July 22, 2024

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Saturday’s Jim Dandy at Saratoga a weekend horse racing highlight

Saturday’s Jim Dandy at Saratoga a weekend horse racing highlight

Forte, shown winning the 2022 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, seeks to get back on course in Saturday's Jim Dandy at Saratoga. Photo by Eclipse Sportswire, courtesy of Breeders' Cup

1 of 2 | Forte, shown winning the 2022 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, seeks to get back on course in Saturday’s Jim Dandy at Saratoga. Photo by Eclipse Sportswire, courtesy of Breeders’ Cup

July 28 (UPI) — Saturday’s Group 1 King George Stakes at Ascot in England has two of the year’s best 3-year-olds, including dual Derby winner August Rodin, facing older rivals, while back in the States, U.S. 3-year-olds go at it again in the Jim Dandy at Saratoga.

Two reigning U.S. champions are in action. One of those races is the Jim Dandy with last year’s juvenile champ Forte. The other features the winner and runner-up from the top dirt sprint on Saudi Cup night in Riyadh in February. The winner of the 2022 Breeders’ Cup Turf returns to U.S. soil, too.

There are big-time sprints from coast to coast, one offering an Annie Oakley for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

All of that, of course, is subject to the whims of Mother Nature. Extreme heat forced cancellation of Thursday and Friday racing at Woodbine, Friday at Laurel Park and Friday and Saturday at Colonial Downs.

Temperatures are predicted to moderate in upstate New York and Ontario by Saturday, but not in the Washington D.C., area, so check before you head to the track.

In “News and Notes,” see what Churchill Downs officials are reporting about the investigation into 12 horse deaths in the weeks leading up to this year’s Kentucky Derby.

The 3-year-olds

Forte was the clear leader in this division at the start of the year after reigning as the 2-year-old Breeders’ Cup and Eclipse Award champ in 2022.

Through a combination of circumstances, including his forced scratch from the Kentucky Derby, he hasn’t been able to prove on track that he actually deserves that status.

On the other hand, no other 3-year-old has jumped up to take his place. So when he lines up against four rivals in Saturday’s $500,000 Grade II Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga, will he or won’t he prove his supremacy?

Forte will have to be ready because the hackneyed description “small, but select” could have been coined for this field.

Disarm was fourth in the Kentucky Derby and, most recently, winner of the Grade III Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs. He’s been consistent without breaking through to the top level.

Hit Show won the Grade III Withers at Aqueduct in February, but then second in the Wood Memorial, fifth in the Derby and fourth in the Belmont.

Angel of Empire won the Grade II Risen Star at Fair Grounds and Grade I Arkansas Derby before finishing third in Louisville and fourth in the Belmont.

Saudi Crown is the least experienced with two wins in his first two races and a second in the Grade III Dwyer in his most recent start. Despite that, Saudi Crown is the second-favorite on the morning line behind Forte.

However this race turns out, the cream of this 3-year-old crop will meet again in a month’s time for the Grade I Travers, the “Midsummer Derby.”

The 3-year-old fillies

Occult, Promiseher America and Foggy Night are prominent in a field of 10 entered for Saturday’s $250,000 Grade III Monmouth Oaks.

Occult was third in the Grade I Acorn at Belmont Park in her last start. Promiseher America won the Grade 3 Gazelle at Belmont, but finished 14th in the Kentucky Oaks. Foggy Night was last seen winning the Grade III Delaware Oaks and has missed a first-three finish only once in eight starts.

Sprint

Saturday sprints at Saratoga and Del Mar should help shape the early picture for November’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

Reigning Breeders’ Cup and Eclipse Award sprint champion Elite Power tops a field of seven entered for Saturday’s $350,000 Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga.

The 5-year-old son of Curlin has won his last seven starts. In addition to the Breeders’ Cup heat, that string includes the Group 3 Riyadh Dirt Sprint in Saudi Arabia in February and the Grade II True North Stakes in his last outing.

That impressive resume is just about matched by that of his main rival, Gunite. The 4-year-old Gun Runner colt, also a multiple graded stakes winner, finished second in the Saudi Arabian sprint, and then was third in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen a month later.

He was last seen winning the Aristides Stakes at Churchill Downs on Derby weekend. Dean Delivers would be the favorite in many other classy sprints.

