The evenly-matched group is looking to fill the void in the division left by the stars of this year’s Triple Crown.
“With I’ll Have Another, Bodemeister and Union Rags not being around, that leaves the door open for one of them,” said Michael Matz, who will saddle Teeth of the Dog in the 1 1/8-mile race, the traditional prep for the Grade 1, $1 million Travers on Aug. 25. “There’s not one horse that’s a standout going into the race.”
Teeth of the Dog comes into the Jim Dandy riding a two-race win streak at Belmont Park, having taken the Easy Goer on the same day that recently retired stablemate Union Rags won the Belmont Stakes and next triumphing in the Grade 2 Dwyer. Owned by J. W. Singer, the Bluegrass Cat colt broke his maiden February 4 at Gulfstream Park, followed by a third-place finish in the Grade 1 Resorts World Casino New York City Wood Memorial and a fifth in the Grade 1 Preakness.
“His last two races were good, more so being that in one of then he was on the pace and in the other he came from behind,” said Matz of Teeth of the Dog, the 5-1 fourth choice on the morning line. “We’ve asked a lot of him this year, and he’s handled himself pretty well. One of the great things about this horse is that he’s got a big heart and will give us his all. We’ll wait and see if he can propel himself into the Travers.”
Joel Rosario will ride Teeth of the Dog from post position No. 6.
Returning to the site of his very first victory is 5-2 morning-line favorite Alpha, who is 3-2-0 from five starts in the Empire State. Last seen finishing 12th in the Kentucky Derby, Alpha opened his 2012 campaign with victories in the Count Fleet and Grade 3 Withers at Aqueduct Racetrack and was beaten a neck by Gemologist in the Wood Memorial. The Bernardini colt had been scheduled to run in the Belmont, but was declared from the race after developing a fever.
He returned to the work tab on June 30, and on July 14 zipped five furlongs in a bullet 58.88 seconds, and most recently went a half-mile in 49.58 on July 21
“Alpha’s doing great,” said trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. “We’re all set.”
The Godolphin Racing colorbearer will leave from the rail with Ramon Dominguez in the irons.
At 3-1 on the morning line is Neck ‘n Neck, who took four tries to break his maiden in 2011 and who appears to have turned it around midway through his 3-year-old campaign. After finishing fourth and fifth, respectively, in the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth and the Grade 1 Florida Derby, the Flower Alley colt next beat older horses in an allowance race at Churchill Downs on May 10 and gained his first stakes win in the Grade 3 Matt Winn on June 16.
“Just the way he did it and how he executed, and you know, to win by seven and beat those horses with authority, you have to go to the next level,” said trainer Ian Wilkes. “You’ve got to give them a shot to get against the big boys.”
Leandro Goncalves, aboard for all three of Neck ‘n Neck’s victories, will ride A. Stevens Miles, Jr’s. colt from post position No. 4.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, whose Bodemeister finished second to I’ll Have Another in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, will be represented by Liaison, the lone Grade 1 winner in the field. The Indian Charlie colt, who capped a three-race winning streak in the Grade 1 CashCall Futurity to close out his 2011 campaign, is 0-for-6 this year, most recently finishing third as the favorite to stablemate Blueskiesnrainbows and Nonios in the Grade 2 Swaps at Betfair Hollywood Park.
Owned by Arnold Zechter, Liaison will be regain the services of jockey Martin Garcia, who was aboard for his most recent work in 1:12.40 at Del Mar on Monday
Liaison, third choice at 7-2 on the morning line, will leave from post position No. 7.
Another Hall of Fame trainer, Nick Zito, is hopeful Fast Falcon will continue his forward progression. Off the board in his first two races, the Awesome Again colt broke his maiden going 1 1/16 miles at Pimlico on May 11, and next was a late-running second to Teeth of the Dog in both the Easy Goer and the Dwyer.
“I ran him Belmont Stakes day to see what I had,” said Zito. “Boy, did he come with a great run that day. In his next start, he got closer to Teeth of the Dog again, and here we are again. Hopefully, he can do the same thing: hang around these horses and keep moving up. It’s an extra sixteenth of a mile and he certainly has everything going for him distance-wise.”
Rosie Napravnik will ride Fast Falcon, 10-1 on the morning line, from post position No. 2.
Completing the field are multiple graded stakes winner Prospective, most recently victorious in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby; Atigun, third in the Belmont Stakes, and My Adonis, who rebounded from an eighth-place finish in the Belmont to take the Long Branch at Monmouth Park on July 8.
–NYRA Press contributed to this report.
Teeth of the Dog (right) and Fast Falcon/NYRA photo