The Runhappy Travers Stakes, a Grade 1 race for 3YOs to be contested on the Saratoga dirt track at 10 furlongs this Saturday is also known as the mid-summer Derby (even though it's late summer by the time this race is run). Its intent is to feature the best 3YO dirt horses in the country as they prep for bigger and better things in the fall, including perhaps running against elders in the Breeders Cup. This year's field has some familiar names if you followed the Triple Crown this year. In fact two of the winners of those three races -- Rich Strike from the Kentucky Derby and Early Voting from the Preakness -- are entered here. But you may be surprised where those two horses are on our list below.
#6 - Epicenter. There are two familiar names in this category and one "new shooter." Epicenter has been the model of consistency in every race of his career except his debut. With six races this year already, he's danced almost every dance (he skipped the Belmont) and his dominant victory in the Jim Dandy Stakes in his last race over this same Saratoga course will make him a deserving favorite this afternoon. The Steve Asmussen-trained son of Not This Time may still be getting better as he approaches the end of his 3-year-old campaign. Joel Rosario gets back aboard for the ride. Lots to like here, but you won't get much better than even money (if that) so if you're not a chalk player, you will have to look elsewhere.
#1 - Cyberknife. We talked this horse up before the Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park and while that race was supposed to be a big coming out party for Taiba and Jack Christopher, it was instead this Brad Cox-trained son of Gun Runner who stole the show at odds of almost 8-1. The Haskell was by far Cyberknife's best race of his young career but the truth of the matter is that when you look at his nine races only the Kentucky Derby and the Lecomte down in New Orleans were poor efforts. His other races were stellar, with the Haskell being a real eye-opening performance. Florent Geroux hasn't been riding much at this Saratoga meet, but he does have a win here in four mounts and he's been on Cyberknife in all nine of his races. You just might get 7-2 on him and for some reason should Epicenter throw in a clunker today, Cyberknife should be right there.
#5 - Artorius. New shooters (horses who didn't run in the Triple Crown or Haskell or Jim Dandy) are nothing new to the Travers. These are typically horses who weren't ready for the Triple Crown trail in the Spring but then developed later in the year. Bob Baffert had a pair who won this race in back to back years in Arrogate (2016) and West Coast (2017). Chad Brown has three horses in here, but Artorius is the one who is getting most of the buzz. He didn't run a race until this past April and only has three on his ledger. His last one was an impressive victory in the restricted Curlin Stakes run on this track in late July. He ran a big enough number in winning by four lengths that Brown and owners Juddmonte felt like it was worth taking a shot today. The problem is you would want something like 8-1 on a horse like this in a field of accomplished Graded Stakes runners, and you're not going to get it. Sill with leading rider Irad Ortiz aboard, Artorius is a compelling choice.
#2 - Rich Strike. If you want to know what racing people think of the 80-1 Derby winner these days, you needn't look any further than Rich Strike's morning line here. He is listed at 10-1 and that's probably being generous. There are people who will bet the son of Keen Ice today for nostalgia purposes but the fact of the matter is that Rich Strike's story is much more compelling than his racing lines. The incredible Derby run aside, Rich Strike just simply isn't fast enough to keep up with these horses today. There would have to be a monumental pace melt down for him to even have a shot at third, and given how this track has been playing, that's not going to happen. Enjoy Rich Strike's remarkable story and watch replays of his Derby as much as you want, but stay away from him at the betting windows.
#8 - Zandon. It's hard to remember a horse generating this much buzz whose only career victories were in his maiden race and in a weak Blue Grass Stakes field. Chad Brown's son of Upstart has had a great campaign by just about any measure, but he's simply been the bridesmaid too many times, to too many of the horses in this field, to be taken seriously today as a win candidate. Of course, once again people are buzzing about how great he looks on the track in the mornings, but they've been saying that before all of his races. His losses in the Jim Dandy, Kentucky Derby, and Risen Star were really not that close when you look at them. So, barring about three scratches in here, we will have to take a pass until we see him back in the winners circle. He likely will go off once again around 3-1 and that's not worth it.
#7 - Early Voting. The third Chad Brown-trained horse in this race won the Preakness at very nice odds of better than 5-1. In that race, the son of Gun Runner sat off the early pace and then made one big move as they turned for home down the Pimlico stretch. But Early Voting abandoned that successful strategy in the Jim Dandy and decided to go straight to the front on this track and that turned out to be suicide as he faded late to finish last that day. If Early Voting can go back to his stalking strategy this afternoon, he just might be able to turn the tables on Epicenter, but you're going to want to demand value in order to find out. Regular rider Jose Ortiz is back on board and it will be interesting to see if he decides to take a different approach today. His morning line is 8-1 and you will want those odds or higher but if you get it, Early Voting offers an intriguing opportunity as a value play.