Saturday’s $400,000 Grade I Bing Crosby Stakes at Del Mar, a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, isn’t exactly a program-stabber, but there are plenty of ways to look at the 12-horse field.

The oddsmaker looks at Dr. Schivel as the lukewarm 7-2 favorite with Spirit of Makena, The Chosen Vron and Anarchist all posted at 4-1.

Dr. Schivel finished third in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen in March and won a 6-furlongs allowance race at Santa Anita in May, but then couldn’t handle the Grade I Met Mile at Belmont Park in his last start, finishing fifth after battling for the lead. That was an outstanding field, though.

Weather permitting, Synthesis, Lightning Larry and Wonderwherecraigis top a field of seven for Saturday’s $150,000 Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash at Laurel Park.

Synthesis was second in the Grade 2 John A. Nerud Stakes at Belmont in his last. Lightning Larry has back-to-back stakes wins at Monmouth Park and Delaware Park. Wonderwherecraigis was second in last year’s edition.

Drew’s Gold is a narrow favorite in a field of six for Friday’s $200,000 Grade II Amsterdam Stakes for 3-year-olds at Saratoga.

The Violence colt was second in the Grade I Woody Stephens in his latest start after winning his first four races. Gilmore, Ryvit and New York Thunder all look live, and even long shot Joey Freshwater wouldn’t be a total shock.

Filly & Mare Sprint

Echo Zulu improved her career tally sheet to eight wins from 10 starts with a trouncing of three rivals in Wednesday’s $200,000 Grade II Honorable Miss at Saratoga.

The Gun Runner filly, second to Goodnight Olive in last year’s Breeders’ Cup, got away to win by 7 1/4 lengths, geared down late by jockey Florent Geroux. The victory backed up a win in the Grade III Winning Colors at Churchill Downs in her 2023 debut.

“I think it’s that simple: She’s extremely fast. She really is,” winning trainer Steve Asmussen said. “She’s doing it quicker than they are, easier than they are in comparison to the other horses.”

Asked if the $500,000 Grade I Ballerina Handicap on Aug. 26, a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint, is next, Asmussen said, “Oh, absolutely. That is the target for the summer.”

Classic

Defunded is the solid morning-line favorite in Saturday’s $300,000 Grade II San Diego Handicap at Del Mar.

The 5-year-old Dialed In gelding was busy and successful during the first half of the year, reporting second in the Grade I Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream Park, third in the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap and first in both the Grade II Californian and Grade I Hollywood Gold Cup.

A victory would move him along toward the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November.

Tyson is the heavyweight among six entered for Saturday’s $175,000 (Canadian) Grade II Seagram Cup on the Woodbine all-weather.

The 4-year-old Tapit colt has three wins from four starts, all on all-weather tracks, and exits a late-running victory in the Grade III Dominion Day Stakes on July 1.

Thursday’s $150,000 Birdstone Stakes at Saratoga produced another of those Marty McGee “It’s an Easy Game” results.

Next, a reformed claimer, powered away to win the 1 3/4-mile marathon by 11 3/4 lengths as the odds-on favorite.

The 5-year-old Not This Time gelding was claimed for $62,000 at Keeneland in April 2022 by trainer William Cowans for Michael Foster. Since then, he’s won five of seven starts, including the Grade II Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance at Keeneland and the Grade II Brooklyn Stakes at Belmont Park.

“We’ve claimed a lot of horses and had a lot of success,” Foster said. “It’s not our first stakes horse that we’ve claimed, but this guy’s a claim of the century. He’s just a dream come true, I tell you. We have more fun with this horse than we ever dreamed of.”

Turf

Sunday’s $250,000 Grade II Bowling Green at Saratoga has a big field featuring reigning Breeders’ Cup Turf champion Rebel’s Romance.

The Godolphin homebred 5-year-old finished seventh in the Group 1 Dubai Sheema Classic in March and hasn’t raced since. It’s noted, though, that he bounded back nicely from a similar misadventure in Dubai last year. He has nine wins from 13 starts overall.

The Bowling Green opposition includes Soldier Rising, a 5-year-old by Frankel, who was second in the Grade I Man o’ War and the Grade I Manhattan in his last two starts.

The Grey Wizard comes off a second in the Grade II Belmont Gold Cup. Turf maestro Chad Brown has only two in the field, Highest Honors and Rockemperor, neither of whom appears in best form. They also drew the inside gates.

