Beware the Forgotten Pair in the Travers

It is time to finally sort out the best 3-year-olds, and every one not named Geaux Rocket Ride will be in action Saturday in what promises to be one the most hotly contested Travers Stakes in years. But before you jump to any seemingly logical conclusions there may be two gems lurking below the surface who could prove to be big overlays. ~ Steve Haskin

Beware the Forgotten Pair in the Travers

By Steve Haskin


There is no doubt the main storyline in this year’s Travers Stakes is the battle for 3-year-old supremacy between 2-year-old champion and Belmont Stakes runner-up Forte, Kentucky Derby winner Mage, and Belmont winner Arcangelo, with due respect to Haskell winner Geaux Rocket Ride who is back in California awaiting the Pacific Classic.

It is going to be tough separating the big three, with the relentless and indefatigable Forte the likely favorite. We also will have Preakness winner National Treasure, who actually will be a fairly big price in this field, completing the Triple Crown trifecta. If Forte does go off as favorite as expected that means the Travers will have the winners of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont, and none of the three will be the favorite.

But there may be a lot more to the Travers than trying to figure out which of the big classic horses will emerge victorious and put himself at  the head of the 3-year-old division, at least until we see how Geaux Rocket Ride fares against older horses at Del Mar the following week.

However, what adds to the Travers intrigue is the strength of two horses who are likely to be overlooked, but are talented enough on their best day of upsetting the favorites. Both horses have been considered disappointments based on their failures in big stakes, but could be powder kegs waiting to explode when no one expects it. They are Disarm and Tapit Trice. Both were once highly regarded and you never want to give up on a talented horse too early, especially when there are circumstances surrounding their defeats. I believe Disarm and Tapit Trice are being dismissed prematurely and there is a decent chance either one could prove to be big overlays in the Travers and at least sneak into the exacta or trifecta. It won’t be easy, but this is Saratoga.

It is extremely rare for me to rank a maiden winner in the Top 12 no matter how impressive he looks because I have seen too many fail to reproduce that brilliance when they face winners, especially stretching out to two turns. But sometimes you see something special in a horse that gives you enough confidence to take a chance on him. I saw enough in Disarm’s maiden victory at 2 going seven furlongs to rank him No. 12 in Week 1 back in January. The following week I was even more brazen by ranking Tapit Trice No. 7 off a neck maiden victory going a flat mile in the slop.

Both horses looked as if they had bright futures at classic distances, especially with their long stride, fluid action, and powerful pedigree. Two months later in my March 27 Rankings, Tapit Trice was ranked No. 3 and Disarm No. 7, showing both had made great progress. It is now August and although they have taken a slight step backwards there have been circumstances surrounding their defeats and their 3-year-old campaigns, which I believe have compromised them, and they now return to 1 1/4 miles over a track that tests one’s stamina more than the Kentucky Derby. You can count on one hand the number of wire-to-wire Travers winners in the last 40 years. Usually, when a horse wins the Travers leading every step of the way they wind up breaking the track record (see Arrogate, General Assembly, and Honest Pleasure, the last three track record holders).

Of course, Forte, Mage, and Arcangelo all come from off the pace, which should make this Travers a real battle down the stretch. But remember, Arcangelo had a perfect ground saving trip in the Belmont and hasn’t raced in 11 weeks and Mage had a perfect pace setup in the Derby, and we are looking for potential overlays in an absolutely loaded Travers with three exceptional contenders.

Before we continue I just want to add that I was surprised to hear that Bob Baffert is now pointing Reincarnate for the Pennsylvania Derby and National Treasure for the Travers, as it would seem each horse is better suited to the other race. But Baffert has his reasons and is almost often proven right. We could very likely be looking at another paceless race that National Treasure will be able to control if he can outrun the lightly raced Curlin Stakes winner Scotland, who has some early lick. . But as we said it is not easy stealing the Travers, with its deeper surface and where closers can turn into stalkers.

So now let’s take a look at the careers of Disarm and Tapit Trice and how they are coming into the Travers.

