Exaggerator stands out in field of 14 for Travers

The Grade I, $1.25 million Travers Stakes is the centerpiece on a star-studded 13-race card at Saratoga this Saturday. Going as the 11th race, post time is estimated at 5:44 p.m. EST. “The Midsummer Derby” drew a full field for the first time since 1977, and contains a mixture of graded stakes winners and up-and-comers. There will be plenty of ways to try and make a big score on this 1 1/4 mile heat, but FanXT’s Daily Fantasy Jockey game offers a unique twist on the horse racing action, so be sure to check it out!

#7 EXAGGERATOR was installed as the 3-1 morning-line favorite, and he comes in off arguably the most impressive last-out performance of anyone in the field; a romp in the slop at Monmouth Park in the Grade I Haskell Invitational. He’s been unfairly labeled as a “mud horse” as his Santa Anita Derby, Preakness Stakes and Haskell wins have all come on an off-track. But his runner-up effort in the Kentucky Derby, in which he had a brutal trip, was arguably his most impressive display of the year. His class edge is undisputed, and he’s also shown an affinity for longer distances. He also projects to get a more-than-honest pace to close into. Thus, he is the pick with Kent Desormeaux aboard.

Trying to figure out who’s second-best in here was a tricky task. I started by eliminating all the runners that return from the Grade II Jim Dandy Stakes that was run at Saratoga last month. That race was won in gate-to-wire fashion by #13 LAOBAN at 27-1, and it was as unimpressive visually as you’ll ever see for a graded stakes. #4 GOVERNOR MALIBU (12-1), #8 DESTIN (10-1) and #12 CREATOR (15-1) were all chasing LAOBAN (15-1) in vain despite LAOBAN looking noticeably exhausted in the home stretch after setting an easy pace.

I also tossed all the Travers entrants that had never won a stakes, with the exception of #9 GIFT BOX (12-1, more on him soon). That removed #1 ARROGATE (10-1), #3 MY MAN SAM (20-1), #5 FOREVER D’ORO (30-1), #6 ANAXIMANDROS (50-1), and #11 MAJESTO (30-1) from consideration.

Left with #2 AMERICAN FREEDOM (6-1), #10 CONNECT (4-1) and #14 GUN RUNNER (10-1) in addition to GIFT BOX, I eliminated AMERICAN FREEDOM and GUN RUNNER. I doubted both the quality of their wins and their ability to go the 10-furlong distance.

CONNECT and GIFT BOX are therefore the two that snuck into my exacta play. The pair is trained by Chad Brown, and they ran one-two in the Curlin Stakes here at “The Spa” the day before the Jim Dandy. CONNECT led every step of the way over his stablemate, who sat second nearly the whole journey. CONNECT takes another sizeable step up in class just as he did last time and has to survive a potentially brutal early pace, but John Velazquez sees fit to climb back aboard after landing on the colt for the first time in the Curlin.

GIFT BOX showed great promise at two but was unable to compete on the Derby trail. Returning in an allowance in late May, GIFT BOX crushed an overmatched field before appearing in the Curlin. He should benefit from stringing a couple of races together for a change, and will likely go off as the more appealing price compared to his stablemate under Junior Alvarado.

The play: $8 exacta 7/9,10, $4 win 9 ($20)

DFJ analysis: Please see my prior column on the Travers Day undercard for my Daily Fantasy Jockey selections for Saratoga!

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