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Handicapping Pros Chip In Their Picks And Bets To Win The 2019 Travers Stakes

23rd August, 07:40

I provide insight on U.S. sports-betting & information you can bet on.

Known as the "Midsummer Derby", the 2019 Travers Stakes celebrates the 150th running of the prestigious Grade 1 race. The $1.25 million Travers drew a large and competitive field of 12 at Saratoga Race Course with five quality 3-year-olds that have proven themselves against graded stakes company. The Travers headlines a huge day of racing at Saratoga with six Grade 1 races including three that will send the winner to the Breeders' Cup Nov. 1-2 at Santa Anita Park through the "Win and You're In" Breeders' Cup Challenge Series.

Horse racing fans can bet on all the races including the Travers online and legally with TVG, one of the premier names in horse race betting. TVG is a digital, cable and television network owned by the FanDuel Group, who is now a major player and sportsbook leader in the New Jersey sports betting market. The Travers will anchor a one-hour live national broadcast on FOX, from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m ET.

Race 6 - $500,000 Ballerina (G1) 7 furlongs (Fillies & Mares), winner to Breeders' Cup Filly & Mare Sprint

Race 9 - $700,000 Personal Ensign (G1) 1 1/8 miles (Fillies & Mares), winner to the Breeders' Cup Distaff

Race 10 - $850,000 Sword Dancer (G1) 1 1/2 miles , winner to the Breeders' Cup Turf

Race 11 - $1.25 million Travers (G1) 1 1/4 miles - post time 5:44pm ET

There are six capable colts that can win the 2019 Travers, and while a longshot winner of greater than 15-1 in not likely, recall that Keen Ice (16-1) did pull a stunning upset in winning the 2015 Travers over Triple Crown winning favorite American Pharoah. The competitive field minus a superstar runner makes for an intriguing race this year and better betting opportunities.

This year's Travers has a field of 12, and I've chipped-in with some race analysis on the six most capable contenders.

Owendale is a stalker who won his last race in the Ohio Derby(G3) in late June. He owns the fastest Equibase Speed Figure (114) of any horse in the Travers field. He also won the Lexington (G3) and finished 3rd in the Preakness (G1). Owendale has yet to run the classic distance of 1 1/4 miles, which requires a horse to be in prime physical condition entering the race. This is trainer Brad Cox' first Travers runner, and jockey Florent Geroux seeks his first Travers win.

Code of Honor broke his maiden at Saratoga a year ago in August, and is training very well over the Saratoga surface. He won the Fountain of Youth (G2) earlier this year and the Dwyer (G3) in his last start by more than 3 lengths after a slower pace. Code of Honor is the top pick of horse racing TV analyst and handicapper Eddie Olczyk, who says toss the horses 14th place finish in the Kentucky Derby where the race didn't unfold for his "one-run" style. Olczlyk likes Tacitus, Looking at Bikinis and Owendale to complete the exotic wagers (exacta, trifecta). Olczyk is high on the trainer-jockey combination of 3-time Travers-winner Shug McGaughey and John Velazquez, who will ride in search of his second Travers victory.

Highest Honors is a lightly-raced son of Tapit trained by Chad Brown, who has never won the Travers in eight tries and his horses have never even finished in the money. Still, the talented Tapic colt won his stakes debut last month in the Travers prep Curlin Stakes on a muddy track going a mile and an eighth. He defeated the favorite Looking at Bikinis (3). Jockey Luis Saez shoots for his second Travers triumph.

Tacitus has won 3-of-7 starts plus a pair of runner up finishes for top trainer Bill Mott, who won this year's controversial Kentucky Derby with huge longshot Country House. Tacitus rallied and made up ground to place 3rd in the Derby, and also won the Tampa Bay Derby and Wood Memorial. Tacitus traveled wide and finished 2nd in the Belmont Stakes and was also 2 to Tax in the Jim Dandy after stumbling badly at the start. Jockey Jose Ortiz has been Saratoga's leading rider in two of the last three years, and currently leads the Saratoga summer meet with 48 wins and a meet-best 23% win rate. Ortiz has a great chance to get this strong son of Tapit to the winners circle coming from off the pace again. A first Travers win for both Ortiz and Mott makes sense in this year's Mid-Summer Derby.