DISARM – He displayed all the tools I look for in his maiden win at Saratoga last August and did not run again in over six months. He returned in a one-mile allowance race at Oaklawn and had to chase a loose on the lead speed horse. Despite closing his last quarter in :24 2/5 he had to settle for second. It was now late March and trainer Steve Asmussen had no choice but to run him in the Louisiana Derby at 1 3/16 miles in order to pick up enough points to make the Kentucky Derby. That was a tall task considering he was so far behind. Despite still being behind the proverbial eight ball and being victimized by an insanely slow pace set by another loose on the lead horse, this time the highly regarded Kingsbarns, he rallied from sixth in a 12-horse field to finish a clear-cut second behind Kingsbarns, coming home his final three-sixteenths in a blistering :18 flat.

When it became apparent he was going to need more points to be assured a spot in the Derby, Asmussen again had to make a bold move, running him back in only three weeks in the Lexington Stakes, dropping back to 1 1/16 miles, and then having to come back in another three weeks in the Kentucky Derby. He needed only to finish third to assure a spot in the Derby and Joel Rosario rode him with that in mind. He gave him just enough to do and managed to pick up the show spot behind two talented and fast horses, First Mission and Arabian Lion. Disarm bounced out of that race in great shape and was training sensationally leading up to the Derby. Sent off at 27-1 in the 18-horse field, he overcame traffic problems and a rough stretch run to finish a strong fourth.

Asmussen, wanting to give him some time after his frantic Derby campaign, ran him back five weeks later in the Matt Winn Stakes and he scored a gutsy victory over Blue Grass Stakes runner-up Verifying. Then came the Jim Dandy for his Travers prep. Run over a sloppy track, and with only five horses in the field, he was last throughout behind a slow :48 half, and ran evenly in the stretch to finish fourth, beaten only 2 1/4 lengths by Forte, while striding out with great authority in the final furlong. So with everything, he now has two lengths to make up on the favorite and gets back to 1 1/4 miles.

Looking at his Equibase speed figures, I couldn’t help but notice the progression – 75, 83, 85, 95, 98, 100, and 106. That last figure in the Jim Dandy is six points faster than Arcangelo in the Belmont; four points faster than Mage in the Kentucky Derby; four points faster than National Treasure in the Preakness; and three points faster than Tapit Trice’s career-high figure in the Blue Grass Stakes.

With his low action and the great extension to his stride, as well as his strong distance pedigree and being inbred three times to Fappiano through his three stamina-oriented sons, I am anxious to see if this colt is ready to fulfill the promise his connections have had for him from day one.

TAPIT TRICE – There have been a number of handicappers who have come out following the Haskell and stated emphatically they are done with this colt, feeling he has either been underachieving, needs a perfect trip on the outside with no traffic, or simply is not as good as they once thought. But let’s take a closer look at this colt before dismissing him. First off, he went into the Kentucky Derby riding a four-race winning streak, including a late-running victory in the Tampa Bay Derby following a slow start and a gutsy score in the Blue Grass Stakes.

I don’t believe he was ready mentally to handle an 18-horse field, in which he got swallowed up in traffic and didn’t really get into the race until he was steered way out to the middle of the track all by himself away from the kickback and managed to finish a respectable seventh. This colt has a big long stride and is sluggish coming out of the gate, but he knows how to win in different ways when he gets the right kind of trip.

Following the Derby he waited for the Belmont, the race most everyone had him winning months in advance. While many were disappointed with his third-place finish, I thought he ran an excellent race to finish third, beaten only 1 1/2 lengths, and a nose for second by Forte. If there is one thing you never ever want to do at Belmont it is go wide into the far turn and get hung on the outside the entire turn. It is too long and sweeping and that prolonged ground loss takes too much out of a horse, who rarely is able to sustain his run through the stretch. Tapit Trice was forced to go five-wide into that turn. Although Forte was outside Tapit Trice tuning for home, he had swung out at the five-sixteenths and was never hung wide for that long like Tapit Trice was. As a result, Tapit Trice actually got a faster Thoro-Graph figure than Forte, equaling his career-high “1” in the Blue Grass Stakes. Only Mage has run a faster figure in his career.

Despite losing all the ground, Tapit Trice kept on relentlessly down the stretch and was just nipped at the wire for second by Forte. In short, this was a far better race than many people felt, especially those who had conceded the Belmont to Tapit Trice months earlier and were upset he didn’t win.

