2009 Travers Stakes Picks, Entries, Odds and Analysis
by Kenneth Strong of Predictem.com
Summer Bird the upset choice over Quality Road based on angles
Quality Road will be favored in the 140th running of the Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course this Saturday, but will he be fit enough, and sound enough?
Theres no question that Quality Road (8/5 morning line odds) is the most talented horse in the field based on the Beyer Speed Figures he recorded this spring winning the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth and the Grade 1 Florida Derby. But the wheels came off after those races in the form of a quarter crack and hes only raced once since March 28.
Quality Road returned on August 3 to win the 6 furlong Grade 2 Amsterdam by 2 -lengths at Saratoga in (disputed) track-record time for new trainer Todd Pletcher, and was given a 103 Beyer Speed Figure. (Adjusted from 110 due to disputed time.) But despite the big race, were not so sure Quality Road is the same horse.
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Formerly trained by Jimmy Jerkens, son of Hall of Famer H. Allen Jerkens and an excellent trainer in his own right, Quality Road was forced to miss the Kentucky Derby due to a quarter crack. Jimmy Jerkens is not only one of the best trainers in the world when it comes to unsound horses, his father may have been the best horsemen EVER to grace a thoroughbred shedrow. Regardless, owner Edward P. Evans decided to move Quality Road to the barn of Todd Pletcher. While Pletcher is a decent trainer, we cant imagine him being a match for the Jerkens boys at crunch time even if he does win the Travers with Quality Road.
Quality Road looked good on paper winning the Amsterdam, but if you watch the race replay closely youll notice he didnt have the same powerful andnatural stride he showed us when winning the Florida Derby. He looked more like a machine in the Amsterdam than he did a racehorse. Yes he was smooth enough, beating up on mediocre competition, but something just didntlook quite right. Now he has to stretch out to a mile and a quarter off a four-month layoff while moving up in class at a short price. For a bettor, that just doesnt sound all that enticing. Can Quality Roadstill win the 2009 Travers? Sure. Like we said, hes the most talented horse in the field. But well be looking elsewhere for a better value play.
We thought Travers second choice Summer Bird (3-1) was a bit of a lucky plodder after winning the Belmont Stakes this summer, but his recent second place finish behind super filly Rachel Alexandra in the sloppy Grade 1 Haskell Invitational on August 2 showed us a whole new dimension. In the Haskell Summer Bird reversed his running style (an angle in itself) and forced a fast pace inside Rachel before succumbing to that ones brilliance in the drive. Still, Summer Bird dug in to hold second in that mile and an eighth race, and if Rachel Alexandra were in the Travers we would be betting on her to win based on the current condition of Quality Road. But back to Summer Bird.
He forced a fast pace against a good horse, finished gamely and reversed his running style. He also has an excellent pedigree for the mile and a quarter distance of the Travers. He looks like he can handle an off track and he appears to have improved with the addition of blinkers. Right now, Summer Bird appears to be better value at 3-1 than Quality Road at 8/5.
Third choice Kensei (7/2) has won two decent stakes in a row, the Dwyer and the Jim Dandy, both Grade 2 races, with the latter win coming at Saratoga on August 1 at a mile and an eighth. Trained by Rachel Alexandras trainer Steve Asmussen, Kensei doesnt look flashy in his races, hes more workmanlike, but he gets the job done. Hes now 2-for-2 at Saratoga (he broke his maiden there) and rider Edgar Prado, who won the Travers with Summer Birds sire Birdstone in 2004, thinks hes good enough. Were unsure whether hes got the pedigree to stretch out, but he might just get a perfect trip stalking the speed.
Other speed in the field besides Quality Road includes Jim Dandy runner up Warriors Reward (8-1) and Barbaro Stakes winner Our Edge (15-1). Neither would appear to have the class to stay with Quality Road when the running starts, but they could help set the race up for the ralliers.
Rounding out the 2009 Travers Stakes field are Charitable Man (6-1) and Hold Me Back (15-1). Charitable Man came off a 7-week layoff to finish third beaten 2 lengths behind Kensei in the recent Jim Dandy, but his rider leaves him for speed horse Our Edge and that makes us wonder where hes at. He does have a stamina pedigree however, and now gets top New York rider Dominguez. Hold Me Back appears to be a notch below these on class but does have sharp trainer Bill Mott in his corner. Still, hed probably need the trip of a lifetime to win.
If the race sets up for real as it does on paper, and Summer Birds jockey Desormeaux doesnt get into a dumb duel with speed horses Quality Road, Warriors Reward and Our Edge, Summer Bird should outclass the other ralliers late and get the job done. Thats assuming of course, that something is amiss with Quality Road. Otherwise he wins.
Based on the change in running style angle, the improvement with blinkers, current form and proven class, Summer Bird makes good sense at 3-1 in the 2009 Travers Stakes.
Travers Stakes Entries, Odds and Jockeys
Race 12, Saratoga Race Course, Saturday, August 29, 2009
Post Position Odds – Jockey
1. Hold Me Back (15-1) Leparoux
2. Charitable Man (8-1) Dominguez
3. Warrior’s Reward (8-1) Borel
4. Quality Road (8/5) Velazquez
5. Our Edge (15-1) Garcia
6. Summer Bird (3-1) Desormeaux
7. Kensei (7/2) Edgar Prado