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Travers Stakes Picks

2012 Travers Stakes Picks and Analysis

Atigun loaded longshot for 143rd Travers Stakes

The Travers, Saratoga, Race 12, Saturday, August 25, 2012

3-Year-Olds, Grade I, 1 1/4-Miles, Dirt, Purse $1 million

Travers Stakes Picks

1.      Atigun

2.      Street Life

3.      Nonios

4.      Neck ‘n Neck

5.      Alpha

Travers Stakes Analysis

He’ll need a pace to run at in the 143rd Travers Stakes, but if he gets it, Atigun could upset his 10 rivals at a big price. What’s he got going for him?  Two poor trips in a row, a rider switch, fast works, proven ability to carry weight over a route of ground, a fast track (rather than sloppy) and he makes his second start off a layoff. Is that enough? It is for us, especially when the price is right!

Trained by Kenneth McPeek, Atigun has been slow to come to hand, but two starts ago on June 9 he ran a monster race to finish third beaten two lengths in the Belmont Stakes (G1) behind the classy Union Rags and Haskell Invitational (G1) winner Paynter going 1 ½-miles. If you watch the replay of that race you’ll notice that he steadied numerous times on the final turn. It wasn’t enough to jump off the page at you, but it was enough to cost him being in the win photo for that race.

In his next and last start, the Jim Dandy (G2) at Saratoga, Atigun was cranked in half by jockey Julien Leparoux and again steadied numerous times before moving out wide in the stretch and losing ground to dominant speed horse and possible Travers favorite Alpha, who had everything his own way on the front end under top Saratoga jock Ramon Dominguez. The Jim Dandy was run at 1 1/8-miles over a sloppy Saratoga surface and the race was basically over after a half mile as Alpha set a slow pace and had lots left to open up in the stretch.

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Atigun will get a rider switch to Mike Smith for the 2012 Travers Stakes. Smith won the Travers in 1994 aboard Holy Bull and in 1998 aboard Coronado’s Quest. He’ll have his hands full with Atigun, a one run type of horse who has been working fast since his sixth place finish in the Jim Dandy. It seems odd that McPeek would work Atigun a half mile in 46 1/5 on August 19, when the horse has to run 1 ¼-miles in the Travers, and we almost consider that fast work a negative. Atigun has already proven to be difficult to rate based on his previous two performances under Leparoux and he will likely be even more difficult to rate this time based on his recent fast works. That being said, if Smith can get Atigun into good position out of the gate and keep him smoothly out of trouble without steadying him repeatedly, he should sit closer this time and come with a late run similar to the one he displayed in the Belmont.

The pace scenario is a little cloudy in the Travers, with Withers Stakes (G3) runner-up Speightscity already indicating he will be going to the lead, but there are a number in here including Five Sixteen, Golden Ticket, Stealcase, Alpha, Neck ‘n Neck, and Nonios, that like to sit close to the pace and that could be on the lead on any given day. While Alpha won the Jim Dandy Stakes wire-to-wire fashion, he doesn’t need the lead to win. What we’re hoping for is a pressured moderate pace that will set the race up for Atigun.

The logical horses are obviously favorite Alpha, along with Jim Dandy runner-up Neck ‘n Neck, Haskell runner-up Nonios and Jim Dandy third-place finisher Liaison. Neck 'n Neck couldn’t catch Alpha in the Jim Dandy but he did make a good run in the stretch to stay close to that one. Nonios was second best to Paynter in the Haskell, and these are slightly easier. Liaison always gives his best but hasn’t won this year.

We never liked Alpha heading into the Kentucky Derby (G1) and he finished 12th beaten 19 ¼-lengths, which we thought was a truer indication of his class. Most if not all of the superior 3-year-olds are now out of the picture however, which leaves Alpha as a solid horse in the mix, and even better when he gets a perfect trip like he did in the Jim Dandy.

In order for Atigun to win this race, he’ll need Neck n’ Neck, Liaison, Nonios and Alpha to start battling on the turn for home. If one of those four gets loose early over a surface that has been favoring speed, the race could be over early. Something else to note about this running of the Travers Stakes. None of these horses has won at the distance or proven they can carry 126 pounds to victory.

While Atigun has never won at the distance either, he is a proven router, having run a good third in the 1 ½-mile Belmont Stakes. He’s also proven his ability to carry 126 pounds over a distance of ground, something none of his rivals in the Travers have proven they can do, and most of them will be carrying that much weight in the Travers for the first time in their careers.

Street Life carried 126 pounds to a fourth place finish beaten seven lengths in the Belmont Stakes and we like rider Lezcano enough to give him a shot in here in his second start off the layoff. He’s listed at 5-1 on the morning line but we’re guessing he’ll be higher than that when the gate opens. He’ll also need a good pace scenario to set up his late run.

We’re betting Atigun win and place and keying him first and second in the exotics. We’ll also use Street Life on all our exotic tickets. After that, the race becomes a procession of logical favorites and unattractive longshots we just can’t get excited about. If you’re looking for favorites in The Travers, you won’t find them here.

We’re going for the winter money on this one.

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