Nine-year-old Channel Maker gives it another go for trainer Bill Mott.

Trainer Phil D’Amato has three of his turf-running stalwarts set for Sunday’s $250,000 Grade II Eddie Read Stakes at Del Mar and the trio, Gold Phoenix, Balnikhov and Masteroffoxhounds, are drawn in the No. 2, 3 and 4 gates in a field of nine.

There’s plenty of opposition with the likes of proven graded stakes performers Count Again, Dicey Mo Chara, Cabo Spirit and Mackinnon lining up.

Turf Sprint

Twilight Gleaming and Amy C. are the marquee names in a big field set for Friday’s $100,000 Daisycutter Handicap for fillies and mares at Del Mar.

Trainer Wesley Ward has had Kentucky-based Twilight Gleaming in California for a couple weeks, preparing for her first start since a flop in the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot.

She won this race last year and also won the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint at Del Mar, qualifying as a “horse for the course”. Amy C. finished third in her last start after a five-month layoff.

Juvenile Turf

Sunday’s $100,000 Tyro Stakes at Monmouth Park, 5 furlongs on the grass, has a full field of 12 including No Nay Mets. The No Nay Never colt won his career debut in the Royal Palm Juvenile Stakes at Gulfstream Park but finished ninth in the Group 2 Norfolk at Royal Ascot. Ship Cadet also won his opener, then finished second in the Tremont Stakes at Belmont Park. Ramming Speed comes off a ninth-place finish in the Grade III Sanford at Saratoga. The others are maiden winners from various points of the compass.

Around the world, around the clock

England

The first two finishers from this year’s Epsom Derby, Auguste Rodin and King of Steel, face off again in Saturday’s Group 1 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot, a “Win and You’re In” for the Breeders’ Cup Turf.

The 3-year-olds would be enough to make any race a stellar attraction on their own. But the ante is upped as they take on the well-fancied likes of 4-year-old filly Emily Upjohn and 6-year-old Hukum, the 2022 and 2021 winners of the Group 1 Coronation Cup, respectively.

Pyledriver, Luxembourg and Westover also provide food for handicapping thought.

To the victor belong the spoils. But more spoils are on offer for Auguste Rodin than for any of the others. As a dual Derby winner — he annexed the Irish version July 2 at the Curragh — he would rise to a significant level of historic stardom with a victory over these quality older rivals.

Also, as a son of the late Japanese superstar sire and Japan Derby winner Deep Impact and grandson of the late Irish superstar sire and Epsom Derby winner Galileo — what more need be said? Oh, well, this could be noted: Deep Impact is a son of Kentucky Derby winner Sunday Silence.

The only negative news relative to the King George was the late defection of 2022 Derby winner Desert Crown with a leg infection, denying fans a head-to-head with the last two winners of that Classic.

Desert Crown is expected back for the Juddmonte International at York on Aug. 13.

Meanwhile, back in North America

Presque Isle Downs

Maldives Model got by the favorite, Tactical Pajamas, in the closing yards of Monday’s $100,000 Princess of Sylmar Stakes for Pennsylvania-bred fillies and mares and won by 1/2 length.

Maldives Model, a 5-year-old Petionville mare, ran 1 mile, 70 yards on the all-weather track in 1:43.91 with Gaddiel Martinez up.

Nice Ace got right to the front in Tuesday’s $100,000 Hard Spun Stakes for state-breds, turned back a challenge from odds-on favorite Buy Land and See, and went on to win by 1 1/4 lengths. He’s a Mess also got by the favorite for second.

Nice Ace, a 5-year-old Noble Mission gelding, ran 1 mile and 70 yards in 1:41.15 with Pablo Morales in the irons.

News and Notes

Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen told investors and analysts Thursday that an investigation into 12 horse deaths in the weeks leading up to the Kentucky Derby has found nothing worth reporting.

After a “soup to nuts” review of “everything we do at the racetrack … there was nothing that jumped out as the apparent cause of the injuries, of the breakdowns,” Carstanjen said during a quarterly earnings conference call. “But that’s business and that’s sport.”

He did promise, without providing details, that “new safety protocols” will be in place when Churchill Downs resumes racing in September.

Carstanjen had not directly discussed the breakdowns during extensive prepared remarks on the call and addressed them only during a question and answer session.