OK, so what happened in the Haskell, in which he showed little and finished a well-beaten fifth? What happened is that he ran a bad race, period. But in his defense I will say I’m a firm believer that if Forte was not a confirmed starter for the Jim Dandy there is no way Todd Pletcher would have run Tapit Trice in the Haskell. If there is one horse who is not suited for 1 1/8 miles at Monmouth Park it is Tapit Trice. This is a small track with short turns that is firmer than Saratoga and is more geared toward quick athletic horses like the one-two finishers, Geaux Rocket Ride and Mage. Last year’s winner was the quick and agile Cyberknife, who won by a head over the equally quick and agile Taiba in a track-record 1:46 1/5. There is no way you’re ever going to see Tapit Trice run 1 1/8 miles in 1:46 1/5. So in my opinion he simply was not a good fit for the Haskell and could never get in gear. I believe he will handle the looser Saratoga track, which tests a horse’s stamina.

He’s been sharp in his training at Saratoga, working in company with Forte, and like Disarm just might be ready to find the right race at the right distance and on the right racetrack.

So although you likely are trying to separate the big three, and rightly so, or are even trying to make a case for National Treasure pulling off another typical Baffert heist, just keep Disarm and Tapit Trice in mind when you are plotting your strategy for the exotics. One of these days these two talented horses are going to find the right conditions and put it all together at enticing odds. Could it be Saturday?

Photos courtesy of Coglianese Photos

Racing historian, author, and award-winning retired journalist for the Daily Racing Form and The Blood-Horse, Steve Haskin was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame’s Media Roll of Honor in 2016. Known for his racing knowledge and insightful prose, he has been an exclusive contributor to since 2020.



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87 Responses to “Beware the Forgotten Pair in the Travers”

  1. Mike Relva says:

    Give me a break! Agree w/ Jenna.

  2. Matthew W says:

    The post race comments… trainer Jenna Antonucci….they smack of victimhood, somewhat, I’m sorry—-any other trainer and Arcangelo goes off favored? Really? They all were critical of the layoff? Really? I didn’t notice everyone being against her and her horse, is she forming a narrative, of sorts? Good story, good horse, for sure, it’s a story that tells itself, no need to help it along…..

    • Lynda King says:

      Read Jenna’s comments and found nothing that “smacked of victimhood”.

      In this country at the very least, the sport of horse racing, breeding and training of Thoroughbreds, ownership and the jockeys are still very much a man’s game as compared to other countries like England, Ireland and Australlia.

      I happen to agree with what Jenna said and I have actually read some of criticisms, made against her by others.
      If the team wins the BCC, then Arangelo will be 3 year old and possibly HOTY.

      Saturday was yet another absolutely dismal day for horse racing. That rainbow that appeared after Arcangelo, Jenna and Javier won gave most everyone a sign of hope.

      • Ms Blacktype says:

        I agree with Lynda, Matthew. Jenna Antonucci burst on the scene with Archangelo’s Belmont victory, and she has been subject to a lot of pressure and scrutiny. Archy looked far and away the best 3YO this year. He and Disarm are peaking at the right time.

      • Matthew W says:

        So you agree with her words that any other trainer of Arcangelo and he would have been favored, in The Travers? She’s saying the bettors laid off the horse because it was HER, training the horse? I don’t agree with her about that…it rubs me wrong, at least ..

      • Terri Z says:

        Matthew W: Jenna is not claiming to be a victim. As you are a male, you have not faced any discrimination due to your gender. But there have been plenty of women in racing who have faced discrimination in their careers.
        I have a feeling that two of our departed American Queens of racing were watching and smiling down: Penny Chenery and Marylou Whitney.

        • Lynda King says:

          Totally agree Terri.

        • Matthew W says:

          “Any other trainer and my horse goes favored, I am sure of that”…….I don’t agree with her about that, and it does smack of victimhood, but as you correctly stated I am a male so there’s that ….

          • Todd Vaughn says:

            I wasn’t particularly offended by Jena’s comments, and i was glad Arcangelo won, but as we have often seen in the past, it is generally better to let the horse do the talking.

    • Mike Relva says:

      Applies for BB as well.

  3. 1JoeP says:

    Congrats to JC and Jenna and ArcAngelo in winning the Travers. Disarm continues to improve and ran a valiant 2nd. I was thrilled to hit an $11 EX AA/Disarm which made my day. RIP to NY Thunder. These horse deaths are happening way to often. Very sad and disheartening.

