You can't bet on American Pharoah in the Travers. What's the point of collecting $2.20? You can't bet against American Pharoah in the Travers. He's the best horse of his generation, much better than the competition, and there's little reason to expect that he will lose. To play someone else to win would just be throwing your money away.
With the single exception of changing the words "Haskell" to "Travers," that is the exact same lead paragraph I wrote prior to the Haskell. The story hasn't changed one bit since. American Pharoah presents a dilemma to horseplayers every time he shows up in the starting gate. He is as close to unbeatable as a horse gets, yet betting on him to win at odds of 1-10 or 1-5 in the Travers, or any other race, doesn't seem worth the trouble.
I got it right in the Haskell, predicting that Keen Ice would finish second. He came through for a $10.80 exacta, a lot better than taking the $2.20 to win on Pharoah.
The only way to approach Saturday's $1.6 million race from a betting standpoint is to consider the Travers as two races. The first is the one-horse race that includes American Pharoah -- and American Pharoah only. The second is a much better betting race. It consists of seven horses vying for prize money of $270,000 for finishing second. The Travers II is a good race in its own right, better than the Haskell II. It includes several top-class horses and a fairly wide open betting affair. Figure out who wins this race and you've unlocked the chance for a reasonable pay day in the exactas and trifectas.
The major difference between the Haskell and Travers is the pace situation. There was other speed in the Haskell besides American Pharoah, which meant a quick pace and that anyone involved with him early was sure to fizzle out in the stretch. That's why I liked Keen Ice for second. He figured to run past tired horses in the stretch and finish a non-threatening second. That's exactly how it happened.
That won't be the case in the Travers. There is one speed horse (American Pharoah), a handful of stalkers (Upstart, Texas Red and Frosted) and some deep closers (Mid Ocean, Frammento. Keen Ice and Tale of Verve). Under "Dancing with the Stars" contestant Victor Espinoza, American Pharoah figures to have the easiest sort of trip. He'll be uncontested on the lead and should be able to get away with a much slower pace than the one in the Haskell, where they went in :23 1/5, :46 1/5 and 1:09 3/5.
Keen Ice isn't going to get the type of pace setup he needs this time and is unlikely to hit the board. The same goes for the other closers, who can also be eliminated on the basis of their inferior form.
That will leave Upstart, Texas Red and Frosted battling it out for second and third after they sit in some order a few lengths back of Pharoah early. That's hardly going out on a limb because they are clearly the three best horses in the race not named American Pharoah. But if you go in any other direction, you are sure to lose.
At this writing, it's unclear if Upstart is going to run. Trainer Rick Violette Jr. is on the record saying he is reluctant to race against Pharoah again after his horse ran his heart out, only to be third in the Haskell. Even if he does go, he's unlikely to finish ahead of Texas Red or Frosted. He had a good trip in the Haskell and had no response when asked to fight off Keen Ice for the place. He'd have to improve considerably off that race to finish second, and I don't see it happening.
That leaves Frosted and Texas Red for second, and it's a close call. After beating Frosted to win the Jim Dandy by a half-length, Texas Red deserves to be the second choice in the wagering. But I'll take Frosted in the second spot.
Of the two, Frosted looks better-suited to the mile-and-a-quarter distance and will carry equal weight with Texas Red this time after spotting him four pounds in the Jim Dandy. The other factor is the trainers. Texas Red's Keith Desormeaux is a good trainer. Frosted's Kiaran McLaughlin is a great trainer, and he's certain to find a way to bring out the very best in his horse in such a big race.
The Plays: $40 exacta, Pharoah over Frosted; $20 exacta, Pharoah over Texas Red; $20 trifecta, Pharoah-Frosted-Texas Red; $20 trifecta, Pharoah-Texas Red-Frosted.