length at the finish with a 113 figure. Although she has never run at Saratoga, Wonder Gadot put in a spectacular workout over the track last week, the best of 67 at the distance of four furlongs. Now having finished first or second in five straight races, this filly has an opportunity to beat males for the third straight time and stamp herself as the top 3-year-old in North America in training now that Justify is retired.

Good Magic won the Haskell Invitational Stakes rather handily by three lengths last month and in doing so tied his best career figure, 109, also earned last fall when winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Except for finishing second behind Justify in the Kentucky Derby and fourth behind the Triple Crown winner in the Preakness, Good Magic has had a stellar campaign this year including winning the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes in April. Jockey Jose Ortiz has ridden Good Magic in every start since the second race of his career last October and the colt has proven capable of running well at the distance of the Travers so there is little doubt he can win in this situation. On the other hand, eight of the other 10 entrants in the Travers have earned 107 to 110 figures in top races so Good Magic will have his work cut out for him in trying to prove the likely public favoritism at the betting windows correct.

After the three main win contenders, there are three others that deserve mention for their competitiveness and who may run well enough to be in the exacta or trifecta. Gronkowski missed the Derby with a fever that required antibiotics but recovered nicely for a rallying 10th to second finish behind Justify in the Belmont Stakes with a 107 figure. Bravazo similarly ran big when second to Justify in the Preakness with a 108 figure and although no match for Good Magic when second by three lengths in the Haskell last month so has potential to run well again. Tenfold was third in the Preakness with a career-best 108 figure.  He ran poorly in the Belmont, then rebounded to win the Jim Dandy over the track with a 106 figure and may be on an improving pattern.

The rest of the Travers Stakes field, with their best representative Equibase Speed Figures is King Zachary (110), Meistermind (94), Mendelssohn (101), Trigger Warning (109) and Vino Rosso (106).

Win contenders:
Catholic Boy
Wonder Gadot
Good Magic

Horses to consider for exotic wagers like the exacta:

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