  4. Nelson Maan says:

    Congratulations to Steve are in order as his longshots (Disarm and Tapit Trice) performed better than the majority expected… we should always listen to the intuition of expert historians…

    I am very happy for Castellano and Jena… Arcangelo looks like a serious contender for the BC Classic and Horse of the Year honors… it is between him and Geaux Rocket Ride now… the Older horses don’t look outstanding enough against the 3-year-old top tier.

    The late Arrogate becomes the 17th Travers champion who also sired a winner of the mid-summer Derby…

    Heartfelt condolences to Jorge Delgado and to the team who loved and cared for the unforgettable New York Thunder… RIP flying son of Nyquist…

  5. Matthew W says:

    Stop…..rolling down the track cushion….deep mud results in slower times, messier animals…..but a deep muddy track is SAFE—-rolling down the cushion is a dangerous practice, in Quarter Horses racing I steer clear of horses that ran over wet-fast surfaces, leave the cushion alone!..

    • Matthew W says:

      Update! They opened up the track… was only sealed for the one (tragic) race….

    • Steve haskin says:

      I couldn’t agree more. Stop turning these tracks into highways. They never used to seal tracks and horses just splashed through the water and the form stayed pretty much the same and the tracks were safer. Horses today dont even make it to surgery. every injury is catastrophic. The bones have gotten weaker, horses are more unsound. Its gotten sickening .

      • Steve haskin says:

        Also back then you had standing water on top of a good cushion. In fact a sloppy track often helped a horse who had soundness problems because it was easier on them. And the horses weren’t pumped with pain killers and anti inflammatory drugs. You were not allowed to have anything.

        • Discopartner says:

          This summer has been wet vs very dry last summer, the base may have been damaged somehow. They don’t race every day it rains.

        • Matthew W says:

          Well back then they DID pinfire a tendon or two, but I get your point…that 1974 Travers….one of the wettest surfaces I have ever seen….was one of my favorite Travers Stakes!…..

        • Ms Blacktype says:

          I don’t know if it was the track, or some underlying soundness issue, but I’ve never seen a horse snap a fetlock like that. So sad for all the connections of that wonderful horse, who was easily going to win a Grade 1 race.

          • Jiffy says:

            When Maple Leaf Mel suffered her injury, I couldn’t remember ever seeing a horse who was clearly winning break down within strides of the wire without any foul or bumping or clipping heels. Now I’ve seen it twice in three weeks, and if what I’ve read is correct, the injury seems to be about the same–a catastrophic break in the fetlock area. I find that really strange. I too have no idea about the cause, but it’s a bit much to be a coincidence. I also offer sympathy to the human families of all these horses.

            • Ms Blacktype says:

              That struck me as weird too, Jiffy. He wasn’t under any pressure, but he certainly was running fast. I had Mel’s race on tape delay so I never watched it. The impact on such a hard surface must be part of the problem.

            • TerriZ says:

              Jiffy, Eight Belles broke down before the finish line in the Kentucky Derby in much the same way. (Sadly)

              • ChiefsCrown says:

                Actually, Eight Belles broke down strides after the wire to finish second. Still have never watched a repeat of that Derby.

      • Terri Z says:

        Steve Haskin, thanks for your concern about the track safety and about the lack of bone strength in today’s horses.
        I wish our breeding was based on the horse’s ability to race rather than the sale price.
        I wonder how the Japanese will do with their breeding program now that they intend to breed Honor Code (descendent of Seattle Slew, Secretariat, and Secretariat’s daughter Terlingua) with mares the are descendants of Sunday Silence.

  6. Todd Vaughn says:

    I still like Arcangelo, but the price is too low. I’ll take a shot with Scotland. Improving, big speed, and the best big race trainer in Mott.

  7. 1 JoeP says:

    Liking AA in the Travers. AA/Disarm EX. AA will be my TRI and SF Key horse. 2/1,4,6/1,4,6. Same for SF. Late pick 5 : 4,5,6/6,7/1,2,5,7/1,2/1,2,3,8. Safe trips to all.

  8. Matthew W says:

    Steve Echo Zulu ran an unheard of negative five Thorograph number, four weeks ago, Ill just watch her today, because the bounce factor is in play today, after beating her previous best number of negative one . In The Travers, they like a Mage–Arcangelo straight exacta…

    • Matthew W says:

      Excuse me they like Mage, on top of Arcangelo and the big grey today…their problem with Forte is he hasn’t improved this year…but he is always right there …