The $600,000 Jim Dandy (G2) at Saratoga Race Course takes center stage this weekend in the world of 3-year-olds, with Preakness (G1) winner War of Will and Belmont Stakes (G1) runner-up Tacitus headlining a six-horse field on a day you’ll also want to pay attention to a star sprinter with Horse of the Year potential.
Let’s start with race No. 9 at the Spa — two races before the Jim Dandy — the $350,000 Albert G. Vanderbilt Handicap (G1), featuring undefeated-in-2019 Mitole taking on six rivals. The 4-year-old colt by Eskendereya, out of Indian Miss, is the even-money morning-line favorite carrying highweight of 125 pounds, with jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr. aboard.
Last seen, Mitole stole the show on Belmont Stakes Day (June 8) with a thrilling, three-quarters-of-a-length victory over McKinzie, who was followed by Thunder Snow, in the Metropolitan Handicap (G1). A winner of all four races this year and riding a seven-race win streak with a career ledger of 11-8-2-1 for $1.6 million in earnings, Mitole is trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen and owned by William and Corinne Helligbrodt, who purchased the colt in 2017 for $145,000 in 2017.
“He’s been training impressively all year and hopefully it continues,” Asmussen said earlier this week. Since the Met Mile, Mitole has been based at Saratoga and posted four workouts, the most recent on July 21 – three furlongs in 38.11 seconds.
The competition will be stiff, with Imperial Hint (3-1) returning to defend last year’s win in the Vanderbilt. The Raymond Mamone-owned 6-year-old finished third in the Dubai Golden Shaheen on March 30 in his last start. Imperial Hint, trained by Luis Carvajal, has been training at Monmouth Park, and his last work was July 17 – five furlongs in 1:00.40. His career record is 21-12-2-3 for earnings of $1.8 million.
“This year it will be an interesting race. A couple of nice horses like Asmussen’s horse, so it will be interesting to see this year,’’ Carvajal said.
Let’s not overlook Firenze Fire, the 4-year-old trained by Jason Servis (of Maximum Security fame) and owned by Mr. Amore Stable. He was fifth in the Met Mile, beaten 4 ¾ lengths following a win in the Runhappy Stakes at Belmont on May 11.
In the latest National Thoroughbred Racing Association top thoroughbred poll, Mitole is ranked second behind Bricks and Mortar. A win in this six-furlong sprint would look very impressive heading toward the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita on Nov. 1-2.
The Vanderbilt field, from the rail, out: Mitole (Ricardo Santana, Jr., 1-1); Strike Power (John Velazquez, 6-1); Imperial Hint (Javier Castellano, 3-1); Firenze Fire (Irad Ortiz, Jr., 9-2); Mr. Crow (Jose Ortiz, 15-1); Diamond Oops (Julien Leparoux, 12-1); and Do Share (Luis Saez, 15-1).
Now back to the 1 1/8th-mile Jim Dandy. War of Will has been up and down during his 3-year-old campaign, winning the LeComte (G3) and the Risen Star (G2), running ninth in the Louisiana Derby (G2) before finishing eighth in the Kentucky Derby (placed seventh after the DQ of first-place finisher Maximum Security), then won the Preakness and finished ninth in the Belmont with stablemate Sir Winston winning.
With Tyler Gaffalione riding, War of Will has shown flashes of greatness, and trainer Mark Casse has high hopes for his War Front colt even though he’s the third choice on the morning line at 5-2.
“We trained him here (at Saratoga) last year and he liked the track,” Casse said. “He just reconfirmed this year that he gets over it nicely. We’re ready and hopefully he brings his ‘A’ game. They still have to beat him, I think.”
Maybe. Tacitus, a son of Tapit who also finished fourth in the Derby (moved up to third after Maximum Security’s DQ) before his Belmont runner-up effort, is the 7-5 favorite. Global Campaign, winner of the Peter Pan (G3) at Belmont on May 11, is the 2-1 second choice.
Also entered are Laughing Fox, winner of the Oaklawn Park Invitational before running fifth in the Preakness; Tax, the Wood Memorial (G2) runner-up, 15th in the Derby (moved up to 14th by the Maximum Security DQ) and fourth in the Belmont; and 15-1 long shot Mihos.
The Jim Dandy is the traditional prep for the $1 million Travers on Aug. 24. The Midsummer Derby is shaping up to help determine the 3-year-old champion, with Haskell Invitational (G1) winner Maximum Security, Los Alamitos Derby (G3) winner Game Winner, Dwyer (G3) winner and Derby runner-up Code of Honor, War of Will and Tacitus listed as probables.
Also set for Saturday is the $250,000 Bowling Green (G2) at 1 3/8 miles on the turf.
Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, who trains Tacitus as well as Derby winner Country House, has a pair of contenders – 7-2 favorite Channel Maker and Red Knight.
Owned by Wachtel Stable, Gary Barber, R. A. Hill Stable and Reeves Thoroughbred Racing (Barber also owns War of Will), finished in a dead heat for first in last year’s Bowling Green with Glorious Empire.
“Everything’s been great. No complaints, he’s training well,” Mott said of Channel Maker. “If everything is OK, naturally, we’d like to go to the Sword Dancer (after the Bowling Green).’’
A son English Channel, the chestnut has a 25-5-4-3 record with earnings of nearly $2 million. He won the Grade 1 Man o’ War at Belmont on May 11. Joel Rosario has the mount and leaves from the No. 5 post in a field of 13.
Red Knight has won 6-of-13 starts, topped by a victory in the two-mile H. Allen Jerkens in December at Gulfstream Park. In his most recent race, he ran fifth in the Belmont Gold Cup (G2).
Keep an eye on Sadler’s Joy, a consistent 6-year-old with more than $2 million in earnings. It will be his first start of the year after rallying to finish third in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) in November.
“He’s training really well coming into this race,” trainer Tom Albertrani said, of Sadler’s Joy, who finished third in this race the past two years. “It’s been a long lay up, but it was always our intention to give him a little break after the Breeders’ Cup.”
A note: In August of 2016, Sadler’s Joy won the Sword Dancer (G1) at the Spa with a last-to-first rush in 2017. Plus, Hall of Famer Javier Castellano has the call on Saturday.
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.