The top contenders in the 3-year-old division usually sojourn to Saratoga Race Course in August for the Travers Stakes (G1). But top-caliber sophomores will be competing at the historic racetrack in July, with the Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes on July 31 attracting a talented six-horse field headlined by Belmont Stakes (G1)-winner Essential Quality.
The 58th running of the Jim Dandy, contested at 1 1/8 miles, is one of three graded stakes on Saturday’s 11-race card, joining the Grade 1, $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap for 3-year-olds and up sprinting six furlongs in Race 8 and the Grade 2, $250,000 Bowling Green for 4-year-olds and up going 1 3/8 miles on the inner turf in Race 10.
The Jim Dandy, a prep race for the Grade 1, $1.25 million Runhappy Travers at 1 1/4 miles on Aug. 28, will mark the Saratoga debut of Godolphin’s Essential Quality. The reigning juvenile male champion for trainer Brad Cox has already proved he was more than a talented 2-year-old, starting his sophomore campaign with wins in the Grade 3 Southwest and Grade 2 Blue Grass while on the Kentucky Derby trail this spring.
Following a competitive fourth in the “Run for the Roses” on May 1 in which he earned his first triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure, Essential Quality outdueled Hot Rod Charlie to post a 1 1/4-length victory in the Belmont Stakes on June 5 at the Triple Crown race’s famed 1 1/2-mile distance. The Tapit colt earned Cox his first career win in an American classic and has registered three works at Saratoga since shipping from Churchill earlier this month.
“He likes it up here big time,” Cox said. “We take him out in the afternoons when it’s not raining and let him graze. He’s a lawnmower. He’s real focused here. He’s doing well.”
Essential Quality earned a 109 Beyer for his Belmont win and has posted six wins in seven career starts, with five of those victories in graded stakes, encompassing three winner’s circle trips in Grade 1s after winning the Breeders’ Futurity in his second career start in October at Keeneland before winning the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile over the same track in November to close out his 2020 award-winning campaign.
“I’m very anxious to see him race again just for the simple fact of how he’s training and how he’s filling out,” Cox said. “He’s a very intelligent horse. He’s been wanting to do more. He came out of last work great. He’s been very sharp and his energy has been great. The cooler weather is playing a role in that. But he’s ready to run. I’m very excited.”
Jockey Luis Saez, aboard for all six of Essential Quality’s stakes races, will have the return call from post 5.
Chiefswood Stables’ Weyburn, winner of the Grade 3 Gotham going a one-turn mile in March at Aqueduct Racetrack, will be making his first start since running a game second to Kentucky Derby runner-up Mandaloun by a neck in the 1 1/16-mile TVG.com Pegasus Stakes on June 13 at Monmouth Park.
The Jimmy Jerkens trainee’s lone off-the-board finish in five starts since his debut in October was a fourth-place effort in the Grade 2 Wood Memorial in April going the Jim Dandy distance.
Weyburn has worked three times at Saratoga this month since shipping from Belmont and will look to again show a competitiveness that has seen him demonstrate marked tenacity in the stretch run.
“He’s a big dude; big and long,” Jerkens said. “He’s a massive horse. When they come back fighting like that, that’s what you want.”
After stepping up to two turns the last two races, Jerkens said Weyburn is learning how to navigate the longer distances.
“He still acts like he’s a little confused by two-turn racing,” Jerkens said. “He breaks on his own and then gets on the bridle and then he was a little keen down the backside (in the Pegasus). The pacesetter (Lugamo) stopped abruptly, and he ended up on the lead by himself, and he looked like he spit the bit out a little bit Mandaloun made a big, sweeping move past him and then he went after him again. He did that in the Gotham, when he lost the lead, he came back on. I guess it’s like a little game with him.
“I think the last race did him a lot of good,” Jerkens added. “His only two-turn race before that was the Wood Memorial and there was a big gap from that race. He should get better with more seasoning.”
Irad Ortiz, Jr., the defending three-time Eclipse Award-winning jockey, will ride Weyburn for the first time, drawing post 3.
“Irad is going to have to figure it out. He’s got enough natural speed to where you can pretty much put him wherever you want,” Jerkens said. “I just hope instead of running spotty like that, l just hope he runs a little more even all the way and still has it for the end.”
Harrell Ventures’ Dr Jack was third in his stakes debut in the Pegasus and will now step up to graded stakes company for the first time. Dr Jack’s conditioner is Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher, who has won the Jim Dandy six times, with his last victory with Palace Malice in 2013.
Dr Jack won his debut going 6 1/2 furlongs in April at Gulfstream Park and handled a stretch out to 1 1/16 miles by posting a three-length victory on May 14 at Pimlico. After competing in the Pegasus last month, the son of Pioneerof the Nile will again face talented competition, drawing post 1 with Jose Ortiz aboard.
“He’s lightly raced, but he was able to break his maiden first time out and step up into an allowance,” Pletcher said. “I thought he ran a respectable race in the Pegasus and certainly Mandaloun coming back to win the Haskell makes that look to be a good race. It looks like a very competitive field, but not a large field, so we’ll take a shot.”
Pletcher said Dr Jack, after facing a string of more seasoned horses, is looking to continue the improvement he’s shown throughout his first three starts.
“For his third start and his first try in a stakes, to be beaten a little more than two lengths to a horse like Mandaloun, who has been through a good series of Derby preps, it was a tall ask and he ran credibly,” Pletcher said.
FTGGG Racing’s Masqueparade handled the step up to stakes company with aplomb last out, posting a half-length win in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby going 1 1/8 miles at Thistledown on June 26. The Upstart colt has improved his speed figures in four consecutive starts, going from a 74 for a third-place maiden finish in February at Fair Grounds to a 98 for his last-out graded win.
Trainer Al Stall, Jr. said Masqueparade earned an opportunity to compete against the division’s upper echelon.
“Our horse is on the upswing, so if he keeps improving, he could be there or thereabouts. He deserves a shot,” Stall said. “His last two races have been very good and he handled graded competition. The numbers are fine but stepping up to those proven competitors is more a test to me than running against the clock. I think he deserves a chance.”
Miguel Mena will ride from post 2.
Klaravich Stables’ Risk Taking will be running for the first time since an eighth-place finish in the Grade 1 Preakness on May 15. After starting his sophomore campaign with a 3 3/4-length win in the Grade 3 Gotham in March at Aqueduct, Risk Taking will be competing at Saratoga for the first time.
Risk Taking, trained by four-time Eclipse Award-winner Chad Brown, ran a dull seventh in the Wood Memorial before the off-the-board Preakness effort in a 10-horse field. The Medaglia d’Oro colt has won twice in three starts at the Jim Dandy distance and will look to use that to his advantage with Manny Franco set to ride out of post 6.
Keepmeinmind competed in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, running seventh in the Kentucky Derby and fourth in the Preakness, before garnering a 97 Beyer for a third-place finish in the Ohio Derby. The son of Laoban earned black type in two Grade 1s as a 2-year-old, running second in the Breeders’ Futurity and third, two lengths back to Essential Quality, in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile for trainer Robertino Diodoro.