The Haskell isn't the Travers. It's a shorter race on a racetrack that has always suited speed horses. In hindsight, Bayern fit that race perfectly as he ran the opposition off their collective feet. It was a dazzling, brilliant and effective display of speed and one of the best races turned in by any 3 year old this year.
Yet some handicappers are licking their chops to bet against him Saturday, believing he'll be a vulnerable low-priced favorite. The thinking is that what works in the Haskell doesn't always work in the Travers.
That's often the case. But this year's Travers looks like it's going to be a rerun of the Haskell. Bayern is simply the fastest horse and they'll never catch him.
Even though he easily won the Haskell at a mile-and-an-eighth, Bayern probably isn't a great fit for the Travers distance. But when horses get loose on the lead they can accomplish almost anything, and there's no one else in this race that is fast enough to put any pressure on him early.
"The faster the better for him," trainer Bob Baffert said. "He's just a fast horse. He just wants to go. He's like Game On Dude. He's the same way. You just have to let him go and what happens happens. You just can't worry it about it; you have to utilize his speed."
The Travers is not an easy assignment for Bayern. Wicked Strong showed renewed energy in the Jim Dandy, winning with blinkers, and will likely stalk Bayern from second or third. Tonalist, the Belmont, winner, figures to improve off his second-place showing in the Jim Dandy and the Travers distance will be no problem for him. Mr. Speaker brings Grade 1-winning credentials into the race, but must prove he can run on the dirt.
They are good horses, and so is Bayern. The difference is he's going to have a huge advantage in this race, one the others won't be able to overcome.
The Travers in the centerpiece of an important weekend of racing for the 3-year-old male division. A day later Shared Belief will take on older males, including Game On Dude, in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar. California Chrome, meanwhile, is slated to make his return in the Sept. 20 Pennsylvania Derby at Parx. What was once a one-horse race for the 3-year-old championship could become a very tight battle for the title among California Chrome, Shared Belief and the Travers winner. It might take a Breeders' Cup Classic win to separate them.
As for the other big stakes Saturday at Saratoga:
Ballston Spa: Seven grass mares will vie in a $250,000 race contested at a mile-and-a-sixteenth. Filimbi beat Dayathespa three weeks ago in the De La Rose Stakes and those two again head the field. Off since December, Dayatthespa may have needed her start in the De la Rose and can beat Filimbi if she returns to her best form.
King's Bishop: This is always one of the better races of the meet and this year's renewal is no exception. Coming off a win in the Amsterdam for trainer Larry Jones and jockey Rosie Napravnik, Coup de Grace is the likely favorite. I'm going with Wildcat Red, another horse coming out of the Haskell, where he was a distance third. He is a classy horse who won the Fountain of Youth and was beaten just a neck in the Florida Derby at distances that are probably just outside his comfort zone. He returns to a sprint race and has never lost at seven furlongs or less.
The Ballerina: The toughest handicapping riddle on the day, the Ballerina brings together nine older female sprinters. I'll take a stand against morning line favorite My Miss Aurelia, who hasn't won since Sept. 2012 and turned in a mediocre effort in her return off a layoff in the Shine Again Stakes. I'll take a stab with Willet. She's taking a huge step up in class after facing New York breds but is in razor sharp form, could get a nice pace set up and has always liked this racing surface. New Jersey bred Geeky Gorgeous is another who has a shot and what is sure to be a huge price.