The wide-open race for 3-year-old championship honors starts anew in Saturday’s 50th running of the Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy at Saratoga Race Course.
Heading the field for the 1 1/8-mile race is Belmont Stakes hero Palace Malice, who will face nine other sophomores in the Spa’s traditional springboard to the Grade 1, $1 million Travers on Aug. 24. The Jim Dandy, named for the horse who upset Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox in the 1930 Travers, has produced 17 winners of the “Mid-Summer Derby,” including Stay Thirsty, who won in 2011, and Alpha, who dead-heated with Golden Ticket to win last year’s Travers.
“I think we need a bridge from the Belmont to the Travers, and this is a good place to do it,” said Todd Pletcher, who trains Palace Malice for Dogwood Stable. “The Jim Dandy on its own is a very significant race, and we’re not using it as a prep. We’re hoping to run well here and move forward to the Travers.”
The Jim Dandy, race 10 on Saturday’s 11-race card, will be telecast from 5-6 p.m. EDT along with the Grade 1 Diana as the first of the NBC Sports Group’s “Summer at Saratoga” series.
Last summer at the Spa, Palace Malice signaled his class with a 3 ½-length maiden score, but failed to consistently deliver on that promise early in his 3-year-old campaign, finishing third in the Grade 2 Risen Star, seventh in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby, and second in the Grade 1 Blue Grass. Outfitted with blinkers for the first – and only – time in the Kentucky Derby, he rocketed to the front while three-wide and wound up tiring to 12th. Having skipped the Preakness, the son of Curlin was spot on for the 1 ½-mile Belmont on June 8, pulling clear through the stretch for a convincing 3 ¼-length triumph.
Rather than having taken anything out of the colt, Pletcher thinks the Derby and the Belmont have worked in Palace Malice’s favor.
“I think he’s blossomed out of it,” said Pletcher, who will be looking for his sixth victory in the Jim Dandy. “He’s a May foal, so he’s starting to come into his own. He’s gained weight, and he’s gotten stronger. If anything, I think the Derby and the Belmont have propelled him forward.”
With Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith aboard, Palace Malice drew post position 5 as the 5-2 favorite on the morning line.
Palace Malice will have some familiar foes in the Jim Dandy, with several veterans of the Triple Crown returning including Mylute, fifth in the Derby and third in the Preakness; Freedom Child, 13th in the Belmont; Vyjack, 18th in the Derby and eighth in the Belmont, and Will Take Charge, who was eighth in the Derby, seventh in the Preakness, and 10th in the Belmont.
Trainer Tom Amoss is satisfied with his decision to skip the Belmont with Mylute, who was beaten just 3 ¾ lengths in the Derby and 2 ¼ lengths in the Preakness.
“He’s been doing really well since he’s been here, almost two weeks,” said Amoss, who trains the Midnight Lute colt for GoldMark Farm. “It’s right in his backyard, and there will be some pace in the race, from what we can tell.”
Rosie Napravnik will be aboard Mylute, who will leave from post position 8 and who was listed as the 7-2 second choice on the morning line.
An eye-catching 13 ¼-length winner of the Grade 2 Peter Pan on May 11, Freedom Child was sent off as the third choice in the Belmont Stakes, in which he vied for the early lead and then retreated to 13th.
“As well as he ran in the Peter Pan, if he comes back and runs that similar race, he’s going to be right back where he was,” said trainer Tom Albertrani of the West Point Thoroughbreds color-bearer. “I can’t make much out of the Belmont, really. I’m not going to discredit him off of that race. The way he’s been working since came back from the Belmont, I’ve got a lot of confidence in the horse.”
Having drawn post position 7, Freedom Child, 4-1 on the morning line, will be ridden by Luis Saez.
Heading a handful of newcomers is the Bob Baffert-trained Code West, who easily beat older horses on May 18 in a Preakness Day allowance at Pimlico Race Course and won the Grade 3 Matt Winn on June 15 last time out.
“After his last race at Churchill Downs, we thought he deserved a chance to find out if he can step it up,” said the Hall of Fame trainer of Code West, who is owned by Gary and Mary West. “Hopefully, if he runs well here, he’ll go on to the Travers.”
Code West, 6-1 on the morning line, will be ridden by Joel Rosario from post position 2.
Completing the field are Looking Cool (15-1) and Bashaar (15-1), first and third, respectively, in the Grade 3 Iowa Derby; Moreno (10-1), who earned a career-best 100 Beyer Speed Figure with his seven-length wire-to-wire victory in the Grade 2 Dwyer on July 6 at Belmont Park, and Perfect Title (20-1), making his stakes debut following a 1 ¼-length allowance win on June 7 at Churchill Downs.
NYRA photo by Alcosser