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Jon White's Travers Stakes Picks

by Jon White

August 21, 2019

This Saturday’s 150th running of the Grade I Travers Stakes at Saratoga has attracted a dozen 3-year-olds. Here are my selections for the 1 1/4-mile event:

1. Looking At Bikinis (10-1 morning line)
2. Mucho Gusto (6-1)
3. Code of Honor (4-1)
4. Tacitus (5-2)

Perhaps morning-line favorite Tacitus will step up and win this race. If he is the horse many think he is, he should get it done Saturday without Maximum Security or Game Winner in the field. But I will go for a better price than Tacitus in Looking At Bikinis.

Looking At Bikinis has been the favorite in each of his three lifetime starts. Off his defeat in Saratoga’s 1 1/8-mile Curlin Stakes on a muddy track last time out, now he is a juicy 10-1 on the morning line. With only three races under his belt, I’m willing to forgive his defeat as the chalk in the Curlin. I’m thinking the Lookin At Lucky colt just might rebound in the Travers. With Javier Castellano riding for trainer Chad Brown, 10-1 is too tempting to resist.

I came very close to going with Mucho Gusto. He’s the only one of the 12 entrants to ever post a Beyer Speed Figure of 100 or higher. Mucho Gusto was credited with a 100 Beyer last time out when he finished second, 1 1/4 lengths behind Maximum Security, in Monmouth Park’s Grade I Haskell Invitational at 1 1/8 miles on a sweltering July 20. Mucho Gusto ended up eight lengths in front of Spun to Run, who finished third.

My main concern about Mucho Gusto is that it was an 11th-hour decision by trainer Bob Baffert to send him to the Travers. I would have preferred for this race to have been the target for the Mucho Macho Man colt all along. Baffert called an audible to run Mucho Gusto after announcing that Game Winner would be skipping the Travers after he came down with a virus. Still, a 6-1 morning-line has appeal for the lone Travers entrant to have a triple-digit Beyer to his credit.

Trainer Shug McGaughey seems confident that Code of Honor is going to run a big race Saturday. The Noble Mission colt is coming off a sparkling 3 1/4-length win in Belmont Park’s Grade III Dwyer Stakes at one mile on July 6. Code of Honor was moved up to second in the Kentucky Derby through the aforementioned disqualification of Maximum Security.

Tacitus, trained by Bill Mott, is racing with blinkers for the first time Saturday. The hope, according to Mott, is for the blinkers to help Tacitus to focus a little better. The Tapit colt is due for some good luck after finishing second as the favorite in both the Grade I Belmont Stakes on June 8 and Grade II Jim Dandy Stakes on July 27. He raced wide in the Belmont and stumbled badly at the start in the Jim Dandy. Tacitus was elevated to third in the Kentucky Derby via the DQ of Maximum Security.

Owendale is another who might have a big say in what shapes up as a wide-open Travers. His third in the Grade I Preakness Stakes in May was sandwiched between victories in the Grade III Lexington Stakes in April and Grade III Ohio Derby in June for trainer Brad Cox.


I wrote this on July 24: “I will not be surprised if it turns out that [trainer Jason] Servis ultimately will want to give Maximum Security more time before his next race rather than run him in the Travers. If Maximum Security does skip the Travers, a logical next race would be Parx Racing’s Grade I, $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at 1 1/8 miles on Sept. 21.”

Servis announced last week that Maximum Security will not be entered in the Travers and would be pointed for the Pennsylvania Derby.