By Richard Rosenblatt
For those who can’t be at Saratoga Race Course for Saturday’s $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes (G2), you may want to tune into Fox Sports’ FS2 a little after 5:30 p.m. ET.
A few minutes later (post time 5:39 p.m.), a half-dozen thoroughbreds will go at it for 1 1/8 miles and, as we’ve seen recently in the 3-year-old division, anything can – and likely will — happen.
There’s still no official word on whether Medina Spirit won the Kentucky Derby (G1) on May 1 (he finished first, had a post-race positive drug test, and runner-up Mandaloun could be elevated to the winner).
In the Haskell on July 17, first-place finisher Hot Rod Charlie was disqualified for interfering with Midnight Bourbon around the final turn, causing the horse to fall (uninjured) with injuring jockey Paco Lopez (still sidelined). Runner-up Mandaloun was declared the winner.
Mandaloun won’t be around for the Jim Dandy, but his stablemate Essential Quality will. Trained by Brad Cox, Essential Quality is the 1-2 morning-line favorite in seeking his seventh victory in eight starts.
His only loss came in the Derby, where he finished fourth just a length behind Medina Spirit. Set to challenge are Ohio Derby (G3) winner Masqueparade (4-1), Risk Taking (6-1), Weyburn (6-1), Keepmeinmind (15-1), and Dr. Jack (15-1).
“I think he looks like he put on weight. He looks great,” Cox said of his 2-year-old champion who won the Belmont Stakes (G1) in his most recent race. “I feel like he’s grown just in the short time he’s been here at Saratoga, from his muscle-tone to his weight. Everything has been positive since he’s moved here. I think he really likes it here.”
America’s Day at the Races will feature the Saratoga card on Saturday, with the $300,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (G1) and the $250,000 Bowling Green (G3) the other stakes races on the 11-race Jim Dandy day card.
At Del Mar, a field of nine sprinters topped by C Z Rocket and defending champ Collusion Illusion is set for the $300,000 Bing Crosby Stakes (G1) on TVG.
Here’s a brief look at the races (all times ET):
The 58th edition of the traditional Travers prep could be a runaway for Essential Quality, who posted three solid workouts at the Spa. In 2021, the Tapit colt owned by Godolphin has won the Southwest (G3) and the Blue Grass (G2) before his fourth and first in the Derby and Belmont, respectively.
Luis Saez rides from post 5.
“I’m assuming he’ll be a short price on Saturday and when you’re a short price, there’s always pressure,” Cox said. “It’s one of those things where you are excited about it, but you almost want to have things go your way and get it over it from a trainer’s view of it. I’m excited. There is pressure, but it’s good to be in position to have that pressure on you. It means you’re in a good spot.”
Defending sprint champion Whitmore (4-1) is still at it and more than capable of winning big in his 8-year-old campaign. He will face some of the top sprinters in this one, including 2-1 favorite Mischevious Alex, winner of the Carter Handicap (G1) and third in the Met Mile (G1) in his previous two races.
Whitmore, co-owned by trainer Ron Moquett with Robert V. LaPenta and Head of Plains Partners, has a record of 41-15-13-4 and earnings of $4.4 million.
Whitmore is 0-for-3 in 2021 but ran second to rival C Z Rocket in the Hot Springs on March 13 and in the Count Fleet Sprint (G3) on April 10. He was third in his previous start, the Churchill Downs (G1) on May 1.
“His record says he’s 0-for-3 this year, but he’s 3-for-3 in effort,” Moquett said. “All we can ask is for him to try. Are there some things that may have resulted in a better outcome? Probably. But at the same time, he brought his A game. You’re going to win some and you’re going to lose some. It’s all about bringing the effort.”
The 6-year-old Firenze Fire also is in the field. He’s won nine graded stakes over four different tracks. He has a record of 34-14-5-3 and earnings of $2.5 million.
Firenze Fire was second by a head to Mind Control last out in the John A. Nerud (G2) on July 4 at Belmont Park.
Calumet Farm’s Channel Cat, who won the 2019 edition of this race, is ready for another try. He is now trained by Jack Sisterson, who took over for Todd Pletcher.
The 6-year-old Channel Cat won Man o’ War (G1) by a nose over Gufo in May at Belmont. He will be ridden by John Velazquez.
“He couldn’t be doing any better,” Sisterson said. “He’s done all his works within himself. On Saturday, John Velazquez worked him and was very happy with him.”
Last out, Channel Cat faded to seventh in the 1 ¼-mile Manhattan (G1) on June 5.
Trainer Bill Mott has three contenders: Channel Maker, Red Knight, and Moon Over Miami. Cross Border, elevated to first in last year’s Bowling Green after first-place finishers Sadler’s Joy was disqualified, also is in the field.
A deep field of nine sprinters is set for this race on the road to the Breeders’ Cup in November. An all-expenses ride as part of the BC’s “Win and You’re In’’ challenge series.
C Z Rocket is the favorite at 5-2, while Dr. Schivel and Brickyard Rice are each 7-2 and defending champ Collusion Illusion is 4-1.
Now that’s a tough race.
C Z Rocket has run for trainer Peter Miller nine times since he took over as conditioner in 2020 and has won seven of them with a pair of seconds. Career-wise: 26-11-3-2 for earnings of nearly $1.4 million.
Dr. Schivel won the Del Mar Futurity last September, is now trained by Mark Glatt and won an allowance race in June after a long layoff.
Collusion Illusion won the Crosby as a 3-year-old, getting up in the very last jump. He, too, is trained by Glatt, along with Law Abidin Citizen.
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.