Mucho Gusto should be one of the pace pressures up front for 3-time Travers-winning trainer Bob Baffert. Joe Talamo rides again after his recent 2nd place finish in the Haskell Invitational (G1). Mucho Gusto chased current 3-year-old leading colt Maximum Security to the wire that day at Monmouth Park, and Baffert believes his colt is ready to break through for a Grade 1 win as he's improved his speed rating in each of his last four starts. Mucho Gusto has won five of eight starts and never missed the money, giving Baffert hope for another Travers win after his star colt Game Winner was taken out of the Travers field with a virus last week, joining Maximum Security on the sidelines. But Mucho Gusto's strong recent works at Del Mar convinced Baffert to send him back East again knowing his colt can also handle the 1 1/4 mile distance against this group.

Tax ran in a pair of Triple Crown races but did not hit the board in either the Kentucky Derby (14th) or Belmont Stakes (4th). He's now run in six consecutive grades stakes races after winning the Jim Dandy (G2) last month when he turned away a late bid from Tacitus. He's improving and gets one of Saratoga's leading riders in Irad Ortiz Jr., who has won the summer meet riding title in two of the last four years but surprisingly has never won or finished in the money in seven Travers starts. Trainer Danny Gargan will feel the chill of having a horse in the Travers with his first starter in the historic race.

Before you write off a lightly-raced or lesser known colt that hasn't faced top company, remember that Arrogate won the 2016 Travers at 11-1 odds in a record time of 1:59.36. It was his first stakes race, and Arrogate went on to win the 2016 Breeders' Cup Classic on his way to 7 wins in 11 career starts and more than $17 million on the racetrack.

The post-time favorite hasn't won the Travers since 2011, although Alpha was also a winner in 2012 in the only dead heat in Travers history. Last year Good Magic (3/2) was the prohibitive favorite and finished 9th in the 10-horse field.

Is there a rising star like Arrogate in the 2019 Travers? Highly unlikely, but the difference of opinions on who will win is always interesting. That's what makes race and sports betting so enjoyable and enticing to many fans who like the thrill of picking winners and even analyzing the games and races.

Longtime handicapper and America's Best Racing contributor Ellis Star makes a case for Tax and Mucho Gusto as his win contenders.

Star noted that Tax showed excellent tactical speed in winning the Jim Dandy (G2) last race while earning a career-best 106 Equibase Speed Figure. A memorable battle could develop between Mucho Gusto and Tax in the stretch, and "I think we will see Tax running the best race of his career to win the Travers."

Horse Racing Nation co-founder and Super Screener handicapping systems creator Mike Shutty lists his must-bet win contenders as Tacitus, Code of Honor and Highest Honors.

"No question about his ability to get the 1 1/4 and continue to deliver high octane energy late," Shutty says about the favorite Tacitus.

On the lightly-raced Highest Honors looking to pull the upset, Shutty says, "He's getting good at the right time with a big move projected off that last race, in which he was much the best. Will sit mid-pack and will come on with strong energy late."

Shutty notes that it's one thing to handicap a race, and another to structure a wager.

"Historically, you can count on one longshot hitting the superfecta in this race, and it is usually a fourth-place finisher," Shutty said. "The same outcome seems likely here as the top-ranked horses look tough enough to take down all three spots of the Trifecta. A number of horses, however, have that 'bump-up' or 'hold-on' shot at a long price to complete the superfecta."

Brisnet marketing director and astute horse handicapper Ed DeRosa discusses the 3-year-old division and Travers Stakes on the Pressbox podcast. His picks include Mucho Gusto on top with a little more value in a competitive race. He's more willing to take a shot against the favorite Tacitus, who he says "is the horse to beat, and he's consistent and consistently fast."

I'll chip in a few tips for the Travers and look to cash-in with Tacitus as a favorite that is most capable of snapping the recent streak of favorites that have not won the Travers. While value is always a consideration when betting the races, the field of 12 ensures a payoff of at least $7 to win on a $2 bet at the current odds for Tacitus (5/2). Mucho Gusto (6/1) will produce a solid and stronger payoff should he win, and note that each of the last six Travers winners have been at least 6-1 odds including three with double-digit prices.

We'll key in on Tacitus and Mucho Gusto on top and add contenders like Code of Honor underneath with a few others mentioned and longshot Looking At Bikinis to complete the exotics. No longshot to pull the upset at the Spa and "Graveyard of Champions" this year, but rather a trio of top Travers contenders to cash in.