A Travers Score

Untitled Document

THRU THE BINOCULARS

A TRAVERS SCORE

By John Piesen

The racing media couldn't help notice that trainer D. Wayne Lukas hasn't won the Travers since Thunder Gulch in 1995. But that really isn't that big a deal since DWL hadn't actually run a horse in the Travers since 2002.

Say hello to Will Take Charge!

.As many of us know by now, this writer nailed Will Take Charge at $21.20 in last weekend's Travers on-line and on the scorching John Piesen Hot Line (1-888 612 2283).

And, for good measure, I added the $313 cold exacta when lone-speed Moreno held the place at 31-1. Alas, I got beat a nose for third, costing a cold grand-plus trifecta.

Moreover, those who invested in my full-card play that day wound up with six winners, five exactas and a $215 cold pick three featuring Frac Daddy at $16.60.

Yup, it's been quite a Saratoga for my followers. Too bad the Spa has to end on Monday. But there's no reason my run won't continue downstate at Belmont. As we all know, handicapping is a game of momentum, and ol' Mo is on our side at the moment.

The chances are slim that the final Spa Saturday can reproduce the excitement of Travers Day. There are three major stakes on tap, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the three faves motor wire to wire.

The Woodward, the 750K feature, fell apart at mid-week when Cross Traffic and Fort Larnard, both front-runners, and probable first two betting choices, came out.

That leaves a mere six in the nine-furlong Grade One for 3-and-up, and California shipper Paynter as the lone speed with Rafael Bejarano at odds-on.

I find it interesting that only one of the six Woodward runners has won a race over the track. That would be Alpha, who will the rank outsider despite a 3-for-4 mark at the Spa.

If nothing else, Kieran McLaughlin, Alpha's trainer, came up with the quote of the meet.

Asked if Alpha would be sent to the lead, KM replied: "Not likely because that spot will be occupied."

Hey, it wouldn't be the first time a trainer fooled us.

Look back no further than Wednesday when trainer Christophe Clement ran an uncoupled entry in a maiden-special. His odds-on favorite missed the cut, while his 20-1 first-starter aired.

Of course, no one said boo.

But then again there is no one to say boo.

Like Clement, Bob Baffert is on a roll.

Last Sunday, Bullet Bob won the $1 million Pacific Classic at Del Mar with Game On Dude by a pole wire to wire. Now this Saturday he has Paynter in the Woodward and Awesome Baby in the Del Mar Debutante.

Like everything else in the barn, Awesome Baby will be heavily-favored and can be expected to wire the field.

Even Baffert's exes fit the bill.

Up to last week, Baffert had a horse in his California barn named Fast Bullet, who merely looked like the fastest horse in the world when he shipped east to win the True North at Belmont with six furlongs in 1:08 1/5.

Fast Bullet now turns up in the 500K Forego on the Woodward undercard, and no no doubt will be odds-on along with entrymate Justin Phillip.

But Fast Bullet doesn't live here anymore. Just the other day, maybe the day after the Travers, owner Ahmed Zayat switched barns -- Baffert to Lukas. Very strange, especially considering that Baffert is Zayat's main man, up to and including Paynter.

And the kicker is that new trainer Lukas switches to jockey Luis Saez, who was aboard for DWL on Will Take Charge last Saturday.

One thing about Wayne: when he falls for a jock, he falls hard -- at least up until the starts losing.

Interesting that Wayne wasted on time making his case for the 3-year-old Eclipse, pointing out that five different horses now have won the five most significant 3-year-old races.

Down the road, Will Take Charge will be Dubai's loss and Oaklawn's gain. WTC was the only horse in the nine-horse Travers who had raced at Oaklawn, and D. Wayne has become the No. 1 tourist attraction in the state of Arkansas, the state's most popular figure since the Man from Hope.

Funny. Despite a Churchill duck, and a 1-42 mark at Saratoga, D. Wayne is back on top. And this is 33 years after Codex.

I have to look no further than my mouse pad to think about Will Take Charge.

After all, the image is of Take Charge Lady, the dam of Will Take Charge, getting beat a dirty nose by two-time Horse of the Year Azeri in the 2002 Apple Blossom at Oaklawn.

We seem to conceding the Woodward to Paynter and the Forego to Fast Bullet, and it appears likely that Silver Maxb> will make it 3-for-3 with front-end favorites in the grassy 150K Ballston Spa.

Perhaps you'll find a first-time jewel in the four maiden races on the 12-race card.

This said, the worst thing you can do as a handicapper is concede a race to the favorite.

Just look at Race 11 on Thursday.

All Rosie Napravnikhad to do was get home a 3-5 shot named Brandys Secret, and there would be about 60 winning pick six tickets, each worth 14K. After all, the Spa was having a rare three-day carryover.

Brandy was cruising, four in front, leaving the furlong grounds. Then came footsteps, the footsteps of Hunter Forward, a steeplechaser by occupation, and the 35-1 rank outsider in the betting.

With Alex Solis aboard, Hunter Forward blew past Rosie 50 yards from the line, rewarding two off-track players with a $424,936 payoff. Hopefully, they will remember Solis at Christmas time.

As for Rosie, stuff happens.

Finally, a sad note:

Jeff Coady, the best photographer in the racing business, passed this week at 62. Our prayers to his family and many friends.

Thank you for tuning in, hope you're aboard the JP Hot Line express, go Bucs, have a happy holiday, and see you from Belmont next Friday.
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